Mon | Sep 25, 2017

Follow The Trace | Encouraging signs, but!

Published:Tuesday | February 7, 2017 | 2:00 AM
United States’ Juan Agudelo (left) jumps over Jamaica’s Alvas Powell during the first half of a friendly match on Friday, in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

The narrow one-nil defeat of the senior Reggae Boyz in their friendly international against the USA was a pivotal result from a pivotal performance, at a pivotal time, in yet another crucial rebuilding cycle. Playing away from home, in cold, unfamiliar and unfriendly conditions on an artificial surface, the overall performance was encouraging from what was a young and inexperienced Jamaican team.

There would have been precious little time for head coach Theodore 'Tappa' Whitmore and his technical staff to develop any kind of meaningful team chemistry and understanding amongst this group of players. There was, however, good dedication and heart, desire and commitment shown by the team

Fundamentally, the team kept its shape and discipline throughout a testy 90 minutes of football as the USA understandably dominated possession in their backyard. Certainly, the new-look centre-half duo of Damian Lowe and Sergio Campbell stood tall in thwarting several threatening USA attacks.

Offensively, Corey Burke was a typically tireless worker, and despite the possession disparity between the two teams, Burke did manage to create a few anxious moments for the American defence, and certainly keeps himself relevant as a credible option for the future.

 

MIDFIELD ISSUES

 

Amid all that positivity though, there remains the perennial problem of our midfield lacking personality, leadership and creativity. The midfield play was for the most part disjointed and almost non-existent. Mysteriously, Whitmore continues to assemble a midfield without genuine playmakers or even players with the basic technical skills needed to protect and maneouvre the football, and the vision to use it effectively. On the few occasions when the ball found its way into the Jamaican midfield, it was treated like the proverbial 'hot potato' that none of our players wanted to hold onto.

This midfield issue is critical and must be urgently addressed by the coaching staff. Again, it comes down to the meticulousness of the scouting process. The coaching and technical staff must deliberately seek out players at home or abroad with the specific skill set that team so desperately needs.

If returning to the common hunting ground in England fails to deliver the quality needed, then the conscious decision must be made to groom and develop some midfielders. Failing to do this will see our defenders and goalkeeper continuing to come under severe and inordinate pressure, while our forwards will continue to be starved of adequate and competent service

For too long, Jamaican scouting locally and overseas has been bereft of strategic specificity. We've had a midfield creativity crisis ever since the retirement of Whitmore himself, and with the midfield being the fulcrum of every football team, ignoring this particular crisis will ultimately lead to the team's demise.

Another major disappointment coming out of the USA game was the limited minutes afforded to the young strike force of Shamar Nicholson and Jourdaine Fletcher. From my count, Nicholson and Fletcher got a combined two touches in the less than 10 minutes they were on the park. Again, Whitmore missed a trick and should have given these two rising stars more playing time in what was a meaningless friendly fixture against a below-strength USA team.

All in all, coach Whitmore has a platform from which to launch. One can only hope that he sticks with the core of these players, and stop being such a coward going forward, in terms of giving more of the younger players meaningful playing time.

The aim going forward must remain finding that elusive balance in our team composition. The USA game and the upcoming fixture against Honduras should help Whitmore and his technical team in the making of some crucial selection decisions. It would also be great if somewhere along the way, a game or two could be played inside the National Stadium. But maybe that's asking for too much. As the process continues, there are definitely some encouraging signs, but there is still a lot of work to be done.