Oral Tracey | We failed our Under-20 Boyz
They were written off by all and sundry. Deserted by their appointed coach, starved of even basic pre-tournament preparation. They had their first full training session as a unit on the eve of the first game of the qualifying tournament.
The national Under-20 Reggae Boyz have been treated like the bastard children of the national football programme. They were not given even a fighting chance of beating or advancing ahead of Mexico from their first-round group; after all, Jamaica had never beaten the Central American Kingpins at this level in nine previous-attempts.
The last time this Jamaican squad met their Mexican counterparts, it was at the Under-17 level, when the Mexicans flogged them by five goals to nil. Not even the leadership of the Jamaica Football Federation (JFF) gave this hastily assembled team a ghost of a chance of even being competitive in the tournament.
However, of the six games played, they had five wins and one drawn result, they scored 24 goals, while conceding three, with a goal difference of plus 19. Never in the history of Jamaican football has a national team at any level produced this type of returns without advancing to the next round of the said competition.
A lot has been made of the format of the qualifiers that had only the group winners from the six preliminary groups of six advancing to the final round. The format was, however, well known before a ball was kicked. The more pivotal tough break was the luck of the draw, which had the unseeded Jamaica falling into the same group as Mexico.
Special commendations must, however, go to coach Jerome Waite and technical leader Wendell Downswell for so ably guiding this group through the tournament at such short notice and without adequate preparation.
No amount of praise can be too much for the players, who approached each game with commitment and purpose. The team, coming so close to advancing, must have thrown the JFF leadership into regretful bewilderment at the lost opportunity affording this team a reasonable chance of becoming the sixth Jamaican national team to qualify for a World Cup Finals.
One significant thread running through the fabric of this group is the fact that unlike in previous years when Jamaican Under-20 teams were assembled exclusively from the Manning and daCosta cups, all the players in this crop, including the eight members who are now playing in the US collegiate system, played in the Red Stripe Premier League at some point.
This is a fact that adds full credence to the constant calls for the nation's elite young talent, from as young as 15 and 16, to be fast-forwarded into competing at our highest level of adult club football, which is the Red Stripe Premier League, in order to facilitate and indeed accelerate their development.
Long gone are the days when our definition of promising young players applies to 23-24- and 25-year-olds. We need to catch up with international best practices, in which the terms 'young' and 'promising' in football parlance applies to 12- and 13-year-olds, sometimes even younger.
Hopefully the positive impact of the early exposure of these 18- and 19-year-olds to 'big man football' will loudly register as a lesson learnt. Early exposure aside, there are some real quality individual players in this group.
The likes of Nicque Daley, Tyreek Magee, Jamoi Topey and Jeadin White are all elite football talent in a Jamaican context, and should be treated as such. The biggest surprise, perhaps was the level of cohesion and fluidity, the team showed, despite the lack of preparation.
It's expected that the core of this group will also be part of the Olympic qualifiers. However, even beyond that immediacy, in the crux of the rebuilding process at the senior level, the technical leaders, including coach Theodore 'Tappa' Whitmore, are being truly tested by the talent level and the impressive showing of this Under-20 surprise package. The fact of the matter is that this team did not fail Jamaica, but were indeed failed by Jamaica.