By Nodley Wright, Freelance Writer
Marlon King in striking form during a Reggae Boyz training session at the National Stadium earlier this week. - Ricardo Makyn / Staff Photographer
THE 'OFFICE' will reopen for business this evening at 6:00 when the Reggae Boyz tackle a strong United States.
This evening's game will mark Jamaica's opening game in the semi-final round of the CONCACAF Zone World Cup qualifiers in a group involving the US, El Salvador and Panama from which two teams will advance to the final round of six. It will also mark the first game for new head coach Sebastiao Lazaroni in his second tour of duty here.
Another important factor in this game is the fact that Jamaica have never beaten the U.S. in football. The last time both teams met, in a friendly last year, the United States won 2-0. What could be seen as a disadvantage for the Reggae Boyz is the fact that they have not had a game together since their 3-0 demolition of Haiti in the second leg of their qualifier on June 20 in the last round.
The U.S., on the other hand, have been training together for a longer period, have had the same coach for a number of years and recently had a friendly against Poland which ended 1-1.
The U.S. have a nice blend of experience and youth with the likes of midfielder Claudio Reyna, goalkeepers Brad Friedel and Kasey Keller, Eddie Pope and Brian McBride offering guidance to the younger brigade of DaMarcus Beasley, Landon Donovan, Connor Casey and Bobby Convey.
Speed is seen as a strength of the U.S. especially down the left flank where Beasley and Convey are expected to operate. If Fabian Davis plays at right back he is expected to have a busy evening with the marauding Beasley and Convey expected to run at him with regularity.
SUSPECT IN DEFENCE
While they are strong on the left side the U.S. are suspect in the centre of defence with the lumbering Carlos Bocanegra who could have trouble with the skillful duo of Ricardo Fuller and Damani Ralph as well as the free-scoring Marlon King who has recorded four goals in his two World Cup qualifying matches so far.
Jamaica's head coach, Lazaroni, is confident his team can create history tonight.
"It is our time to play... we have never beaten the U.S. and this is our chance," he said after his second training session with the team.
He added that if each player gives 10 per cent more than they normally give then the team can do well. For today's game he is not expected to make any wholesale changes from the team which beat Haiti.
Micah Hyde, who apologised for missing the Haiti game and was welcomed back into the fold, is expected to start in place of the man who came in at the last minute for him in the centre of midfield, Jamie Lawrence.
Partnering Hyde in midfield should be captain Theodore Whitmore who will be give the responsibility of supplying the passes to two of Fuller, King and Ralph. Andy Wiliams and Tyrone Marshall should be the other two midfielders.
In defence Claude Davis and Ian Goodison are expected to occupy the central positions while Ricardo Gardner and Fabian Davis are set to take the left back and right back positions respectively.
The U.S. who were due in at 6:45 last night should field a side that looks like this: Brad Friedel, Eddie Pope, Carlos Bocanegra, Bobby Convey, Steve Cherundolo, Chris Armas, Claudio Reyna, Landon Donovan, DaMarcus Beasley, Connor Casey and Brian McBride.
THE JAMAICAN PLAYER TO WATCH
AS LETHAL as Walter Boyd, Onandi Lowe, Deon Burton and even Theodore Whitmore were in Jamaica's 'Road to France' campaign, their 'strike rate' in no way can be matched up against a Marlon King. Put simply, King is King... and he reigns.
Although Boyd scored five times in five World Cup qualifiers in 1996, Whitmore three times in four games and Burton's striking was stupendous when he joined the campaign in the latter stages, King's achievements to date are unmatched.
From two World Cup games, this 'new kid on the block' has stitched up four goals - incidentally all of those scored so far by Jamaica in the 'Journey to Germany' campaign. He scored Jamaica's lone goal in the 1-1 stalemate against Haiti in Miami and then returned to record an unprecedented feat at 'The Office' a week later scoring a hat-trick in the Boyz 3-0 return leg win.
In total, King has donned the national jerseys five times and he has five goals to show for it.
The 5ft 10" powerfully-built striker has scored four of his five goals for Jamaica with his head, getting his first on debut against Venezuela on April 28. But 'the King's' crowing moment came on June 20 when he effectively sank Haiti's Cup hopes. King scored in the fourth, 14th and 31st minutes of the second round World Cup qualifying return leg game to propel the Boyz' into the semi-final round of the qualifiers.
"It's unbelievable... five goals in five games, I can't ask for a better start," King said after his hat-trick performance.
The 24-year old King, who plays his football for Nottingham Forest in the English First Division, faces his greatest test yet today. Jamaica have never beaten the United States and if the Boyz are going to shake that 'monkey off their backs', King's shoulders will bear the bulk of the load.
- Daraine Luton