Gordon Williams, Gleaner Writer
Interest by overseas clubs in Jamaica's national footballers has stepped up recently and, according to one agent, several of his clients are being courted by top teams in Europe, the United States and Mexico.
Patrick McCabe, who represents Omar Cummings, Dane Richards, Lovel Palmer, Khari Stephenson, Dever Orgill, Shavar Thomas and O'Brian White, said he has been in discussions with clubs which have begun to take closer notice of the Reggae Boyz's talent.
"The profile of the Jamaican players is a pretty positive one right now," McCabe said on December 23. " ... The clubs respect them."
Highest on the list appears to be midfielder Richards and striker Cummings. Both were outstanding in the recently concluded season of Major League Soccer (MLS), North America's premier competition. Richards, 27, who plays for the New York Red Bulls, is coveted by "three or four teams in the English Premier League (EPL)", according to McCabe.
"He (Richards) has been the hottest player in the last third of the MLS (2010) season, along with Omar Cummings," the agent said.
McCabe declined to name the EPL clubs involved, citing a need to protect the professional relationship with them. Richards, who helped Jamaica win the 2010 Digicel Caribbean Cup (DCC), was recently invited for try-outs by "a couple of those teams", according to the agent. But, McCabe said, despite Richards' interest in playing in Europe, the Red Bulls "squashed" the idea of releasing the player for trials. New York, which signed big-name players Thierry Henry of France and Rafael Marquez last season, appears keen on consolidating.
"At this point, the Red Bulls is not willing to move him (Richards)," said McCabe. "Their goal is to keep the squad intact."
During the MLS season, sources indicated that the European interest in Richards had increased dramatically, especially after the speedy flank player ran roughshod over Manchester City during the English club's pre-season tour of the US. But in August, Red Bulls coach Hans Bache said those suggestions were possibly agents trying to push their clients into the spotlight. McCabe dismissed that argument.
"In respect to Dane, I have nothing to gain by throwing that out," he said. "Dane has made it no secret that he wants to go to Europe to play. People know who Dane is."
Clubs are also aware of Cummings's emergence. The 28-year-old was a key player for the Colorado Rapids, which won MLS 2010, and Jamaica in the DCC.
McCabe confirmed that Mexican top division club Necaxa offered the Rapids US$750,000 for the player, but the offer was rejected. Colorado, according to McCabe, would like to keep Cummings "long term".
Yet the quick, skilful player could still be on the move. There is a "possibility of (Cummings) going to England", said McCabe.
"That (discussion) is very much in progress," explained the agent. " ... A loan deal is being discussed with a Premiership team, a top-10 team."
Meanwhile Orgill, a 20-year-oldforward with St Georges Sports Club of the Digicel Premier League (DPL), who also represented the Vancouver Whitecaps in the United Soccer Leagues, North America's second-tier competition, has been invited to try-out with San Josť Earthquakes of MLS. Orgill has represented Jamaica in recent senior internationals, but was not part of the DCC squad.
Stephenson, 29, was also absent from the DCC, but looks set to secure a permanent move from Norwegian club Aalesunds FK. Stephenson was on loan with the Earthquakes for part of MLS 2010.
According to McCabe, the midfielder completed the last year of his contract in Norway and there is a "strong possibility" he will return to the US, with "San Josť, but it could be another MLS club".
Stephenson spent the first few years of his pro career in MLS with the Chicago Fire and Kansas City Wizards, before moving to Europe.
Three other McCabe clients appear settled with clubs for the 2011 MLS season, which begins in March. Thomas, 29, and Palmer, 26, both members of the winning DCC team, are set to return to their 2010 clubs. Thomas represented the Wizards last season after moving from the Philadelphia Union.
Palmer completed a creditable rookie season with the Houston Dynamo, which have invited Harbour View midfielder Richard Edwards, another key member of Jamaica's DCC team, for a trial in February.
Meanwhile, White, who recently decided to play for Jamaica over Canada, has signed with the Seattle Sounders after leaving Toronto FC In his first two MLS seasons, the striker battled to recover from a severe knee injury and regain the form he showed while scoring nearly 50 goals as a US college player.
McCabe admitted that White, who made his debut for the Boyz in a November friendly international against Costa Rica in Florida, did not excel in Toronto and with a "big contract, which was difficult to fit in under the salary cap in his option year", TFC looked elsewhere.
"If he had made more impact in the team, maybe they would have tried to keep him," the agent said.
White gets a chance to start over in Seattle.
"It's a great opportunity for him," McCabe said.