Jamaicans light up MLS play-offs
Jamaicans stepped up to play influential roles as their teams won and advanced from the wild-card round of the Major League Soccer (MLS) play-offs in the United States.
On Wednesday night, Dane Richards helped craft the crucial opening goal that propelled New York Red Bulls to a 2-0 victory over last year's beaten MLS Cup finalists FC Dallas in Texas.
The following night, fellow Reggae Boy Omar Cummings also broke a scoreless deadlock with a late first-half strike - his first-ever play-off goal - that guided defending MLS Cup champion Colorado Rapids to a 1-0 home win over Columbus Crew.
Both winning teams moved on to the home and away MLS conference semi-finals.
On October 30, the Red Bulls will host Jamaica goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts and his Los Angeles Galaxy in a Western Conference match-up, the same day Sporting Kansas City, with national captain Shavar Thomas, visits the Rapids in its quest for the Eastern Conference title. The return leg for the Kansas City versus Rapids semi-final is scheduled for November 2. The following night the Red Bulls and Galaxy meet again.
Richards continued the form, which led to his best MLS season in his fifth year, when he alertly tracked down a ball deflected by FC Dallas goalkeeper Kevin Hartman and cleverly back-heeled it to team-mate Mehdi Ballouchy. His cross along the ground was met by sliding Joel Lindpere to give the Red Bulls the lead in the 61st minute. Richards was later substituted as the Red Bulls, which went a man down in the 79th minute after defender Jan Gunnar Solli was shown a straight red card for a reckless tackle, held on gamely before former France international Thierry Henry scored the second goal in time added on to seal the win.
Cummings, despite not having his best MLS season due to a nagging ankle injury, looked sharp early and often, taking several shots at goal before finally finding the mark just before the half-time whistle. The Old Harbour native angled his run perfectly to meet a rolling cross by overlapping defender Kosuke Kimura and rifle a well-placed right foot shot into the net.
"I just buried it," Cummings, who was named Man of the Match told a reporter after the game.
Also left for dead were the MLS Cup hopes of fellow Jamaican-born players Jeff Cunningham and Shaun Francis of the Crew. Francis, like fellow Reggae Boy Tyrone Marshall of the Rapids, was an unused substitute. Cunningham, the leading all-time MLS goalscorer with 134, did not fare much better. The St James native, who has represented Jamaica and the US, entered the game as a substitute in the 70th minute, but left 15 minutes later after apparently suffering an injury.
At least three other Jamaica national players are set to join MLS play-off action in the conference semi-final round this weekend. On October 29, veteran midfielder Andy Williams and Real Salt Lake (RSL) tackle the Seattle Sounders in the other Western Conference semi in Utah. The following day in Pennsylvania, Jermaine Taylor and Je-Vaughn Watson, both Houston Dynamo rookies, face the Philadelphia Union with a spot in the Eastern Conference final at stake. RSL will then travel to Seattle for the second leg on November 2, while Houston hosts the Union the following day.
The conference finals will be played on November 6. The MLS Cup final, featuring the winners, is set for November 20.