Gordon Williams, Gleaner Writer
A pair of rookies plus one veteran will carry Jamaica's brand into the final of Major League Soccer (MLS), North America's top professional football league.
Jermaine Taylor and Je-Vaughn Watson, both in their first season with the Houston Dynamo, will oppose national teammate Donovan Ricketts of the Los Angeles Galaxy when the two clubs clash in MLS Cup 2011, set for November 20 in California, United States.
The trio booked their spot after their clubs won on Sunday. The Dynamo defeated Sporting Kansas City (SKC) 2-0 in the Eastern Conference final, while the Galaxy rolled past Real Salt Lake (RSL) 3-1 in their Western Conference clash.
Those results also dashed the hopes of other Reggae Boyz - Andy Williams of RSL and SKC's Shavar Thomas - to get to the final.
Yet, it is unclear what direct influence the Jamaicans will have at the league's showcase event, as all three have been relegated to the substitute's bench in recent games.
Taylor may have best shot at playing time after he replaced injured Brad Davis in the 39th minute Sunday. Regularly a central defender for Jamaica, Taylor, in his first action of the MLS play-offs, was slotted at left back, handed the job of slowing down SKC's rampant Kei Kamara. Despite inconsistent ball distribution, Taylor was solid in defence against the Sierra Leone attacker.
Davis' injury to his right quadriceps has cast serious doubts on his availability for the MLS Cup. Taylor could step in as a starter, when he would likely face US star Landon Donovan and England international David Beckham.
Yet, his biggest impact came on offence. In the 53rd minute, Taylor snuck in at the far post to head an Adam Moffat free kick powerfully towards goal. The ball was blocked by SKC's goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen, but bounced to onrushing Andre Hainault, who knocked in the Dynamo's opening goal.
Honduran striker Carlo Costly, another Dynamo substitute whom Taylor opposed in the 2011 CONCACAF Gold Cup, scored Houston's insurance goal. Watson, who played in the conference semi-final last week, was an unused sub.
Ricketts should be on the Galaxy's cup final roster. But, barring injury, the 34-year-old, who in 2010 was voted the best goalkeeper in MLS, is unlikely to play on November 20.
Saunders stepped into the starting role after Ricketts fractured his arm in June. In 2009, his first MLS season, Ricketts started the MLS Cup final, but broke his hand during the game and was replaced by the American.
The Galaxy lost that title on penalties to Williams and RSL. But, on Sunday, the 'Bomber' blew his chance to return to the final. The 34-year-old midfielder was judged guilty of fouling Omar Gonzalez in the 22nd minute. Donovan converted the resulting penalty kick to give the Galaxy the lead. RSL equalised through Saborio in the 25th, but Williams was substituted in the 75th minute, not long after RSL had given up goals to Mike Magee and Robbie Keane.
In 2009, Williams played a key role for RSL. Last season, Omar Cummings led the Colorado Rapids to the title. Several others, including Tyrone Marshall (twice), have won the league's big prize as well.
Regardless of the result on November 20 - when both the Galaxy and Dynamo will be seeking their third title - a Jamaican national player will again be a member of the MLS championship team.