Gordon Williams, Gleaner Writer
There's temptation to lump Joel Senior among the junior Reggae Boyz involved in the campaign for a place at World Cup 2014.
The 24-year-old, best recognised by his flashing ponytail and busy-body approach in midfield, has played just seven times for Jamaica, starting with a debut against Cuba this year and is also among a handful of local-based Boyz in the current squad, which is loaded with overseas-based professionals.
But one stroke by Jamaica's head coach Theodore Whitmore - introducing Senior as a second half substitute in the crucial World Cup Qualifier on September 7 against the United States (US) in Kingston - has spotlighted the Harbour View player as one possibly earmarked for a key role as the campaign wears on. That Whitmore trusted Senior while the Boyz held on to a slim 2-1 lead left some puzzled, especially with experienced players left on the bench. But the coach had no doubts.
"We needed someone who was gonna work and on any given day from Joel Senior he's gonna work and he's gonna work for the team," explained Whitmore yesterday. "Joel was the best player at the time to put in for (Luton) Shelton."
The coach also made it clear that Senior, like all the other Boyz, has earned his spot and there is no situation he would hesitate to insert him in the line-up if he felt the player could make the required contribution.
"We named a 23-man squad and we're pretty much confident with the 23," Whitmore added.
Senior understands his role. His game hinges on commitment. Maturity, gained from competing in high school, college and club level overseas, gives the former St. George's College player an added edge.
"The coach knows that I am a hard worker," Senior said. "I always put out 100 per cent."
He dismissed the notion that an inexperienced player thrust in such a big game against the US, and at that critical point, was a risk.
"I wouldn't really consider it a gamble," explained Senior. "If I wasn't ready for the task, then I wouldn't be here."
To get there has been a long road taken in a short time. Senior completed high school in the US before attending two colleges - first Howard University and then James Madision University. The former Under-20 international had a brief stint playing in the United Soccer Leagues, a second-tier professional competition in North America. He returned to Jamaica with a primary goal - to become a Reggae Boy.
"That was my aim," said Senior, who majored in sports and recreational management with a minor in business management and administration.
Last Friday when Whitmore called his number, Senior admitted he was a bit nervous about the occasion. But he settled quickly to put in a solid shift and hardly put a foot wrong, filling in adequately with the defensive duties and using the ball in typical non-flashy, but effective style.
"I dIdn't lose (the ball)," Senior said with a laugh. "I kept good possession."
Senior said his transition to the squad has been made easy by his teammates.
"I feel very comfortable," he said. "It's a great bunch of guys. It doesn't matter where you play or who you are, they're always talking to you, giving you advice."
They have brought him in from the fringe. Senior is no longer a junior.
"Not at all," he said laughing.