By Orville Higgins
What a difference four days can make! Last Friday night, the Reggae Boyz had beaten the United States for the first time at the senior level. We were on top of the zone, and qualification to the final round looked like a matter of course. Whitmore was the new messiah to lead us to the promised land of Rio!
Four days later, we were beaten by the United States in Ohio, and things have come full circle. We are now third in the zone.
Whitmore is again coming under scrutiny. His overall tactics and team selection are being openly criticised by all and sundry. Even Tappa's biggest supporters are sometimes bemused by some of the decisions he makes.
The truth is that Whitmore's coaching style, right from the very start, doesn't always follow predictable patterns.
One remembers the KC schoolboy Jorginho James, on debut against Cuba, setting the National Stadium alight with a peach of a goal. It was probably the most spectacular goal a Jamaican has scored in years, but he has not been seen or heard of since!
Jermaine Hue, in his last game for Jamaica at Jarrett Park, gave a lesson in precise, defence-splitting passes. Hue is always a crowd favourite, and all who saw that game thought he had finally convinced Tappa that his ability to find his own teammates at will makes him valuable to this team. He, too, has gone off the radar.
Xavian Virgo was the automatic right back for months. He had impressed with his ability to cross the ball and to work that right flank. When he scored against New Zealand in a practice match away, he seemed to have made the position his own. He, too, has vanished into thin air, and virtually out of nowhere Lovel Palmer is playing in that position, with questionable success.
Darren Mattocks is red-hot in the MLS and was mighty impressive when he came on last Friday. Yet he played for zero minutes against the States in their return game.
There are other strange decisions. Jermaine Taylor at left back is one of them. Taylor is a quality central defender and could be a more-than-useful holding midfielder, but he is no left back. Not picking Marlon King, arguably your best striker, after a two-match suspension for a breach of curfew AFTER a practice game, is another decision that was surprising, to say the least. So, yes, Whitmore doesn't always do things you'd expect him to.
As a player, when he was scoring against Japan in that memorable display in the 1998 World Cup, I remember the commentator saying something about Whitmore being the "unlikeliest-looking footballer" you will ever see. He was tall and skinny, and his short dreadlocks was flopping around. He also mentioned that there was method to him as well.
Not much has changed. As a coach, Tappa does seem the "unlikeliest" football coach in his decision-making, but he will tell you that there is method to his apparent madness.
Poorest display, BUT ...
The 1-0 loss against the USA away was probably the poorest display by a Jamaican team in years. At half-time, the home team had 79 per cent possession!
The truth, though, is that we beat the United States 2-1 and they beat us 1-0. At the start of the campaign, we would have taken that. We accepted that the USA would be one of the teams qualifying. We knew that Antigua wouldn't qualify. So it was always going to come down to Jamaica and Guatemala and how well we would do against the other teams, but, more important, how well we would stack up against each other.
The 0-0 draw away to Antigua is, therefore, the real stutter on the road, not so much what we did against the USA in Ohio. Those three points away to Antigua were counted as given. If we had won that game, we would now be virtually safe. That away game against Guatemala is, therefore, THE game. Lose that and it could be goodbye, sweet prince.
Win or draw that and the final game against Antigua here will be as much a party as a football match. We are not home and dry yet, but we aren't drowning and gasping for breath. Not yet. The "unlikeliest" coach may still have some tricks up his sleeve.
KLAS sportscaster Orville Higgins is the 2011 winner of the Hugh Crosskill/Raymond Sharpe Award for Sports Reporting. Email feedback to email@example.com.