Gordon Williams, Gleaner Writer
Five Reggae Boyz will remain in the hunt for the top prize in North America's premier football competition when Major League Soccer (MLS) play-offs begin next week.
But for several other Jamaica players, their MLS 2012 road ends with this weekend's final regular season games.
Despite losing their last match against Portland Timbers, rookie Darren Mattocks and veteran Dane Richards will enter post-season play with Vancouver Whitecaps. The club, which clinched the fifth and final play-off spot in the Western Conference (WC) after their main rivals lost last weekend, will face Real Salt Lake (RSL) tomorrow.
Mattocks, a candidate for MLS 'Rookie of the Year' after scoring seven goals in 20 appearances, has recovered from a hamstring injury which kept him out of Jamaica's CONCACAF semi-final round World Cup qualifiers (WCQ) against Guatemala and Antigua and Barbuda (A&B) this month. The 22-year-old forward made a substitute appearance against Portland.
Richards scored twice in Jamaica's 4-1 win against A&B, which pushed the Boyz into the CONCACAF final round. The 28-year-old midfielder has scored four goals and notched three assists while splitting time between New York Red Bulls and the Whitecaps after being traded earlier this season.
Vancouver bow into the play-offs on November 1 against defending MLS champions Los Angeles Galaxy.
However, Jamaicans Donovan Ricketts and Lovel Palmer get into their MLS off season early as Portland failed to make the play-offs. During the season, goalkeeper Ricketts was traded from Montreal Impact, who list Jamaica defender Shavar Thomas on their roster. Montreal, who play New England Revolution tomorrow, also missed the play-offs.
Palmer, 28, started all six of Jamaica's qualifiers at right back. However, like the 31-year-old Thomas, his club season took a wrong turn late in MLS 2012 when both struggled to secure consistent playing time.
Tomorrow, Portland will face San Jose Earthquakes, the team with the best MLS record. San Jose's Jamaica international Khari Stephenson, a 31-year-old midfielder, has had a solid season despite appearing mainly as a substitute. Stephenson has scored twice and recorded three assists. Teammate Simon Dawkins, an England-born midfielder with Jamaican family ties, has scored eight times.
Jermaine Taylor and Je-Vaughn Watson figured prominently in Jamaica's qualifying campaign and will hope to do the same in the MLS play-offs with Houston Dynamo, with whom they lost the 2011 MLS Cup final.
FAILED TO SCORE
The 27-year-old Taylor, a fixture in Houston's defence, started 26 of the 27 games he has played, scoring one goal. Watson, 29, has seen less action, starting 12 of the 18 games he has appeared in, but failed to score or record an assist.
Houston will face Colorado Rapids on October 27. The Rapids, with Jamaicans Omar Cummings and Tyrone Marshall, did not make the play-offs. Thirty-year-old Cummings, who played in WCQ, has six goals and two assists in MLS 2012, starting 22 games in 27 appearances for Colorado. Defender Marshall, now 37, has played 16 MLS games this season, starting 12. He scored twice.
Ryan Johnson and Dicoy Williams, two other members of Jamaica's squad, will also miss the MLS play-offs. Toronto FC (TFC) finished with the league's worst record. Johnson, however, had a solid season, starting all 30 games he played. The striker scored seven MLS goals and had four assists. Williams returned during the season from a serious knee injury, but appeared in only two MLS games, one as a starter.
TFC play their final MLS 2012 game on October 28 against Columbus Crew. Despite the club's dismal league run, TFC's Boyz plan full support for their countrymen in the play-offs.
"For sure," said Williams, "any Jamaican that wins the (MLS) Cup is a big deal for even me and the country, and for young players coming up who're in tune with the league and watching the league."
The 2012 MLS regular season will end with other mixed blessings for Jamaicans.
O'Brian White's contract was bought out by Seattle Sounders. Blood clots in the 26-year-old striker's leg sidelined him the entire season.
Shaun Francis, 26, was released by Columbus in June. A team official said recently, "it just wasn't working out" for the wingback.
The job status of Robin Fraser, the Jamaica-born head coach of Chivas USA, appears in limbo. The club, which this week named a new president, ends its regular season on October 27 unable to finish higher than second worst in MLS.
However, former Jamaica star Andy Williams, in his first season as assistant coach and scout, watched his club RSL easily clinch a post-season spot.
MLS play-offs begin October 31.