Taylor, Watson provide Jamaican presence in Conference finals
Gordon Williams, Gleaner Writer
Jamaican presence in the hunt for the top prize in Major League Soccer (MLS) has been slashed dramatically entering tomorrow's conference finals of North America's premier professional football competition.
And, pending injury reports and one coach's decision, the number of Reggae Boyz able to directly impact the MLS play-offs could plummet further by the time the four teams take the field in the United States.
Results from conference semi-final games this week booted at least three of the remaining participants with Jamaican roots. Players Simon Dawkins and Khari Stephenson witnessed their club San Jose Earthquakes' elimination from the play-offs.
San Jose squandered a 1-0 first-leg Western Conference (WC) semi-final lead by folding 3-1 at home to defending champions Los Angeles Galaxy on Wednesday to lose 3-2 on aggregate. Dawkins played the entire match. Stephenson was an unused substitute.
The defeat stained San Jose's successful run in the 2012 regular season, when the California-based club compiled the league's best record.
Meanwhile, former Reggae Boy Andy Williams' first season on the sidelines ended Thursday after Real Salt Lake (RSL) were beaten 1-0 at home by the Seattle Sounders. Both teams played to a 0-0 draw in the WC semis on November 2.
Williams worked as a RSL assistant coach and scout in 2012.
Wednesday produced bittersweet results for Jamaicans elsewhere in MLS. Injury forced national player Jermaine Taylor out of the Eastern Conference (EC) semi-final second-leg clash against Sporting Kansas City (SKC). Taylor hurt his knee and was substituted in the first leg last Sunday, which Houston won 2-0 at home.
Without him in defence, Houston conceded an early goal Wednesday, but didn't give away much more in a 1-0 defeat and that was enough to advance the Texas-based club on a 2-1 aggregate.
Tomorrow, Houston host DC United in the first leg of the EC conference final. Whether Taylor will play is still unclear. He trained before Wednesday and was declared a game-time decision. However, the Portland native failed the fitness test and Canadian André Hainault replaced him at centre half.
When inclement weather forced the other EC semi-final second-leg clash between DC United and New York Red Bulls to be pushed back a day, it may have been a blessing in disguise for Taylor and Houston, allowing the 27-year-old former Harbour View and St George's SC player more time to recover.
Taylor trained with the team yesterday.
Taylor's national teammate Je-Vaughn Watson, who also played regularly in Jamaica's run to the CONCACAF final round of 2014 World Cup qualifiers, may be missing from tomorrow's game for another reason. The midfielder, according to the club, is fit. But Watson has not been selected by coach Dominic Kinnear for any of Houston's three MLS play-off game day squads so far. With regular starter Calen Carr suffering a hamstring injury against SKC, Watson could be included tomorrow.
Both Taylor and Watson were members of the Houston squad which was beaten in the final of MLS Cup 2011.
Meanwhile, Canada midfielder Dwayne De Rosario, who has maintained close ties to Jamaica because his father grew up in the island, could return for DC United against Houston after being absent since September with a knee injury. De Rosario's Washington DC-based club eliminated the Red Bulls 2-1 on aggregate.
Tomorrow, Los Angeles will host Seattle in the first leg of the WC final. The return fixtures for both conference finals will be played November 18. The winners of each conference will meet in the MLS Cup final on December 1.