Gordon Williams, Gleaner Writer
KANSAS CITY, Kansas:
Jamaica's performance in the final round of World Cup Qualifiers (WCQs) has baffled football observers here, with United States coach Jurgen Klinsmann among those surprised the quality of the Reggae Boyz squad has landed them in the hexagonal group cellar, going into today's game against the Americans here, and barely hanging on to hope for a spot in the game's biggest tournament next year.
"No, no, we all didn't expect Jamaica at the bottom of the table," Klinsmann said yesterday.
" ... I don't think that the record is reflecting Jamaica's strengths and situation," he added.
According to Klinsmann, who today will face Jamaica for the fourth time in WCQs in just over a year, the Boyz are blessed with good players and, maybe with a bit more fortune, could done better than just four points from eight matches, well behind already qualified US and Costa Rica, plus Honduras, Mexico and Panama.
"I believe talent has always been there in Jamaica, and (for) whatever reason it didn't turn out well in this cycle right now, in this World Cup Qualifying campaign," he said.
"I think there were also a little bit of unlucky moments, really unlucky moments, and I'm sure (when) they get their act together, they can zoom in again, and they start to believe in what they are doing again, they will be right back there to compete with everyone."
Others here believe Jamaica has underachieved, among them former US international Eric Wynalda.
"It's clear there is talent in this (Jamaica) team and something went wrong," Wynalda, who played against Jamaica, said yesterday.
"I'm not sure if this all falls on the manager. I'm sure there's politics involved, but it looked like a team that started to get ahead of itself.
" ... It might have had a little to do with ego and a little to do with preparation. And I thought that Jamaica could have been a lot better through this qualification process."
According to goalkeeper Tim Howard, who will captain the US today, Jamaica are one of the few teams the Americans could never intimidate or outmuscle.
"The hardest part for us, playing Jamaica, more often than not, we dominate other teams physically," Howard said yesterday. "And the tough part about Jamaica is usually they are more physical than we are. They're stronger, they're bigger, faster."
CAN'T BE UNDERRATED
Despite winning the last two games against the Boyz, following the US's only loss at the senior level last September in Kingston, Klinsmann believes Jamaica can never be underrated.
"You really have to be on top of your game when you play Jamaica," he said, "because they can surprise you.
".... And they are very, very difficult to break down because they are very compact and well organised in the back."
Today's US strategy is to get Jamaica chasing the ball at Sporting Park.
"What we need to do is we need to move the ball around quickly," said Klinsmann. "We need to transition fast from the back line into the front and open gaps, make them (Jamaica) run, hopefully, and find an opportunity to score."
Klinsmann believes the addition of German compatriot Winfried Schäfer, Jamaica's coach in the last two games after replacing Theodore Whitmore, will bolster the Boyz. He expects Schäfer's technical knowledge and ability to motivate his team to be pivotal today.
"As long as it's a nil-nil score, (Jamaica) will believe and they will grow and they will get more belief the longer the game goes on," said Klinsmann. "So we need to be really ready for it."