Gordon Williams, Gleaner Writer
KANSAS CITY, Kansas, USA:
Adrian Mariappa couldn't mask his devastation after Jamaica's elimination from the 2014 World Cup.
Hours after the Reggae Boyz lost 2-0 to the United States last Friday, Mariappa grappled with the sinking reality his and Jamaica's dream of playing in football's marquee show had been shattered. Going into the game, the odds of the Boyz advancing were razor thin - at best. By themselves, they couldn't stop elimination. Yet the final cut still stung.
"I really thought we could have made (it), genuinely," the 27-year-old said, "And, you know, I'm gutted for us to be out."
Mariappa is used to evaluating big time talent. The English-born defender plays in the Barclay's Premier League. He's convinced Jamaica had requisite quality to reach the World Cup, especially after beating the US in the semi-final round of CONCACAF qualifiers - the same Americans who topped the final hexagonal group Jamaica finished last in. The Boyz blew it. He knew it.
"We definitely should have qualified with the players that we have available," said Mariappa. "There's a lot of talent ... There's a lot of good players.
"Equally good enough," he added, as any team of the five other teams in the "hex". But Mariappa was in no mood for excuses.
"For whatever reason, we're at the bottom of the group and that's not by luck or anything like that," he admitted.
"We haven't been good enough when we have been out on the pitch ... There's games where we deserved more out of the game, but end of the day you have to earn your own luck and we had 10 games (in the hex) to get there and I definitely thought we had more than enough to do it. But it wasn't to be."
Failure, according to Mariappa, cannot be pinned on a solitary reason. He refused to address off-the-field issues, instead targeting inconsistent play, suspensions and injuries.
But Jamaica's multiple line-up changes during the entire qualifying campaign drew most criticism from Mariappa and other Boyz here. Twenty different players started Jamaica's six games of CONCACAF's semi-final round, while 26 started nine hex games. Every match between the semi and final round featured a changed line-up from the match before.
Last Friday, six players who had not started the previous two games were in the first 11. At least three never started a World Cup qualifier before. One, Deshorn Brown, a rookie pro, made his international debut against US.
There were also coaching changes. Theodore Whitmore was out after beating US in the semis and starting the hex with a 0-0 draw in Mexico, both historic results. German Winfried Schäfer replaced him for the final four games of the hex when Jamaica slumped badly in June.
"There's been a lot of change," said Mariappa. "The squads have been very different every time we play ... There's been a lot of players that have been used.
"Injuries have accounted for that as well. It doesn't help ... The teams that are up there, are the ones that are consistent on the pitch and off the pitch and we haven't quite hit those heights. On the pitch, we haven't scored as many goals as we wanted and we haven't kept out as many."
chop and change methods
Jamaica's "chop and change" methods alarmed other Boyz, who, some off the record fearing repercussions, lamented the numerous line-ups.
"I think this is one of the weakest, easiest qualifying (groups), because we got a fairly good team," said midfielder Je-Vaughn Watson, probably Jamaica's best player Friday.
"(But) like, everything just changed and all the players, everybody trying to adapt to new players and we didn't have the time for that."
Watson and the others believe all the Jamaicans used are talented enough. However, they added, without a consistent line-up the group struggled to mesh. Brown, for example, a 22-year-old on debut, was one of seven listed as "strikers" who started in the hex, whereas Jamaica scored three goals so far.
"First time I get call and first time start," said Brown. "So it was like a load of pressure on me."
One senior player, speaking off the record, lashed the coaches.
"Every day, new players," he said. "How were we supposed to gell?"
For Mariappa, missing the World Cup with Jamaica's talent pool was unfathomable.
"The quality players that there is," he said shaking his head, "I don't think there is an excuse for us not qualifying."
Maybe the pool was so deep, the Boyz drowned in it.