Gordon Williams, Gleaner Writer
GEORGIA, United States:
Jamaican footballers chasing professional contracts overseas will soon get a golden chance to impress. Clubs are coming to them.
Representatives of North American Soccer League (NASL) teams based in the United States (US) and Canada have confirmed they will be in Jamaica next month for a 'combine', where players will have the chance to showcase their talent.
"The league is actively trying to work with the Jamaican professional football leagues down there, to do combines and things," said Juergen Sommer, director of soccer operations and head coach of Indy Eleven, a US-based team which will debut in NASL 2014.
" ... Coming up this winter, in December, from what I hear, we may be in Jamaica for a combine."
Brian Haynes, former Trinidad and Tobago international player and head coach of Atlanta Silverbacks, also confirmed the event and its significance.
"The combine is a great chance for Jamaicans to show what they can do," said Haynes after his team lost the NASL Soccer Bowl championship 1-0 to New York Cosmos on Saturday.
Opportunities for pro contracts in North America are growing, especially with the expanding NASL, United Soccer Leagues (USL) and Major League Soccer (MLS).
NASL and USL are generally considered a tier below MLS in playing standard and compensation. But Sommer believes NASL is steadily closing the gap.
"I wouldn't say it's a drastic level below MLS," he said. "(NASL) is really getting better year after year."
The NASL is also viewed as a launchpad for players seeking improvement and wider exposure. Silverbacks midfielder Horace James, a former Montego Bay United player, is eyeing a bigger goal.
"I wanna move forward," said James, a late substitute in Saturday's loss. "So this is a stepping stone for me, pretty much ... . I'm thinking to go MLS, Europe."
"There will be opportunities for players to continue careers here in the US," Sommer said. "Mexico regularly takes players out of our league. Some guys go to Europe. So, I think it's a great platform."
Many Jamaicans have played or are playing in NASL, USL and MLS. Eight Reggae Boyz currently occupy roster spots at the four remaining clubs in this year's MLS play-offs.
The NASL ended its 2013 season with eight teams, but will add three next year and two in 2015. The league allows international roster spaces for seven non-North American residents.
Several Jamaicans have been on trial with NASL teams this year, most
notably national striker Jermaine 'Tuffy' Anderson with Indy Eleven. The response was positive.
"(Anderson) was a real impact kind of personality around the group," said Sommer. "Obviously a lot of people recognised him - players, staff alike. So it was good."
Clubs are seeking to identify players for the January international transfer window. NASL players usually report to training camp around that time.
"If Jamaicans like it," Sommer said, "there's a serious opportunity here."
NASL reps also identified what they'll be looking for at the combine, an event usually designed to evaluate players on and off the field. It can include interviews, physical and mental tests, plus squad games. They believe Jamaicans bring quality.
"There is a different type of composure that Jamaican/Caribbean players bring," said Haynes, who played against Jamaica during his international career. "Different strength too. ... It would be a great addition for the league if more Jamaicans came in."
But personality counts big too.
"(The player) has got to be a quality character of a person," said Sommer.