Jamaica duo look to lift MLS Cup

Published: Saturday | December 7, 2013 Comments 0
Real Salt Lake midfielder Khari Stephenson.
Real Salt Lake midfielder Khari Stephenson.
Lovel Palmer ... it's a great feeling.
Lovel Palmer ... it's a great feeling.

Gordon Williams, Gleaner Writer

Lovel Palmer and Khari Stephenson will look to end Jamaica's two-year drought in Major League Soccer finals when their club Real Salt Lake (RSL) tackles host Sporting Kansas City (SKC) today.

No Jamaican player has won North America football's top professional prize since Omar Cummings lifted the MLS Cup in 2010. Reggae Boy Jermaine Taylor and Houston Dynamo lost consecutive finals in 2011 and 2012. National teammate Je-Vaughn Watson also appeared for Houston in the 2011 championship.

Jamaicans have played in the last five MLS finals, however, and Palmer is proud the country is yet again represented.

"It's a great feeling," said Palmer, who started in the MLS semi-finals and could see action today.

"I've been in MLS four years and a Jamaican has always been in the final ... . So I'm just happy me and Khari can continue the trend."

Palmer, a former Dynamo completing his fourth MLS season, is anxious to make his cup final debut.

"Excited is the word," he said this week. "Every night I go to bed and wake up and wish the final was that day. Can't wait."

In the 2004 final, Stephenson, then with Kansas City Wizards (now SKC), started in a 3-2 loss to DC United. He didn't make the game day squad for RSL's last semi-final match but is intimately involved with the club's final run.

"I always feel part of the group," said Stephenson. "We're one team."

Prior to Cummings's triumph with Colorado Rapids, players with Jamaican roots appeared in nine of 14 MLS finals. Tyrone Marshall won most titles - two with the Los Angeles Galaxy in 2002 and 2005.

Other winners include former international Andy Williams, current chief scout with RSL, who won with the club in 2009. Jamaica-born Robin Fraser, a former United States international and assistant coach with the '09 RSL team, captained the Galaxy to win in 1996.

MLS final losses

But, in addition to Taylor and Stephenson, other Reggae Boyz have MLS final losses. Wolde Harris was defeated twice -1997 with Colorado and 2002 with New England Revolution - a team which also featured the late Winston Griffiths. Dane Richards and New York Red Bulls lost in 2008 and Donovan Ricketts went down to Williams and RSL.

Win or lose, RSL's Jamaican reps hope to "cherish" this MLS final.

"I was saying to a teammate the other day that I wish I had kids and they can come and watch me play in the final," said Palmer, who was traded from Houston mid-season 2011. "Because it's not every day you get to play in the final."

Palmer replaced injured starter Chris Wingert at fullback in the first leg of the semis and started the second. The American's return has not dampened his enthusiasm.

"Whoever the coach starts I'm confident can do the job," said Palmer. "But every player wants to be on the pitch."

"At some point you want to have an impact," said Stephenson about the uncertainty surrounding playing time. " ... But we're professional and this is just part of being professional."

In their only meeting this season, RSL lost 2-1 at home to SKC. Both clubs finished runner-up in their conferences - RSL in the West and SKC in the East - with SKC slightly better on points with 58 to RSL's 56.

The Jamaicans anticipate today's final, which kicks off at 4 p.m. Jamaica time, will be equally close.

"It's going to be a competitive fight," said Stephenson.

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