Mon | Dec 5, 2016

Whitmore out of his league

Published:Friday | January 23, 2015 | 12:00 AM

The national Under-20 football team has crashed out ignominiously from the CONCACAF World Cup qualifiers. The performance was not flattering. We suffered four defeats in five games. Except for the first game against Trinidad and Tobago, we didn't score a single goal in the tournament.

We couldn't even score a goal against Aruba, the 'bramblest' team in the competition. Aruba had conceded 19 goals in the tournament prior to playing Jamaica. This means they were giving up almost five goals a game on average before we played them. We were playing at home, in familiar conditions and in front of our own spectators.

The bottom line is that this was a dismal showing.

As is expected, the post-mortem will start. Who is to blame? Many will argue that the buck stops with the Jamaica Football Federation (JFF). It was the JFF that hired Theodore Whitmore as coach, a move that was surprising to most Jamaicans.

I wouldn't have gone that way, but the JFF may well argue that despite his failed attempt at qualifying us for the 2014 World Cup, 'Tappa' did have some pluses. He did achieve things that no other Jamaican coach has ever done. He did draw against Mexico in Mexico and he did beat the USA, things that eluded even the much-heralded Rene Simoes.

Tappa also won a Caribbean tournament, and the JFF may well feel that if it had to give a local coach a chance in the Under-20 campaign, he would be as good a candidate as any. It's a fair argument.

That decision, though, has backfired. Tappa stated at the start that he was OK with our attack but was worried about our defence. The irony is that Jamaica's defence, under the circumstances, did better than our attacking unit!

You have to wonder how well the coach really understood those at his disposal. Whitmore's penchant for playing people in positions they aren't comfortable with continued in this tournament. He insisted in playing Lovel Palmer at right back for the senior Reggae Boyz in the last campaign when it was obvious to all who watched that Lovel's best position was probably somewhere in midfield. When he dropped Lovell from the position, he chose a variety of right backs when the best right back in the country at the time, Xavian Virgo, was surprisingly overlooked.

The same thing happened in this tournament. He played Manchester High's playmaking midfielder, Insamnia Cohen, at left back in the first game against Trinidad. The youngster looked completely lost and eventually lost his place. Cohen would not have made any of the top school teams as a left back at all. The big, tall 6'4' Roshane McLymont, who played left back for STETHS, was arguably the best left back available to him in the tournament.

Glaring Omissions

Whitmore didn't go for the best schoolboy choices, either. Most Jamaicans close to the sport feel Whitmore wasn't visible enough at the top schoolboy games. Yes, he had a team in the daCosta Cup. He did coach St James. However, after St James dropped out, not too many people saw him at the business end of the schoolboy competition.

He did pick a few schoolboys, but then there were glaring omissions. Shevon Stewart and Amoy Brown of St George's, Azuma Johnson of Camperdown, Bebeto McDonald and Odayne Samuels of Charlie Smith come naturally to mind. Why wasn't Rafique Bryan able to make this team?

I was most concerned with Ajuma Johnson's absence, the same way I was perplexed by Jermaine Hue's absence in the last senior campaign. No other schoolboy was as creative in the middle. None as 'magical' as Ajuma when he was on song. We seem, in Jamaica, to prefer workhorses in midfield rather than those innovative players, but this is something that isn't Whitmore's fault alone.

I also thought the coach missed a trick when he didn't carry the Under-20 team that he was also in charge of to the CAC Games late last year. CAC is an Under-21 tournament, but with an Under-20 World Cup qualifying tournament looming, it would have been ideal to send your Under-20 squad there to give them much-needed practice against high-quality opposition.

This might have interrupted some of our schoolboy programme, and we know some coaches wouldn't like that, but then that was Whitmore's opportunity to make some noise. In any case, he did have St George's' Martin Davis in the squad and he was injured for the Manning cup season, so he was picked on preseason criteria. Other players could, therefore, have been selected in advance. Whitmore says he won't resign. Maybe he shouldn't have to.

Orville Higgins is a sports journalist and talk-show host at KLAS. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.