From Boyz to men
Whitmore tasks Jamaica to show maturity and pedigree after Concacaf president’s backing as Gold Cup threat
New kits, new players, new members of the technical staff are some of the notable changes as Jamaica get their Concacaf Gold Cup campaign started against Suriname in Orlando, Florida, this evening. Theodore Whitmore’s Reggae Boyz come into this...
New kits, new players, new members of the technical staff are some of the notable changes as Jamaica get their Concacaf Gold Cup campaign started against Suriname in Orlando, Florida, this evening.
Theodore Whitmore’s Reggae Boyz come into this tournament with more pressure on than in past years not only because of their two runner-up placings in 2015 and 2017, and a semi-final appearance two years ago, but also because they are Concacaf’s third-ranked nation behind the usual favourites - Mexico and the United States.
If ever there was a time the Boyz were favoured to upset the apple cart, it is now. Whitmore views the tournament as the Moby Dick to his Captain Ahab. His focus in his press conference yesterday was on how capturing the title eluded him twice, and he made it clear that his objective this time is cup success.
“It’s an interesting tournament,” he said. “We are here to win this competition. As a coach, this competition eluded me in 2017 and in 2019, so we’re looking for a good show, this 2021 edition.
“I want to be the first [Jamaican] coach to win this tournament, so it’s very important, but it starts against Suriname.”
One person who has publicly backed Whitmore to achieve that objective is Concacaf President Victor Montagliani. He told The Gleaner in April that Jamaica should not be seen as underdogs or outsiders, but as a team with the pedigree to win the tournament. One of his reasons is his belief in Whitmore’s coaching ability.
“Jamaica, to me, is one of our top teams,” he said. “Listen, any of our top teams can win the Gold Cup. Of course, you know Mexico will be strong, and the US will be strong, but I don’t see Jamaica as being second fiddle to anybody. I think they have the talent, I think they have the coach, and I think if they apply themselves, as they have in the last few Gold Cups, there’s no reason why they can’t be back in the final because I think they have the players.”
Whitmore, who said in January that he needs the full support from the Jamaica Football Federation (JFF) to get his team in order for this and the World Cup qualifying campaign, now says that he pleased with the squad he has at his disposal.
“I think we’re comfortable with what we’re doing, with what we have achieved so far,” he said yesterday. “The whole preparation starts [today] against Suriname. We have to do well. We think we have the guys to perform. We want to leave nothing to chance, so we’re here to prepare and give our best at all times.”
Whitmore spent the latter part of 2020 and much of 2021 experimenting with a number of new options for his team in international friendly matches. Of that cohort, Daniel Johnson, Ravel Morrison, Blair Turgott, Dillon Barnes, Amari’i Bell, and Liam Moore made the cut for the 23-man squad for the tournament. Andre Gray was also called in to replace Javon East, who had an injury.
Morrison, however, is not in the squad as he has not gained a US visa. The JFF says he will join once he obtains the document. Until then, he remains in England, where he is training to prepare.
Goalkeeper and captain Andre Blake also returns to add much needed experience. He sees himself as a mentor to not only the younger players, but those not yet familiar with the expectations and pressure of playing for the country.
READY TO GO
“It’s about leading by example, your performance on the pitch and off it,” he said. “Just being a bigger brother and just guiding your teammates along the way and trying to get everybody on the same page. Everybody’s motivated and ready to go.”
Leon Bailey also returns to the squad after months out of action through injury at Bayer Leverkusen in Germany. Easily, the player with the highest profile in the squad, there will be pressure on him to produce both goals and assists not only today, but throughout the tournament. But Whitmore says they have had that discussion privately.
“Leon Bailey wants to do well,” Whitmore said. “He had only scored one time for the country. We don’t want to put him under any excessive pressure, but he’s here. He’s in the right frame of mind, and he’s ready to do well in this tournament.”
There are also changes among the technical ranks as former Reggae Boyz Paul Hall and Merron Gordon have been brought in as assistant coaches to replace Jerome Waite. They will need to have done their scouting well against what could prove to be a tricky Suriname team.
The last time the two sides met was November 2018 when Jamaica won 2-1 at home in a Concacaf Nations League qualifier.
Although the level of opponents faced are not of equal calibre, Suriname have the better form coming into the match, having won five of their last six matches. The one they lost was 4-0 to Canada, which eliminated them from World Cup qualifying. This does suggest, though, that they will be taking the Gold Cup, their first ever, even more seriously. They are headed by coach Dean Gorré and have a number of players who are based at clubs at various divisions in the Netherlands.
The Reggae Boyz come into the game with one win in their last five games, but those were while Whitmore heavily rotated the squad, experimenting with new players.
This afternoon’s game kicks off at 5:30.
Costa Rice then face Guadeloupe in the other Group C game, at the same venue, at 8 p.m.