Mon | Oct 18, 2021

‘We want to get to the World Cup’

Ricketts, Reggae Boyz seek chemistry to strengthen qualifying chances

Published:Friday | September 10, 2021 | 12:09 AMAudley Boyd/Gleaner Writer
Panama’s Eric Davis Grajes looks to close down Jamaica’s Michail Antonio during the Jamaica vs Panama World Cup qualifier at the National Stadium on Sunday, September 5, 2021. Panama won 3-0.
Panama’s Eric Davis Grajes looks to close down Jamaica’s Michail Antonio during the Jamaica vs Panama World Cup qualifier at the National Stadium on Sunday, September 5, 2021. Panama won 3-0.
Ricketts
Ricketts
1
2

WITH WORLD Cup qualification the common goal, the Jamaica Football Federation (JFF) and its signature team, the Reggae Boyz, are looking to build vibe and chemistry from its best and worst performances of this Concacaf Hexagonal series to...

WITH WORLD Cup qualification the common goal, the Jamaica Football Federation (JFF) and its signature team, the Reggae Boyz, are looking to build vibe and chemistry from its best and worst performances of this Concacaf Hexagonal series to successfully hurdle the tough challenges that await.

Sitting in a desperate and embarrassing position after losing their two opening matches, Jamaica, trailing 0-1 on Jimmy Marin’s fourth-minute goal in their away match in Costa Rica, rallied with a 47th-minute goal from talisman Shamar Nicholson to tie the Wednesday night contest 1-1 and earn their first point of the 14-game series. Mexico head the standings on seven points; the United States, Canada, and Panama have five points; and Costa Rica, Honduras, and El Salvador have two.

The top three will advance to the Qatar 2022 World Cup Finals, with fourth place going to a playoff.

The Reggae Boyz, who should have won the Costa Rica game after creating far more quality goal-scoring chances in an impressive showing, have been lifted by not only the result, but the performance. And their spirits have been rekindled.

Days earlier, feelings were contrasting. First, there was sadness for a 2-1 loss last Thursday at tough Mexico, tough Azteca, mainly because of an 89th-minute concession that meant defeat. Then Sunday, there was anger not only because of a 3-0 home loss to Panama at the National Stadium, but also because eight changes were made to the starting team, all British-based players, and the display lacked guts. Some in the second team were part of a big recruiting exercise launched in April.

Then for Wednesday’s encounter, the eight were gone and back in their place were players, mostly, in the squad for years, who played the Mexico game and made two Concacaf Gold Cup finals and have placed fourth in the regional championship since 2015.

Rather than gripe, the federation and its players displayed a recognition of the difficult journey to get back in the race and working together as a team.

Pointing to the big motivator, Michael Ricketts, President of the JFF, said: “We really want to get to the World Cup. We are doing everything to get to the World Cup.

“We’re trying as best as possible to give this team everything that they would have asked for ,and we, up to the last two or three days ago, we were very, very disappointed,” he continued. “But there is a kind of resurgence of goodwill and vibe, and I do hope that from here on, it will be best practices and good results.”

Asked about the contrasting output between the radically altered starting teams, Ricketts shared: “I think we never had the chemistry though some of those players were together with the coach for a few days. But obviously, that wasn’t enough, and hopefully, we’ll get the mix and the chemistry right for the next set of games from here on.”Going forward, the chemistry involves learning to play together on the pitch as much as learning about each other. A lack of these ingredients can destroy any team internally, as was evident after Sunday’s loss by the reaction of some players not favoured in the line-up.

Ricketts is aware of the repercussions given whispers on that situation.

“There could be some credence to that thought,” he reasoned. “It certainly could happen in any game and any team selection. But we want to ensure that we have the best unit, and whatever the issues are we want to ensure that ... (they can be dealt with).

“That was one of the reasons why we had a sports psychologist with us because there are a number of things,” he said.

STARTING TEAM

Damion Lowe, the central defender, is a leader in the team. He was also left off the starting team on Sunday, along with Nicholson, who also scored in Mexico. Still, he recognises the need to strengthen the team but asks for commitment.

“We have been together for a number of years. Some of the guys played in the Gold Cup 2017, Gold Cup even from 2016, Caribbean Cup prior. We are familiar with each other. We have been playing together for a while, but obviously, we can’t do it alone. We need additional pieces,” noted Lowe, whose father, Onandi, was a stand-out member of the historic Jamaica team that today remains the nation’s only World Cup Finals qualifier.

“Whoever comes in just has to know that they match our intensity and match the workload and just play for the country and play for the crest on your chest,” Lowe stated. “And give the commitment and the all. Because we go out there and try to do our best and leave it all on the field. And the result will take care of itself once we get the job done.”

energy

Another veteran, Je-Vaughn Watson, said the Reggae Boyz must enhance their squad but bring energy all the time.

“It’s going to be tough. It’s going to take more than talent. It’s going to be a dogfight to win World Cup qualifying games. They are tough,” said Watson, a central midfielder. “Those guys are a good addition to the team, and we want them around to make the team better.”

Analysing the difference in play days past, Watson said it is about “flicking the switch because we didn’t bring the energy here in Jamaica, but over there (Costa Rica), we were fighting for our lives”.

“The guys have got to understand that now, every game it’s going to be like that. We cannot drop the level. We have to keep the standards high,” said Watson. “We’re putting a lot of emphasis on getting to this World Cup. Everybody wants to go to the World Cup because that’s the aim.”

audleymboyd@gmail.com