Jamaican presence still strong in MLS
Gordon Williams, Gleaner Writer
PENDING national duties will not deplete Jamaica's presence in Major League Soccer (MLS) this weekend, and the bulk of Reggae Boyz will be on show in North America's top professional football competition.
Jamaica, preparing for next month's start to qualification for the 2014 World Cup, recently invited goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts, forward Ryan Johnson and midfielders Dane Richards and Je-Vaughn Watson from MLS clubs to prepare for warm-up games against Panama.
Only New York Red Bulls' Richards, however, was required to report for the first Panama match tomorrow (May 27) in Kingston, according to the Jamaica Football Federation (JFF). The club gets a bye this weekend.
Available for qualifiers
Today, Montreal Impact, Toronto FC (TFC) and Houston Dynamo, however, should have the services of Ricketts, Johnson and Watson, respectively. That trio is expected to travel to Panama for the return international friendly on June 1, the JFF said.
Barring injury, all Jamaica players in MLS will be available for World Cup qualifiers at home against Guatemala on June 8, and away to Antigua and Barbuda on June 12.
Richards joins the Reggae Boyz in good form. He scored his first goal of the MLS season - the winner - beating Ricketts and Montreal 2-1 last weekend. He also supplied his second assist of 2012 in a 1-1 draw with Chivas USA on Wednesday. That result ended a string of wins for New York, but the club still tops the 10-team MLS Eastern Conference (EC).
Chivas, coached by Jamaica-born Robin Fraser, are now sixth in the nine-team Western Conference (WC). They host Seattle Sounders today.
For Johnson, 2012 has been bittersweet. He has only one goal and two assists as TFC have lost all nine MLS games in 2012, the worst start in the league's history. Yet, on Wednesday Johnson helped TFC beat Vancouver Whitecaps 1-0 to win the Canadian Championship on a 2-1 aggregate. TFC host Philadelphia Union, and Vancouver, fourth in the WC, travel to Portland Timbers as both Canada-based clubs return to MLS action today.
Vancouver's Jamaican rookie, Darren Mattocks, who returned from injury recently, came on as a substitute against TFC Wednesday. Today, the striker will likely face Reggae Boy utility player Lovel Palmer, whose Timbers are next to last in the WC.
Stephenson in solid form
Midfielder Khari Stephenson is another Jamaican in solid MLS form, scoring his second goal of the season - a penalty - as San José Earthquakes beat defending champions Los Angeles Galaxy 3-2 on Wednesday. The win returned San José to first in the WC. San José, with Simon Dawkins, another midfielder with Jamaican roots, play at Sporting Kansas City tomorrow.
Fullback Shaun Francis, enduring a bumpy 2012 campaign, was an unused sub for Columbus Crew in a 2-0 win over Seattle on Wednesday. Columbus, fifth in the EC, host Chicago Fire today.
MLS All-Star striker Omar Cummings will be absent for club and country this weekend, recovering from an ankle sprain. But defender Tyrone Marshall recently showed Cummings is not the only Jamaican goalscorer at Colorado Rapids, heading in his first of the season in a 2-2 draw with Sporting Kansas City last weekend. The Rapids are fifth in the WC. Today, Colorado host Ricketts and Montreal, sitting eighth in the EC. National defender Shavar Thomas is also on Montreal's roster.
Meanwhile, Watson should be accompanied by national teammate, Jermaine Taylor, when Houston host struggling Los Angeles today. Houston are seventh in the EC. The Galaxy's loss Wednesday left them last in the WC.