By Gregory Bryce
The Reggae Boyz yesterday played an international friendly against the United States of America at the Stadion Wiener Neustadt stadium in Austria which resulted in a 4-1 defeat for the Jamaicans. Coming into the match, the Boyz had little to no preparation and it seemed to be a ragtag team of players that took to the field. In the end, the result was not surprising. However, there were a lot of positives (as well as negatives) to take from the game.
Taking the field, coach Theodore Whitmore decided to use a 4-5-1 formation which saw a central defensive pair of Liam Moore and Ethan Pinnock with Amari Bell and Adrian Mariappa as the wingbacks. Michael Hector and Kevaughn Isaacs sat at the base of the midfield with Jamal Lowe, Kasey Palmer, and Ricardo Morris completing the five-man midfield. Up top, striker Andre Gray played as the lone target man for the team.
It seemed as though Whitmore was preparing to contest a midfield battle against the Americans to perhaps limit the influence that Yunus Musah and Sebastian Lletget would have on the game with their passes in and around the box before using Gray’s pace as the offensive weapon to run at the US defense.
In all, this was perhaps the best lineup Jamaica could have used from the squad of players.
The first 45 minutes were easily the better of the two halves as the Reggae Boyz went in at half-time one-nil down due to a wonder strike from Barcelona’s left-back Sergino Dest that barely missed Jeadine White’s outstretched palms.
It was clear from the start that Jamaica would lose the midfield battle with the US team having the lion’s share of possession. In fact, rarely did the Reggae Boyz find themselves stringing more than a few passes together in the midfield and I felt that this in part was due to the absence of Ravel Morrison and Daniel Johnson. There was little creativity or decisiveness to be found at the base of the midfield as neither Hector nor Isaacs was able to control the tempo of the game or dictate play.
Hector, excluding the infrequent diagonal passes to Mariappa, was often playing misplaced passes that simply added more pressure on the team defensively. While he seems to be a fairly solid defensive player, making a sold tackle now and again, he lacks the creativity needed for the position he was played in.
The most promising player of the half was undoubtedly Mariappa who on multiple occasions got by Dest to offer an attacking option for the team, creating two big opportunities for Jamaica to equalize. Lowe, Gray and Morris also seemed promising as the trio of attackers combined well to craft an opportunity for Morris who had a shot on goal – though he eventually dragged the ball wide.
As the second half rolled in, so did the substitutions and eventually so did the mistakes. From a neutral standpoint, I can understand why Whitmore made so many changes. With many of the players making their debut, it was important for him to see what they could bring on the team.
But I feel it was those changes that caused such an emphatic scoreline.
The US doubled their advantage early in the second half and this saw three substitutions being made. One of the more important decisions was Whitmore taking Pinnock out of the game. Pinnock I felt was doing well defensively and made a solid pairing alongside Moore, and his absence was felt later in the game.
A positive came when Gray and Lowe combined for Jamaica’s only goal of the game – before Lowe was immediately substituted out of the game and Gray a few minutes later.
So with most of Jamaica’s best performers of the match taken out of the game, the team crumpled through a combination of match fatigue, simple errors, and the Americans’ clinical finishing. In less than eight minutes, the match went from 2-1 to 4-1.
In the end, few expected Jamaica to come away victors of the game, but after the first half, there were even fewer who expected the game to end 4-1.
The game showed that one of Jamaica’s greatest weaknesses continues to be the midfield. There needs to be a link established between our defense and attack, and I’m sure this is something that Whitmore will be working on in the coming months.
Gregory Bryce is a freelance sports writer.
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