The United States Men’s National Team opens the second window of World Cup qualifying, occupying third place in the CONCACAF table. The next opponent on the schedule is Jamaica, with the two sides facing off at Q2 Stadium in Austin, Texas. An avalanche of attacking soccer could be on display, featuring a host of dynamic talents.
Jamaica is managed by Theodore “Tappa” Whitmore, who earned 120 caps as a player. This is his third tenure in charge of the national team, after returning as an interim in 2016 and signing a four-year extension in 2018. Through 47 matches, he has compiled a 22-10-15 record, which includes runners-up, fourth-place, and quarterfinal finishes at successive editions of the CONCACAF Gold Cup.
This is the 30th all-time meeting between the two nations, with the USMNT holding an 18-3-8 advantage. Jamaica heads into this fixture on the wrong foot, currently dead-last in the eight-team qualifying group. The third round began in promising fashion, with a Reggae Boyz squad challenged by COVID-19 travel restrictions taking a 1-1 draw into the 89th minute, before ultimately losing to Mexico on a goal from Henry Martin. That was followed by a disappointing 3-0 loss to Panama at Kingston’s Independence Park (colloquially known as The Office). Match day three against Costa Rica finished all square at 1-1.
Despite domestic criticism, the players are standing behind the manager. “To be honest, if you look at football, world football, when a coach gets a series of bad results, everyone says, ‘Get rid of the coach,’” defender Damion Lowe told SportsMax. “It’s normal. But if you look at Tappa’s record, if it’s not the best, it’s one of the best records. I remember when Tappa returned for his third stint in 2016. Nobody wanted us, nobody wanted the national team. For me, Tappa has my 100% support, and these players support Tappa 100%. They believe in him. They’ll work for him.”
Our 24-player squad for the FIFA World Cup Qualifiers @Anthony42Grant will join the team 8— Official J.F.F (@jff_football) September 30, 2021
.#QatarMotivated #ReggaeBoyz #WorldCupQualifiers #JourneyToQatar #RoadToQatar2022 #JFF_Football pic.twitter.com/pgzKKTUZwA
Whitmore named a 24-player roster for the three-match window. Several notable names were not selected, including Michael Hector, Leon Bailey, and Amari’i Bell. Attacker Cory Burke, who started the first three qualifying matches, is held out with an ankle injury.
GOALKEEPERS (3): Andre Blake (Philadelphia Union), Dillon Barnes (Queens Park Rangers), Dennis Taylor (Humble Lions FC)
DEFENDERS (8): Damion Lowe (Al-Ittihad), Adrian Mariappa (Unattached), Liam Moore (Reading), Ethan Pinnock (Brentford), Alvas Powell (Philadelphia Union), Oniel Fisher (LA Galaxy), Kemar Lawrence (Toronto FC), Javain Brown (Vancouver Whitecaps)
MIDFIELDERS (7): Daniel Johnson (Preston North End), Devon Williams (Miami FC), Je-Vaughn Watson (Humble Lion), Bobby Reid (Fulham), Tyreek Magee (Eupen), Kemar Roofe (Rangers), Anthony Grant
FORWARDS (6): Junior Flemmings (Birmingham Legion), Jamal Lowe (Bournemouth), Michail Antonio (West Ham United), Javon East (Santos de Guápiles), Shamar Nicholson (Charleroi), Andre Gray (Queens Park Rangers)
Whitmore uses a variety of formations, largely based upon available personnel. His preference during the last international window was for an attacking 4-4-2, which can almost resemble the aggressive 4-2-2-2. Jamaica has some incredible talent in the roster, but the challenge remains finding cohesive tactics that bring the best out of a group of players with minimal shared experience.
Against Mexico, the Reggae Boyz struggled to defend crosses, stop penetration, and clear away danger, despite often having eight or nine players behind the ball. Panama was similarly able to build through the wings and constantly win headers in the final third. After surrendering a goal, Jamaica tends to chase the game and push the fullbacks high, which in turn opens up space for match-killing counter-attacks.
Andre Blake is still the undisputed number one goalkeeper for the Reggae Boyz. The 30-year-old is a stellar shot-stopper with quick reactions, capable of saving attempts others are unable to reach. He is not necessarily a box controller, which presents the opportunity for crosses to be played closer to the goal.
The more experienced first-choice center back pairing appears to be Damion Lowe and Adrian Mariappa. However, the alternate duo of Ethan Pinnock and Liam Moore – both English-born newcomers to the program – started against the USMNT at the Gold Cup, surrendering a single goal. The former stands a towering 6’4” and has been instrumental in Brentford’s rise to the Premier League. He is a decent ball-winner, both in the air and when clogging passing lanes. The latter, a 28-year-old at Reading, is a heavy tackler and fairly reliable in possession.
At left back is Kemar Lawrence of Toronto FC, who at one time could have been considered the best wide defender in CONCACAF. The 29-year-old is no longer quite the physical marvel but can still shuttle up and down the field to distribute a rough challenge or well-placed passes. Alvas Powell occupies the other side of the field, terrorizing opponents with his speed. He has a tendency to slip into the back post and get on the end of crosses.
Jamaica utilized a double pivot in recent matches, ideally to enable a more fluid build-up. Daniel Johnson of Preston North End has “dribbling ability and vision that helps pick out a teammate.” He can be dangerous from long distance, particularly when trailing the action. Miami FC’s Devon “Speedy” Williams works hard to get open and shields off opponents after receiving the ball. His defensive work is also serviceable for a deep-lying playmaker.
The elusive Bobby Decordova-Reid attempts to combine in the build-up with a quick pass or solo run. The versatile Fulham attacker is always looking to break into the box, mastering the give-and-go. Junior Flemmings is of a similar model, possessing “excellent special awareness” according to Total Football Analysis. He plays early diagonal crosses and through balls, which should mesh well with the current striker group.
With five goals and three assists, Michail Antonio might be the hottest player in the English Premier League. The West Ham attacker has the instincts of a poacher despite preferring the wing, as dangerous with the ball as he is without. Jamaica stands to benefit from his inclusion but needs to properly utilize his skillset. There is far less ambiguity with the 6’4” Shamar Nicholson of Charleroi, who requires constant monitoring in the final third. A prolific and prototypical target man, his physicality is a constant challenge for center backs. Andre Gray, on loan at Queens Park Rangers, could also line up as a striker.
This is not quite a must-win for Gregg Berhalter, as the tournament is yet to reach the midpoint. However, dropping points against a team looking unlikely to qualify for the World Cup would be a definitive step in the wrong direction. Jamaica possesses the attacking talent to keep pace but has failed to score more than twice in a match for almost a year. Expect the USMNT to come out on top, but the task may be difficult.
The match is scheduled for Thursday, October 7th at 7:30 p.m. Eastern, 4:30 p.m. Pacific. Viewing options include ESPN2, TUDN, Univision, and Fubo TV (free trial).