The United States Men’s National Team is halfway through CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying, topping the table due to goal differential. For the fourth time this year, the next opponent is Jamaica, which is rapidly fading out of contention for Qatar. Matches at Independence Park in Kingston – a venue affectionately known as The Office – are never easy, even in front of a limited audience.
Jamaica is led by Theodore “Tappa” Whitmore, who began his fourth managerial stint in January of 2017. Despite growing domestic criticism, the 49-year-old Montego Bay native remains confident that the team is improving. Following a rough start to World Cup qualifying, recent results support his opinion.
Since losing to the USMNT on October 7th, the Reggae Boyz managed to climb out of last place. A scoreless draw with Canada was followed by a 2-0 victory over Honduras. The current international window opened with a 1-1 standoff against El Salvador, as a 90th minute Alex Roldan goal denied three points. Jamaica is down but not completely out of qualifying. While separated from the front of the pack, finishing at fourth place and earning a spot in the inter-confederation playoffs remains possible.
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Whitmore selected a 24-player roster for the two matches. Striker Andre Gray and goalkeeper Dillon Barnes were replaced due to injuries. Notable names such as Ethan Pinnock, Tyreek Magee, Jamal Lowe, and Michael Hector did not receive call-ups. As Rory Smith wrote for the New York Times, Jamaica has access to several top talents but lacks the time to build a cohesive squad, which is quite disappointing considering the missed potential of a true full-strength group.
GOALKEEPERS (3): Andre Blake (Philadelphia Union), Jeadine White (Cavalier), Dwayne Miller (Syrianska)
DEFENDERS (8): Kemar Lawrence (Toronto FC), Alvas Powell (Philadelphia Union), Adrian Mariappa (Unattached), Damion Lowe (Al Ittihad), Oniel Fisher (LA Galaxy), Liam Moore (Reading), Greg Leigh (Morecambe), Javain Brown (Vancouver Whitecaps)
MIDFIELDERS (6): Anthony Grant (Swindon Town), Ravel Morrison (Derby County), Devon Williams (Miami FC), Je-Vaughn Watson (Humble Lions), Lamar Walker (Miami FC), Bobby Decordova-Reid (Fulham)
FORWARDS (7): Junior Flemmings (Birmingham Legion), Cory Burke (Philadelphia Union), Javon East (Santos de Guápiles), Shamar Nicholson (Charleroi), Michail Antonio (West Ham United), Kemar Roofe (Rangers), Leon Bailey (Aston Villa)
Whitmore primarily deploys a 4-4-2 formation but has utilized various one-striker set-ups in the past. The defense starts out fairly compact, surrendering a lot of medium-range efforts from 18-25 yards away from goal. After conceding, far too much space is opened, while the unchecked and unchallenged opposition charges through the center of the field. Jamaica’s best attacks come from long, diagonal passes during counter-attacks.
Andre Blake remains the starting goalkeeper, serving as captain during the previous qualifiers. The two-time Major League Soccer Goalkeeper of the Year possesses the ability for incredible saves, making the fantastic appear routine. His range and control of the box can be limited, which at times puts a greater demand on the back line. He also has been beaten from distance quite frequently in the past few months.
Despite naming a selection of big names to previous camps, Whitmore has stuck with his established regular pairing. Adrian Mariappa is currently out of contract after being released by Bristol City but started six out of seven qualifiers. The 35-year-old is a hard tackler and threat on set pieces. His partner, Damion Lowe of Al Ittihad in the Egyptian Premier League, is a physical presence at 6’3” and hits accurate long passes. Both players are skilled at shutting down counter-attacks, although the dam eventually breaks.
Left back Kemar Lawrence is a capable tackler and often plays the hero role when shutting down opponents. Effectiveness in the final third comes and goes, but his ability to deliver a searing set piece remains a constant. On the other side of the formation is Alvas Powell, who recently returned from a hamstring injury. He is pacey and covers the length of the field, sometimes sneaking into the box for a back-post finish. If unable to play 90 minutes, the LA Galaxy’s Oniel Fisher could also slot into the role, providing a more traditional defensive presence.
A newcomer to the program, Anthony Grant of Swindon Town, started five matches in the double pivot. The 34-year-old keeps the ball moving and launches himself into sliding tackles, the perfect example of an English lower-league player. His partner could be Devon “Speedy” Williams, an intelligent and hardworking midfielder with attacking instincts. He is difficult to strip and can shield off opponents significant lengths of time. Another option is Je-Vaughn Watson, who describes himself as “the one in the middle doing the work.” Affectionately known as “Hacker,” the 38-year-old’s efforts in possession and positional instincts help to steady the formation.
Jamaica has several talented advanced midfielders available in this international window. Cory Burke missed the past few matches with an injury but should re-enter the starting lineup. A 6’4” striker for the Philadelphia Union, he lines up as more of a winger-cum-third-forward for the national team, providing sharp link-up play and surprising speed. Junior Flemmings has “excellent special awareness” and contributes long-range passes that spring the counter-attack. Fulham’s Bobby Decordova-Reid is pacey and drives forward. The 28-year-old is constantly buzzing around the final third, looking to unlock space with a quick one-two combination.
Two of those players should be benched in favor of Leon Bailey, the continual great attacking hope for Jamaica with “elite acceleration” and tricky dribbling. The 24-year-old recently moved to Aston Villa for a 24 million pound transfer fee but was forced out of multiple qualifiers with an injury. While his relationship with the program has been tumultuous in the past, he recently voiced firm support for the manager. The USMNT will be forced to monitor his movements, as his long shooting range and incisive passing can turn proceedings on a dime.
Whitmore enjoys a thunder-and-lightning pairing at the top of the formation. Shamar Nicholson is the textbook definition of a target man, bullying defenders with his muscular 6’4” frame. He can score from inside or outside of the box and will find a way to get involved in the match. Since making his international debut in September, Kemar Roofe is a first-choice striker for the Jamaica. The 28-year-old with Rangers is noted for his impressive movement and controlled touch in the final third, scoring 27 goals in the last year-and-a-half. West Ham’s Michail Antonio, arguably the most in-form player at Jamaica’s disposal, could also factor into the lineup.
While obtaining three road points is always a challenge in CONCACAF, the USMNT should win this match. Jamaica fails to inspire hope of qualification despite a few decent results. For all of the available prodigious attacking talent, the production is not matching expectations. If the Reggae Boyz are going to be in Qatar, the turnaround must start now.
The match is scheduled for Tuesday, November 16th at 5:00 p.m. Eastern, 2:00 p.m. Pacific. Viewing options include Paramount Plus, Universo, and Fubo TV (free trial).