The United States Men’s National Team heads to Austria for a friendly against a CONCACAF foe. It is at the Stadion Wiener Neustadt where Gregg Berhalter’s team will take on Jamaica in the first of two matches on this European tour. With a big summer on the horizon for the senior and U-23 squads, this camp is one of the final opportunities for players to prove themselves and work their way into the overall picture.
The United States has a 16-3-8 all-time record against Jamaica. The Caribbean nation was most recently in action last November, playing two friendlies against Saudi Arabia, losing the first, 0-3, and winning the second, 2-1. The Reggae Boyz, traditionally one of the better teams in CONCACAF, are looking to qualify for their second-ever World Cup, the only appearance coming in 1998.
Jamaica is led by Theodore Whitmore, who has been with the program for over a decade as an interim (2007, 2009), assistant (2008), youth coach (2014-2015), and senior team manager (2009-2013, 2016-present). Since his return to the top role, he has a 20-10-8 record. The stalwart reached the final and semifinal round of the 2017 and 2019 editions of the CONCACAF Gold Cup, respectively.
Whitmore called in a 20-player roster for the match against the United States, with several potential additions held out by visa issues. The squad is split evenly between nine players registered to Jamaican clubs and ten competing at various levels in the English pyramid. The domestic players “have not featured in a game since the coronavirus forced a halt to the National Premier League last March,” and there will be limited training sessions before the friendly.
GOALKEEPERS (3): Jeadine White (Cavalier FC), Kemar Foster (Portmore United), Shaven Paul (Mount Pleasant)
DEFENDERS (8): Adrian Mariappa (Bristol City), Michael Hector (Fulham), Curtis Tilt (Wigan Athletic), Amari’i Bell (Blackburn Rovers), Ethan Pinnock (Brentford), Liam Moore (Reading), Wes Harding (Rotherham United), Renaldo Wellington (Montego Bay United)
MIDFIELDERS (5): Ricardo Morris (Portmore United), Omar Holness (Darlington), Kevaughn Isaacs (Mount Pleasant), Luca Levee (Harbour View), Kasey Palmer (Bristol City)
FORWARDS (4): Andre Gray (Watford), Chavany Willis (Portmore United), Jabari Hylton (University of the West Indies Football Club), Jamal Lowe (Swansea City)
The roster is without several regular players in the midst of a contract dispute with the federation. The ongoing negotiations have been “more difficult” than originally presumed, as the salary dispute almost led to a strike during the November matches against Saudi Arabia. Resolving the situation is a priority with the Gold Cup and, more importantly, World Cup qualifying drawing closer.
Despite the shortage, Jamaica pulled out almost all the stops for this friendly, calling in several newcomers based in England. Top additions include Andre Gray from Watford and Reading’s Liam Moore. Occasional England call-up Michail Antonio was expected to receive a call-up after recently committing to the Reggae Boyz, but the West Ham striker was not included in the roster.
The national federation is pushing the mildly controversial plan to include more England-born players in the squad, referred to as “UB40s” after the Birmingham reggae band. “Once their heart is with Jamaica, nothing else can stop it,” declared Whitmore. Talents such as red hot Brentford striker Ivan Toney, Damari Gray, Max Aarons, Kemar Roofe, Isaac Hayden, and Mason Holgate are currently on the radar, welcome to join for qualifying.
Traditionally, Whitmore prefers the 4-2-3-1 and 4-4-2 formations, although the 4-1-4-1 was deployed in the recent friendlies against Saudi Arabia. The Jamaican defensive depth chart is loaded: a stacked group that, when fully utilized, is possibly CONCACAF’s best. With so many regulars missing, there is an impulse to simply throw out the 11 most talented players and see how they compete together.
The goalkeeper position is a toss-up between youngster Jeadine White and veteran Shaven Paul, both with two career senior international appearances. The former, a 20-year-old with Cavalier SC, should get the start, as he is a frequent member of the squad and was on the bench for November’s friendly victory over Saudi Arabia. His strength is acrobatic shot-stopping, with the 6’1” Kingston native preferring to stay within the goal area.
The definite starter at center back is Michael Hector, one of the roster’s star players who could carry Jamaica through qualifying. The towering Fulham defender is a regular with the national team and played in both friendly matches against Saudi Arabia. Do not be surprised if the 28-year-old lines up at defensive midfielder, as this squad’s embarrassment of back line riches may force a few mildly awkward moves in the formation.
His partner will be a first-time call-up, with three options jumping off the page. Reading’s Liam Moore, Ethan Pinnock of Brentford, and Curtis Tilt currently on loan at Wigan Athletic are recent additions bringing real experience to the national team’s center back depth chart. Pinnock is the likely starter, as he almost led his club to promotion last season and is once again on pace for a spot in the Championship playoffs. The “solid performer” is a physical presence that wreaks havoc on opposing attackers and in the final third, providing a marking challenge on set pieces.
Adrian Mariappa is the most experienced member of this squad, with 49 caps since making his debut in 2012. The 34-year-old Bristol City defender is a center back at the club level but has mostly played as a right back for the Reggae Boyz. He is a distributor of well-timed tackles and something of a threat on dead balls, although the glory years at Watford are firmly in the past. Amari’i Bell, another veteran of the English pyramid, should line up at left back. In his fourth year with Blackburn Rovers, the Burton-on-Trent native pushes high up the field and can also serve as a winger.
The central trio is tasked with the challenge of not being overrun by their dynamic American opponents. Kevaughn Isaacs, a 25-year-old with five caps, will set the tone for the Reggae Boys. The Mount Pleasant defensive midfielder is the start of most possession and has the tendency to push into the attacking half with a long dribbling run or disruptive tackle. His holding partner, the lanky Chavany Willis of domestic Portmore United, is an aggressive player with a tendency to roam all over the field, buzzing with constant involvement in the build-up. Omar Holness, currently in the sixth-tier National League North at Darlington, must provide the creative spark. The 27-year-old loves the long ball and can be a target in the box.
A recent, dangerous addition to the program is Swansea man Jamal Lowe. Whether deployed at striker or out wide, the quick 26-year-old pressures the back line and is a menace in the final third. The exciting, technical player can do it all: dancing through crowds, playing quick passes, and scoring. The other winger should be Ricardo Morris, a left-footed 28-year-old with 29 caps. Based at Portmore United, the dynamic attacker pushes the tempo at a frenetic pace and constantly challenges the opposing goalkeeper with unexpected shots. However, his role will likely be more in support, as the national team brought in a top talent to lead the formation.
The Jamaican Football Federation worked overtime to attract striker Andre Gray, a player that could lift the nation’s fortune in qualifying. The 29-year-old Watford man is rounding into form in the midst of a down year, scoring three goals in five matches following a hamstring injury and months of low production. If his teammates can find him in advantageous positions, even a single yard of space, he will convert. The American back line must maintain constant awareness of the former England C international that is always on the lookout for a break forward.
This Jamaican roster is many things. There are several experienced players, with deep ties to storied English clubs, paired next to a group of largely unknown domestic talents. However, the absence of the national team’s core – Kemar Lawrence, Alvas Powell, Dwayne Miller, and Leon Bailey, among others – will be missed. The friendly offers a partial glimpse into a squad that could qualify for the World Cup provided they are able to gel and accept regular call-ups throughout the course of CONCACAF qualifying.
The United States should win this match, although the opponent is more of a challenge than it appears on the surface. Expect a wide open affair featuring plenty of counter attacking. With Jamaica fully embracing dual-national players, perhaps this is the first look at a growing regional power about to take the first step into the top tier of CONCACAF.
The match is scheduled for Thursday, March 25th at 1:00 p.m. Eastern, 10:00 a.m. Pacific. Viewing options include ESPN 2, UniMás, TUDN, and Fubo TV (free trial).