When Jamaica defeated the United States 2-1 last July in Atlanta, the Reggae Boyz had finally established themselves as a regional power and seemed poised to burst onto the world stage. They were about to face off against Mexico before heading back into World Cup Qualifying where the expectations were high that they’d advance to the CONCACAF Hexagonal. They’d also qualified for the Copa America - a tournament that would pit them against not only the best teams in CONCACAF but CONMEBOL as well.
Since then, everything has come crashing down for the Reggae Boyz. They lost the Gold Cup Final in Philadelphia to Mexico, are 1-1-2 in the World Cup Qualifying - very much on the outside looking in behind Costa Rica and Panama, and failed to get a goal or a point in the Copa America tournament. And it might not get better for some time to come.
Manager Winfried Schäfer relied heavily on older veterans during the 2016 Copa. While the average age of the 23-man roster was just shy of 28 years old, the average age for players with appearances was 29 and the average age of the starters for all matches was 29.3. Schäfer relied heavily on seven players over the age of 30. Out of a possible 21 matches played, Wes Morgan (32), Jermaine Taylor (31), Jobi McAnuff (34), Je-Vaughn Watson (32), Lee Williamson (34), Rodolph Austin (31) and Clayton Donaldson (32) had 17 starts and 20 appearances. Austin missed a match due to a red card and was a substitute in the third match against Uruguay, while Morgan didn’t start the opener against Venezuela reportedly due to being tired from celebrating Leicester City’s Premier League Championship.
It's not all doom and gloom. The guys under 30 who played, all showed well. Twenty-five-year-old Andre Blake of the Philadelphia Union was one of the best goalkeepers during the group stage, and Chelsea’s 23-year-old Michael Hector was serviceable at center back - not an easy ask when going up against the likes of Chicharito or Edinson Cavani. Unfortunately, one of the other promising young players for Jamaica - Kemar Lawrence of the New York Red Bulls - injured his groin before the first half of the first match was done. Twenty-nine-year-olds Adrian Mariappa of Crystal Palace and Garath McCleary of Reading FC had their moments, but never really got going in the midfield. Houston Dynamo’s 27-year-old striker Giles Barnes never fully clicked with his partner Donaldson, contributing to Jamaica's goal-less tournament.
Two other bright spots were 27-year-old Michael Binns of Portmore United of the Jamaican Premier League and 26-year-old Dever Orgill of Finland’s IFK Mariehamn, both of whom saw valuable minutes as subs. Orgill is rumored to have caught the eye of some MLS scouts, so his stock seems to be rising after the Copa.
But this points out a big crisis facing Jamaica in the coming months and years, as they appear to be staring down the barrel of a severe talent drain. The men over 30 are all questionable as to whether or not they’ll make it to Russia should Jamaica manage to qualify for the 2018 World Cup. And while the young crop of players that got minutes all seems promising, one has to imagine that Schäfer's reluctance to allow some of the other young players on the roster like Montego Bay United’s Allan Ottey or Harbour View’s Rosario Harriott - even in what was essentially a meaningless game against Uruguay - is an indication that at least on some level he lacks confidence in these men.
Equally as puzzling was the omission of several other good young players from the 23-man roster altogether. Vålerenga’s Deshorn Brown (25), Portland Timbers’ Darren Mattocks (25) or Alvas Powell (21), Seattle Sounders’ Oneil Fisher (24), and Real Salt Lake’s Omar Holness (22) were all left off of the roster for the Copa. Brown and Mattocks immediately came to mind as a replacement for the ineffective Donaldson as Jamaica’s goal drought worsened. With any luck, some of these men will be added to the roster for the World Cup Qualifiers coming in September and the phase-out of the older players can begin in earnest.