The Jamaican National Team is comprised of a lot of familiar faces, whether you're watching American soccer or English football. I've asked the fellow bloggers across SB Nation to give us a sense of what the Reggae Boyz bring to Jamaica as well as to their club (as well as contributing a few words of my own).
Andre Blake was the most unlikely of choices by the Philadelphia Union when they traded up in the 2014 MLS SuperDraft to pick him first overall - the first goalkeeper ever to be taken with the number one pick. After two seasons stuck in the Union's goalkeeper-go-round, he has asserted himself the clear number one with the club. Standing 6'4" (193 cm), Blake is an athletic goalkeeper who is also positionally sound and a student of the game. He's been nominated for MLS Save of the Week just about every week he's played this season, and is one of the fashionable favorites to be named to the MLS All-Star Team. Blake did not play with Jamaica during their 2015 Gold Cup run that saw them lose to a very talented Mexico side in the Final due to injury, however he won the Golden Gloves award in the 2014 CONCACAF Caribbean Cup when he backstopped Jamaica to a thrilling win over Trinidad and Tobago in penalties.
Taylor is a veteran of 84 international matches with the Reggae Boyz and in the Copa America he will fill the same role for Jamaica that he does for the Portland Timbers: he is a versatile, dependable, and experienced player who can step in and lay claim to a starting spot in the center of the defense or shift out wide into a left back role. Taylor has not been Jamaica's first choice on the depth chart in recent matches, but was given the start for the Reggae Boyz' 2-1 friendly win over Chile last Friday in which the Jamaicans were forced into some desperate defending as Chile looked to make use of their 70% possession advantage. The physical play and smart interceptions that Taylor bring to the pitch will both be a boon to Jamaica in the Copa as they are set to face a number of tough opponents as they try to make a splash in the tournament.
Few thought Wes Morgan had the quality to be a Premier League Team of the Season-type player but the 32-year-old, playing only his second season in the top flight, was outstanding for Leicester in 2015/16. Ever-present in the Foxes lineup, Morgan commanded attention and showed no fear, even against some of the league’s top performing strikers. Coupled with Robert Huth, the pair created something of a bouncer mentality at the back for Claudio Ranieri’s side that allowed only 36 goals all season. Never given the chance with his native England, Morgan opted to play for Jamaican National Team duty where he’s been a regular since first being called in September of 2013.
Je-Vaughn Watson was acquired by the New England Revolution in a preseason trade with FC Dallas, and while Watson has primarily seen time in defense, the versatile player has been a regular in the midfield for the Reggae Boyz in the past. Watson's versatility gives him the option of lining up at a variety of positions, mostly on the right side though he can feature in the middle as a center back or even a holding/center midfielder like he did in the 2015 Gold Cup Final vs. Mexico. Watson's a solid two way player and slotted in almost immediately to the starting right back position in New England at the beginning of the season and performed pretty well for the most part at a spot that had been a revolving door for the Revs. With injuries across the backline, Watson has played everywhere in defense at some point this year for New England and while it's not ideal to keep shuffling the veteran around, it shows the confidence Jay Heaps and his staff have in a player to put him in different positions.
Watson started and played 90 minutes in a 2-1 win over Chile in a friendly leading up to Copa America and was a part of the 2015 Jamaica team that played in last year's Copa, impressing in three 1-0 losses and getting eliminated in the group stage. With Jamaica currently on the outside looking in at The Hex for World Cup qualifying, besides another Gold Cup or two, Watson might not get another shot at a major tournament at the age of 32 so I'm rooting for him and Jamaica to make one more surprise run.
Kemar Lawrence is a defender whose primary assets are quickness and intelligence. For his club (New York Red Bulls), that lends itself to a gratifying number of highlight reel blocks and last-ditch tackles: he reads the game well, and he moves almost as quickly as he thinks. For his country, this mostly makes him an efficient defender (Jamaica doesn't play RBNY's swashbuckling, ever-pressing style, so the Reggae Boyz aren't in need of emergency defense quite so often). For both, more recently, there is a suspicion that the sheer volume of work he has had to do over the past 12 months (he played pretty much every game he was available for in MLS and at international level from March to December last year) has seen fatigue - both mental and physical - creep into his game. Perhaps he is also guilty of a certain overconfidence in his ability: no one can salvage every lost cause or win every high risk one-on-one, and it's not prudent to make seeking out the low-probability scenario your go-to method of defending.
But at his best, he is quite simply one of the smartest left backs in CONCACAF, and therefore among the best in the region at his position.He has a winger's pace, though his crossing isn't as incisive as his frequent presence in the final third might suggest. Indeed for Jamaica (much less often for RBNY), he is most reliably an attacking threat with the ball in hand, not at his feet: he has a powerful long throw, and Reggae Boyz head coach Winfried Schäfer likes to see it deployed often.
A couple of years ago McCleary was looking like the next winger to win the hearts of Reading fans before inevitably waltzing off into the Premier League spotlight. A quick and tricky winger with an eye for spectacular goals, it only seemed a matter of time before he moved on to bigger things.
The problem was that McCleary's inspired 2014 was set against having a broken back, which he played on with in a forlorn attempt to get Reading into the play-offs. From that point on he's never really recovered the sharpness that saw him linked with the big boys, but he's still shown flashes of excellence and if he can stay fit he could be a force to be reckoned with down the line. Not the world's best crosser in the world but far from the worst, you don't want to leave him 1-on-1 with his fullback often or give him a sight of goal within 20 yards or so. Garath's also filled in at full-back for Reading so could be a useful option if chasing the game.
Dan Wimbush (The Tilehurst End) on Reading FC's Michael Hector:
One of the real bright spots of a miserable 2014/15 season was Hector's rise from perennial loanee to Premier League player in waiting. The way he kept Arsenal's strikers under control in the 2015 FA Cup Semi-Final was a performance well beyond his young years and sure enough it wasn't long before a big fish came along and gobbled him up in the guise of Chelsea in September. He's not quite Chelsea class just yet, but what Hector brings is a defender that's very comfortable with the ball at his feet, fairly quick on the ground, and not bad in the air either. His main weakness is sometimes his lack of concentration or trying to over complicate things, as Jamaica fans found out all too painfully during last year's Gold Cup Final defeat to Mexico. Still, Hector has often said himself he prefers playing further forward in a holding midfield role and in a limited run in the spring he showed good promise there, so his utility will be a further asset to the Reggae Boyz this summer.
Dan Wimbush (The Tilehurst End) on former Reading FC player Jobi McAnuff:
As one of two players to ever captain Reading to a Championship title, Jobi will always hold a special place in the hearts of Reading fans. We saw him adapt his game from tricky winger, to hard working engine room down the left hand side, whose experience was a vital cog in a number of successful sides. Two years after leaving Reading, his game remains much the same, relying on his years of experience to help both defence and attack. He's never been prolific in front of goal but he finds ways to create goals and his steady influence is a welcome part of any side.
Giles Barnes brings a lot to a Jamaican team lacking attack. He has excelled on a national level since joining the team in 2015 and was a star for the team during the Gold Cup. He has already scored three goals for the team in just 15 games played. Barnes is able to bring more attacking prowess to the team. However, he is the most successful when he has a solid midfield that can get him the ball. Dropping back and defending is not his strong suit. As his star has risen for the national team his output hasn't been as high for his club team. He is still leading the Dynamo with four goals scored so far this season.