Jamaica comes into the 2015 Copa America as one of two CONCACAF invitees, the other being Mexico. And boy, do they have their work cut out for them. Not only are they the lowest ranked team in the tournament according to FIFA, but they and Mexico are both splitting squads and sending a team to the United States for the Gold Cup as well. For Mexico this may not be as bad a problem, but Jamaica does not have nearly as much depth as their CONCACAF counterparts. This setback, paired with the world-class opposition they are bound to face, will make for a very tough draw for the Reggae Boyz.
Jamaica will have to depend on a solid defensive unit and efficient counterattacking to survive a group consisting of Argentina, Uruguay, and Paraguay. In the back, grizzled veteran Jermaine Taylor must have the tournament of his life as he is poised to take on world class attackers such as Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero, and Edison Cavani. He’ll need plenty of help from Premier League vets such as Wes Morgan (Leicester City) and Adrian Mariappa (Crystal Palace) who must use their valued experience in the higher leagues of Europe to keep the back line poised and ready. Additionally, young defender Je-Vaughn Watson, who has made a splash in MLS over the last couple of years with FC Dallas, will be critical.
The Jamaican midfield looks good at first glance, but will have their depth tested if recurring starters like Rodolph Austin get into card trouble. If this is the case, Jamaican newcomers such as Giles Barnes and Simon Dawkins will be expected to make an impact off the bench vs. world class opposition. They will also be imperative in the attack, as they may only get a few quality chances per game.
If they do, the fate of Jamaica will rest firmly on the duo of 24 year old forwards, Deshorn Brown and Darron Mattocks. Both have had extensive experience in Major League Soccer, and Brown has been absolutely explosive for Tippeligaen side Valerenga. In just 10 starts in 2015, he netted five times. Two of those goals came just a minute apart, in the 35th and 36th minute vs. Haugesund back in April. Mattocks has been equally spectacular for both club and country. He’s tallied 8 goals in 24 international appearances, and has netted 19 times in 3 years for Canadian side Vancouver Whitecaps.
The play of these two tantalizing young strikers may be the key for Jamaica, who despite their best defensive efforts, are likely to see their defensive armor crack once or twice when pitted against such talented opposition. Mattocks and Brown will be depended on to use their speed to infiltrate opposing penalty areas and finish, or at the very least draw contact and hope for a penalty or two.
The Reggae Boyz defeated Venezuela 2-1 in a friendly just two months ago, showing that they can at least hold their own against South American opposition. On top of that, they are undefeated since October 10th of last year and will look to extend that when they start their Copa America adventure next week. Football is unpredictable and fickle, something that makes the sport as beautiful as it is. But with a split squad and mired at the bottom of a tough group, Coach Winfried Schafer and his scrappy footballers should go into Chile simply glad that they got an invitation.