Jamaica look to secure foothold on international stage at Copa America
Jamaica haven't had marked success in the international stage, but the Caribbean nation will look to turn their fortunes around at this summer's Copa America Centenario. Having only appeared once in a World Cup, in 1998, and with their 2018 qualification hanging in the balance, the Reggae Boyz have a chance to stake their international claim at Copa America.
As the only Caribbean nation to have made it to a Gold Cup final, Jamaica are a growing threat to the CONCACAF status quo. Their ascendancy began in earnest last summer, when the Jamaicans stunned the U.S. in the Gold Cup semifinals with a 2-1 victory in Atlanta. They would go on to lose to Mexico in the final, but their statement had been made.
The Reggae Boyz didn't play the flashiest soccer at the 2015 Gold Cup, but they did what it took to collect wins. The Jamaicans scored just eight goals in the tournament but conceded only six. If you take away the 3-1 loss in the tournament final, Jamaica let in just three goals in five matches.
Led by the likes Leicester City's Wes Morgan at centerback and Rodolph Austin in midfield, Jamaica present an old, but effective spine. It's also a defense that has been tested by the rigors of a Copa America, as well. As invitees to the 2015 Copa America, Jamaica got their first taste of the competition. Drawn in a group with Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay, the Jamaicans faced a daunting task to advance.
Jamaica enjoyed a summer of success in 2015.
Winless in group play, the Jamaicans failed to make the knockout stages, but the defense again stood firm. With three goals allowed, but zero scored, in the three games, the problems fell at the feet of the offense -- and those concerns remain heading into the Centenario.
Winfried Schafer's side will lean heavily on Darren Mattocks and English-born Clayton Donaldson to provide the offense at the summer showcase. Though Mattocks has primarily been used off the bench during World Cup qualifying, Schafer might have no choice but to insert the Portland Timbers forward into his starting XI.
Consistency has always been Mattocks' weakness, but his speed could be the tonic that the underwhelming Reggae Boyz need on offense. If Schafer opts to play it safe in Jamaica's opener against Venezuela on June 5, he will likely deploy the older but more reliable on Donaldson, or perhaps Giles Barnes. As for other attacking options, Romeo Parkes' future is unclear following an ugly incident in the USL, where the 25-year-old kicked an opponent in the back and was subsequently released from the team.
Wes Morgan anchors an able Jamaica defense.
Regardless of who winds up leading the line for Jamaica, the Caribbean team faces an uphill battle to emerge from group play. Drawn against traditional powerhouses Mexico and Uruguay and 74th-ranked Venezuela, Jamaica's defense can only do so much in the fight to survive Group C.
But while the United States and Mexico have been the two favorites when it comes to CONCACAF supremacy, a growing power has emerged in the form of Jamaica. If the island nation can build on the relative success they enjoyed at last year's Copa America and Gold Cup and forage a consistent attack to pair with their serviceable defense, they just might be able to make the jump to true threat.
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