Boyz to give U.S. hard day at The Office
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- When the Jamaican National Team takes the field against the United States on Wednesday night it will be without two of its regulars -- defender Craig Ziadie and striker Fabian Taylor -- who are both nursing knee injuries. Instead, they will be watching the match from New Jersey where they both play for the Eastern Conference-leading MetroStars.
"It's frustrating," said Ziadie. "I want to be down there so badly."
Ditto for Taylor, who is further along with his sprained knee than Ziadie and could have played in an emergency, but wasn't called in to resume his role as the lead striker for the Reggae Boyz.
"I'm just getting back into training," said Taylor.
Missing a National Team match is always hard. It's even tougher when it's a World Cup qualifier, which is the case on Wednesday night in Kingston, Jamaica, as it kicks off the semifinal round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying. But having to miss a game against the United States? That's on a whole different level.
"This game means everything," deadpanned Taylor, who is in his first year with the Metros after lighting the Jamaican league on fire as a goal-scoring machine for Harbour View F.C. "It means a lot to everyone because we have never beat the United States. I mean, we've never, never beaten the United States. So this is a big game for Jamaica. Very big."
"It's our biggest game in the region," added Ziadie, now in his fourth year in MLS. "We have a tough time with the U.S. And we've never won, so we're always motivated. But there's always a first for everything, so hopefully this will be the time for us. Because if we get some points here, it sets a precedent, and basically allows us to book our ticket to the final round."
Perhaps Ziadie is getting ahead of himself with that last comment, but if it makes his point about the level of seriousness that exists within the Jamaican players when it comes to this matchup, so be it.
That's the way a team starts looking at a neighboring opponent when the last four meaningful games -- World Cup qualifiers going into both the '98 and 2002 Cups -- have garnered them three ties and a loss in games that all could have gone either way.
In fact, the Jamaicans are still in disbelief that the U.S. beat them 2-1 on October 7, 2001 in Foxboro, Mass., to qualify for the World Cup when Landon Donovan earned a penalty kick on a tackle from Tyrone Marshall, which was executed perfectly by Joe-Max Moore only a few minutes before the end of the match.
What the Reggae Boyz do like to point out -- and rightly so -- is their ability to give the U.S. fits when playing at home in the confines of Kingston's National Stadium, which is affectionately known as "The Office."
In the last two World Cup qualifiers played there between the U.S. and Jamaica, no goals have been scored. Part of that has to do with a bit of gamesmanship (the field during the qualifier on June 16, 2001 looked like a neglected lawn in Arizona), but it mostly has to do with the incredible fan support the Jamaican side receives no matter what the circumstances.
"Our people make it hard for the other teams," said Taylor, wearing a devilish smile. "And the feeling of confidence we have playing there because of how comfortable we are makes it difficult, too."
Ziadie takes it a bit further, saying that the National Team is one of the great unifying forces within his home country.
"We have the whole nation at our back when we play, and we want to do well for them," he said. "Every time we are in camp, it's always said that the only thing all Jamaicans have in common is the team -- the Reggae Boyz -- so that's an added bit of pressure. It's something we don't take lightly, as we want to make the country proud."
Beating the U.S. would be an upset these days. There are no bones about that. However, there might not be another team in the region -- even Mexico or Canada -- that knows the U.S. players like the Jamaicans do.
For starters, Technical Director Carl Brown is able to see as many MLS matches as he wants while in Jamaica. Not many other managers from around the world can claim that.
Plus, he's now got six players in MLS that he has to draw from. In addition to Ziadie and Taylor, he can call on Marshall (L.A. Galaxy), Shavar Thomas (Kansas City), and Andy Williams and Damani Ralph (both Chicago) for defensive measures when formulating a game plan.
"When we first go into camp, they ask us first about the players in MLS," said Ziadie. "I play with Eddie (Pope); Damani and Andy play with (Chris) Armas and (Carlos) Bocanegra, and the same goes on the other teams. We have background information to give on most of the players, so we share everything we can. It's key for us. Plus, playing against them gives us more motivation because we want to do well against the guys we play with and against for most of the year."
That's one of the reasons that Taylor was looking forward to playing in this game - to get a chance to go against teammate Eddie Pope, who he calls the best of the players he's seen in MLS since signing with the league in February.
"I don't know a lot of the foreign players," admitted the speedy 24-year-old striker. "It is hard because so many of the U.S. players are in Europe like Bocanegra and McBride. The key guys I've noticed in MLS are (Josh) Wolff and now (Brian) Ching for San Jose. But the main one is Eddie. Eddie Pope is a great, great player and a good guy to be around."
All the players mentioned above will be at The Office on Wednesday night. Same goes for Marshall and Ralph. Unfortunately for the Reggae Boyz, Ziadie and Taylor will not, and will instead set their goals to be on the field against the Yanks when they play at Crew Stadium in Columbus, Ohio, on Nov. 17.
But both players think it's time. Time for a winless streak spanning over 16 years and 13 games to come to an end.
"I can tell you this: It's going to be a hard-fought game," said Taylor. "And Jamaica is ready."
Marc Connolly covers American soccer for ESPN Soccernet.com. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org