Jamaicans struggle with "foreign vs homegrown" debate ahead of World Cup qualifier vs. USMNT
KINGSTON, Jamaica – It's often said that every fan in a soccer stadium thinks he or she is a coach, and it's particularly true here in “the Land of Wood and Water,” where strong patriotism and an egalitarian ethos means that almost no one is without a strong opinion or two about the Jamaican national team.
The hum of debate rises to a roar when results aren't going the Reggae Boyz' way, which is certainly the case at the moment as they find themselves in last place in the CONCACAF Hexagonal round of World Cup qualifying.
The lead item in the Jamaica Gleaner newspaper's coverage of the national team this week is not a tactical breakdown of Friday's pivotal match against the USA (9:30 pm ET, beIN Sport, live chat on MLSsoccer.com), or even an in-depth interview with head coach Theodore “Tappa” Whitmore.
It's a report on small street protests organized by fans of striker Jermaine “Tuffy” Anderson outside the Jamaica Football Federation's headquarters in the capital city's New Kingston neighborhood as well as in Anderson's hometown, the Montego Bay suburb of Granville.
MATCH PREVIEW: Jamaica, USMNT face off at the Office
“We want Jamaican baller weh know wi anthem!!!” read one protester's placard, a reference to Whitmore's recent search for foreign-based talent with Jamaican roots, a process which has raised the squad's ability levels but also seems to have endangered its usually intimate connection with the home fans.
If that concept sounds familiar to USMNT fans in the wake of coach Jurgen Klinsmann's importation of German-American players over the past two years, Whitmore isn't surprised.
“Well, anywhere you go – I'm sure coach Klinsmann has the same problem,” Whitmore told MLSsoccer.com after his team's training session at the National Stadium Thursday. “It's natural for coaches to have, what I would say, options or choices ... if you give someone else as coach, it will be a different team. That's all relative.”
Anderson has been one of the top attacking performers in Jamaica's Red Stripe National Premier League and despite that competition's modest stature compared to the level other Reggae Boyz experience overseas, his absence from the national team has left many fans fuming.
“The 34-year-old striker has finished as the leading goalscorer in the country's top flight for the past two seasons. He ended the just-concluded season with 21 goals to his credit,” Ryon Jones wrote the in the Gleaner.
“Anderson had formed part of a second string Jamaica squad that got knocked out at the group stages of last December's Caribbean Cup, where he featured in two games, but failed to impress. ... His supporters, however, feel that he should be given a chance to play with Jamaica's best players and that head coach, Theodore Whitmore, is excluding him due to personal reasons.”
To his credit, Whitmore has heard the long-standing pleas in support of Harbour View playmaker Jermaine Hue, a former Kansas City playmaker who will likely be given creative responsibilities in the Jamaica midfield against the US.
Those who are representing the country this week acknowledge their ardent supporters' opinions with a smile.
“The guys that came in [from abroad], they're really good," said Donovan Ricketts, the veteran Portland Timbers goalkeeper who serves as the Reggae Boyz elder statesman. "They have been decent for us, but you know there is always going to be someone that says this player is better than that player, or who should be.
“So you are always going to have that, that's what makes the sport interesting. In Jamaica, particularly, you have to understand the culture. People like their favorites, and they're going to talk for their favorites. That's what's going on at the moment, but we have a job to do here, and we are very concentrated and focused.”