FRISCO, Texas – With temperatures hovering just north of freezing on a damp, blustery morning at the Toyota Soccer Center, FC Dallas sported an array of hats, gloves, pants, snoods and stadium jackets at their final training session before Sunday's Western Conference Championship second-leg showdown with the Portland Timbers (5 pm ET; ESPN | TSN2 in Canada | MLS LIVE).
Curiously, one of the only players who looked comfortable in the harsh conditions was a Jamaican. Je-Vaughn Watson raced out onto the wet pitch wearing only shorts, a long-sleeved shirt and a wide grin that belied his tropical roots.
“I don't really like the heat, even though I'm from Jamaica. The cold really is not a problem to me,” he told MLSsoccer.com after the session. “The weather is nice, it's a good weather to play in. So I don't see no problem with it.
“It's kind of funny because [FCD coach] Oscar [Pareja] and everybody always say, 'why are you not cold?' because no matter what, I'm always wearing a t-shirt and shorts.”
Watson's mere presence on Pareja's young, Latin-inflected squad – much less his status as a regular starter – looks similarly incongruous on first glance. Add in the winger's confounding ability to re-invent his game as an established 32-year-old pro, and one of the most interesting personal narratives of the 2015 Audi MLS Cup Playoffs begins to take shape.
“Je-Vaughn, he represents for me maybe a replica of what I was when I was very young,” said Pareja on Saturday. “He's a player who's always happy, he just wants to play the game. I appreciate a lot the fact that he wants to play for me, and he would give anything for me. And I would give anything for him. That's a good thing to have.”
Viewed as a hard-working two-way center mid when he arrived in MLS with the Houston Dynamo in 2011, Watson also logged plenty of mileage out wide before Pareja asked him to try his hand at right back.
He proved a quick study, despite the fact that he is still regularly tasked with a central role on Reggae Boyz duty, and has blossomed into one of the league's more ambitious attacking-minded fullbacks, even showing off an arsenal of flicks, stepovers and even the occasional rabona.
“We had challenges in the position,” said Pareja. “He was a right back converted from a winger position. He goes and plays for the national team as a central midfielder. So all those things are not easy to manage if there is not love, and he has that. I appreciate a lot his contributions this year for the team.”
Watson's injection of flair into an already-talented FCD lineup has been a pleasant surprise for club and observers alike. And like so many other aspects of this surprise playoff run, the credit would seem to go to “El Profe.”
“I've got a lot more confidence playing now than back two, three years ago, so give a lot of respect to Oscar and the coaches here,” said Watson. “When I was in Jamaica, I wasn't playing in defense, I was playing behind the strikers. I used to do a lot of that. I was a very skilful player in Jamaica.
“Some coaches probably don't like the flicks … but Oscar, he likes when you express yourself. When I came into MLS, playing for Houston, they used to give me my freedom to do stuff the same way as here, but probably at that time I didn't have the confidence to do it, because I knew I'd just came in the league and had to try to establish myself first before I do that. But now I'm more established in the league.”
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Surrounded by creative presences like Mauro Diaz, Fabian Castillo and Michael Barrios – with whom he's crafted an effective partnership on FCD's right flank – Watson has found his voice, even with little in the way of Spanish at his disposal.
“You know, Jamaicans are everywhere – no matter where in the world you turn, you're going to find a Jamaican,” he noted, flashing another broad smile. “Here in Dallas, I love it because of the way we play, the style of football: we run hard, we defend, we keep the ball, we know when to attack the flanks, we know when to go down the middle.
“They understand me and I understand them.”