KINGSTON, Jamaica – A small island nation in a big world, Jamaica has endured a topsy-turvy ride as an independent country, as tumultuous politics and daunting economic realities have challenged its people since it detached from the British Empire 50 years ago.
Amid the daily struggle, however, there’s a groundswell of optimism and pride brought on by the yearlong anniversary commemoration of independence – and perhaps more influentially, the jaw-dropping dominance of Usain Bolt, Yohan Blake and the rest of the Jamaican sprinters contingent at the Olympic Games in London this summer.
The national soccer team has gained a timely boost from all this as well, with high hopes and growing expectations surrounding the Reggae Boyz as they pursue qualification for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, a tough task which continues against the US at Independence Park on Friday night (8 pm ET, beIN Sport, Live Chat on MLSsoccer.com).
“Ah, so you’ve come to see Jamaica whip the USA?” joked gift shop clerk Marie Miller as she spoke to MLSsoccer.com here on Thursday morning. Miller readily acknowledged that economic insecurity remains widespread in her country, but there’s no mistaking the improved collective mood.
“We are all upbeat at this time,” she continued. “In spite of everything, we’re happy people. … Although we have our challenges, as everyone else, we’re working. We still have faith.”
More and more Jamaican players are finding professional opportunities in MLS and other points abroad, while domestic fans point to a rising generation of young, homegrown talent which, it is hoped, will maintain lively competition for playing time on the national team.
“’Jamaica straight,’ we say,” said taxi driver Norman Minott, echoing a rallying cry heard across Kingston this week. “Right now we come with a young, good side, and we’re thirsty to go back [to] a World Cup. So we have to try we best.”
“We definitely [have] a full hundred [percent], ‘high pride’ to now,” he added, “just coming off the Olympics with a couple gold medals, and right now we want to go back to World Cup. So we try we best.”
Theodore Whitmore, Jamaica’s leading player during the country's only World Cup appearance back at France 1998, is now coaching the team and despite some chatter about his decision not to call in England-based striker Marlon King for this round of qualifiers, Reggae Boyz supporters seem to be fully supportive of “Tappa” and his squad.
“Yeah, mon,” said Minott, when asked about his faith in Whitmore. “One of our own. So right now we have to put our confidence in him, and put a full hundred behind him, definitely.”