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GOLD CUP: Can 'special' Jamaica fulfill promise?

6/6/2011

CARSON -- There's a lot of chatter that this team Jamaica has brought to the CONCACAF Gold Cup might be the best it's ever fielded, even better than the side that won a game at the 1998 World Cup in France.

Dane Richards doesn't want to hear it. He just wants to spur some more.

“All the talking, we can't pay attention to that,” the New York Red Bulls winger said on the eve of the Reggae Boyz's CONCACAF Gold Cup opener Monday at Home Depot Center. “We just got to go there and do the job and make the people keep talking positive stuff.”

They'll start their business in the region's nations championship against Caribbean rival Grenada, kicking off a Group B doubleheader at 6 p.m. Honduras, with a dozen players from last year's World Cup roster, faces Guatemala at 8. It's the only group-stage games in Southern California; the June 25 final is set for the Rose Bowl.

Jamaica, guided by former Reggae Boyz midfielder Theodore Whitmore, has big aspirations.

“Jamaica, we have special players,” said Donovan Ricketts, the Galaxy's goalkeeper. “We are blessed with people that are very quick, so hopefully we can utilize that in the tournament and see how it goes.”

What's special about this team?

“I don't know,” he replied. “We're just special people, man. We have a fighting spirit. As you see, it's a small country, and anything you put [in front of us], we Jamaicans, we can do it.

“We don't have snow in Jamaica, yet we do bobsled.”

NO CUMMINGS: The Reggae Boyz hope for some cool runnings of their own. They've long produced impressive talent, and this group sure looks special, or at least it did before three players dropped out last week. Gone are England-based defender Ian Goodison, the all-time Reggae Boyz leader with 113 caps, who failed to show up for camp; Colorado Rapids forward Omar Cummings, who hasn't played since suffering torn ankle ligaments in early May; and Rapids defender Tyrone Marshall, who begged off.

Cummings' absence, in particular, stings. He was pivotal in the Rapids' run to the MLS Cup title last November and had been in strong form with his national team.

“Oh, yi-yi, that's a huge loss,” Richards said. “We're aware of the fact that we need to step up, because Omar is a big loss, but we're ready for the job.”

The goal, Ricketts says, is to “win the tournament and to play the best brand of football you can possibly play,” but these goals historically have been too lofty for the Jamaicans, who prosper on their own turf -- they've won five Caribbean titles, including the last two and three of the last four -- but have underachieved on larger stages.

They've twice reached the Gold Cup final four, but not since 1998.

“Normally, a criticism of the players is that we perform well for our clubs, but when we step out on the field for our country, some performances are below par,” said Ricketts, CONCACAF's most experienced and one of its finest goalkeepers. “Hopefully, this tournament we can get it right.”

BIG GOALS: In their favor, he says, is that there are seven MLS players on the Reggae Boyz roster, with Sporting Kansas City defender Shavar Thomas, Houston Dynamo defender Jermaine Taylor and midfielder Je-Vaughn Watson, San Jose Earthquakes forward Ryan Johnson, and Toronto FC defender Dicoy Williams joining Richards and him. That they're in midseason form could be an advantage against teams whose players have just concluded their club seasons.

Success, according to Ricketts, would be “hopefully, we get to the final. If not, semifinal.”

Another five or six teams have reasonable aims to the same, including Honduras, but the expectation is a third straight U.S.-Mexico final.

That's talk Richards likes to hear.

“I'm loving it,” he said. “Everybody looking Mexico-U.S., so we're like underdogs trying to be on top. That just pumps us up more to play well.”