Whitmore takes optimistic Jamaican side home
By Michael Lewis

WASHINGTON -- Jamaica's exit from the Gold Cup was forgettable: a 2-0 loss to the United States in which it was outshot 18-8 and finished with 10 men. Yet, Reggae Boyz coach Theodore Whitmore felt his team had nothing to be ashamed of in the tournament.

The Jamaicans won all three of their opening-round games and outscored the opposition 7-0, the only team not to concede a goal. Sunday's loss, however, was as one-side for the Americans as Jamaicans were in the group stage.

"Sometimes it can be nerves. Sometimes it can be the opposition," Whitmore told the Jamaica Observer. "I think some of our better players never played [Sunday], but I think overall it was a good performance from the national team, and with the players that we had in this tournament, the future looks bright and I must congratulate the players again for the hard work throughout this tournament."

There is much to be optimistic about. More and more Jamaican players are competing abroad. Of the 14 Jamaicans who can play in Major League Soccer, seven were on the Gold Cup team with European opportunities probably developing over the coming months.

"The fact is that doors are being opened now for our players to go abroad to ply their trade, which is good," assistant coach Warren Barrett told CONCACAF.com "We have a number of players who play here in the U.S. We have a number of players in Europe.

"So that has really broadened their horizons for the national team, and also the professional environment and attitude that they find themselves in. Week in and week out, they play in very strong, competitive leagues, so at the end of the day, that enhances our national team."

The Jamaicans are trying to emulate the success of the Reggae Boyz of 1998, who qualified the country for its first World Cup in France. They have stumbled several times since, but many observers felt that this version is the Caribbean side's most talented and disciplined team.

"I can say the ones in the past were way more talented than us right now," said defender Shavar Thomas, who plays with Sporting Kansas City (MLS). "But we have a thing that we've been doing since 2009, where everyone focuses as a team. This is a team atmosphere and everybody works for the team."

The Jamaicans' focus has changed as well.

"We have professional guys who play overseas at big clubs, but a lot of times when they got here, the focus was not the same as they would do at their clubs," Thomas said. "And that's a major difference [this year]. Since the last Gold Cup in 2009, we said, 'We have too much talent not to advance.' And we said that we have to do this as a team, as a group. And that's what's been working so far."

Ranked 55th in the monthly FIFA World Rankings -- fourth in CONCACAF behind the United States, Mexico and Honduras, the Jamaicans won't have to start its World Cup qualifying run for Brazil until the semifinal round along with the United States, Mexico, Honduras, Costa Rica and Cuba.

That will allow Whitmore and his staff to make some long-range plans.

"When we return home we will sit and discus where we go from here because for now we just have to concentrate on some practice games and focus on the 2014 campaign," he told the Observer. "We have some areas in the team that we need to start looking at to get it more competitive, so we have a lot of work to do."