This article appears in the July 18 gameday magazine. To see the complete magazine, click here.
If you are trying to unravel the mystery that is Jermaine Taylor, the first problem you encounter is: Where to begin? Do you start with the imposing center back who strikes fear in the hearts of opposing strikers the minute he steps on the field? Or how about the wide-eyed 20-year-old who captained Jamaica to the Caribbean U-20 title in 2005? Or let’s step back further to the 10-year-old boy who would risk beatings from his mother to play soccer with his friends instead of going to church on Sundays.
Wherever you choose to begin, the story starts and finishes with the game of soccer. But that was not always the case for Taylor.
“[Soccer] was never something I loved,” said Taylor. “I loved cricket. One day, we were on a pitch across from our house playing a cricket game, and when the match ended the boys started playing soccer.”
No one in Taylor’s immediate family had played soccer before. Taylor’s father was heavily into dominoes, and as a youngster, he recalls traveling all over to play dominoes with his father.
But once that 10-year-old boy discovered soccer, dominoes and cricket could not compare. Taylor played every day with his friends and three younger brothers and shortly after joined his school team.
“When I was in high school, my coach told me that if I kept playing hard, I could play for the national team one day,” said Taylor. “I never thought I could get to where I am now, but when he told me that, I decided to put more thought and effort into it and see where it could take me.”
Where it took him was a contract with Jamaican first division club Harbour View and a spot on the youth and senior national teams. Playing for the national team is a memory that Taylor will not soon forget.
“It was awesome,” Taylor recalls of his first time suiting up for the Reggae Boyz. “It was my first time playing in front of a crowd of 25,000 people. I believe it was against Panama in Jamaica. A couple weeks after that we had World Cup qualifiers and I was in those lineups as well.”
It did not take long for Taylor to make his mark on the national team. With Taylor anchoring the defensive line, Jamaica won the 2005 Digicel Caribbean Cup. His play earned him time in Gold Cup matches, World Cup qualifiers, and eventually the opportunity to wear the captain’s armband.
“It was an honor being able to wear the captain’s armband,” he said. “It was a great opportunity to work in a leadership role and help my country.”
Although Taylor had made a name for himself as one of the preeminent players in the Caribbean, it was not until late in 2010 that he caught the eye of Major League Soccer and Houston Dynamo head coach Dominic Kinnear. In the 2010 Caribbean Cup, Taylor anchored a Jamaican backline that allowed three goals in 510 minutes of tournament action and defeated Guadeloupe in the championship match in a penalty shootout.
“An agent had originally recommended him to us,” Kinnear said. “He was strong and good on the ball. We knew he had played for Jamaica a number of times, so with his experience playing at the international level, we knew he would not be put off by anything coming his way.
“We also had the opportunity to see him play in a friendly against Costa Rica. He did very well against [forward] Bryan Ruiz, who currently plays for [English Premier League club] Fulham.”
After two months of negotiations, the Dynamo purchased Taylor’s contract from Harbour View. The transition from Jamaica to the U.S. was made easier for Taylor by the presence of former Harbour View teammate and fellow countryman Lovel Palmer, who signed with the Dynamo prior to the 2010 season.
“You always want to be around somebody you are used to and comfortable with,” Taylor said of Palmer’s presence on the Dynamo. “You are always going to make friends going to a new team, but it’s nice to have someone around that you can talk to initially. Coming here and seeing Lovel,was a big boost for me.”
Mid-way through the 2011 season, the Jamaican pair was joined by a third countryman, midfielder Je-Vaughn Watson. Although Palmer is no longer with the squad, Taylor and Watson remain close friends and share an apartment in Houston.
“When I’m in Houston, I like to cook a lot,” the five-foot-ten center back said with a smile. “Je-Vaughn isn’t a big fan of cooking. He loves to eat more than he loves to cook, so when we are home, I do the cheffing and he does the eating.”
While Taylor serves as a valuable member of the team off the field, helping to keep his Jamaican teammate nourished, he has also proven his worth on the field. In the past two seasons, Taylor has played in 27 games and has tallied two assists. For a man who prides himself on being a professional, it did not take long for Taylor to endear himself to his teammates.
“He is a great guy,” Dynamo captain Brian Ching said. “He is definitely one of our better defenders. You knew from the start that he was a competitor, that he was going to come in and help us, and he has.”
Although Taylor had played primarily center back and central midfielder in Jamaica, with an influx of central defenders on the Dynamo roster, Kinnear opted to try his hulking center back on the flanks late in 2011 and again in the early portion of 2012.
“It was difficult,” Taylor said of the transition to outside back. “I always tell myself, ‘Wherever the coach wants me to play, I’ll play.’ This was my first time playing left back and right back, and sometimes playing both positions in one game. It’s hard, but I told myself I was ready to take on the challenge and fill that role, and so far I think I’m doing well.”
Most recently, however, with the Dynamo moving to a 4-3-3 formation, Taylor has found himself back in a comfortable role in the center of the defense.
“I enjoy playing center back because it’s my natural position,” Taylor said. “It’s where I’m most comfortable playing. I like to be in front of my goalkeeper and I never liked to get scored on.
“When I came here last year, I was just trying to get used to the transition and the speed of the game in the States. I think I’m there now and I just need to keep focused and do my thing.”