This article appeared in the Sept. 29 gameday magazine. Click here to view the complete magazine.
Jamaicans, known for their colorful nature and positive outlook, are smiling even more these days. After track stars Usain Bolt, Yohan Blake and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce dominated London’s Summer Olympics in August, their soccer team orchestrated Jamaica’s first win over the United States in September. The win snapped a string of 18 matches without a win over the United States and continued a historic summer for the island nation, which also celebrated 50 years of independence from Britain
Two Dynamo players, midfielder Je-Vaughn Watson and defender Jermaine Taylor, were both in the starting lineup in Kingston on Sept. 7 for the 2014 World Cup qualifying match between Jamaica and the United States. The Reggae Boyz fell behind in the first minute of the game on Clint Dempsey’s goal, but rallied in front of their raucous fans at National Stadium, and earned a deserved 2-1 win behind two free kicks goals from Rodolph Austin and Luton Shelton.
“After Dempsey scored on us early, we just grouped together and said ‘If we don’t beat the United States tonight, we are never going to beat them,’” recalls Watson.
For Watson and Taylor, it was the brightest moment in the unique competitive experience of vying for a place at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil against their Dynamo teammates. As the Dynamo tandem helped Jamaica defeat the United States and former Dynamo defender Geoff Cameron, teammates Andre Hainault (Canada) and Boniek Garcia (Honduras) helped their national teams in their quest for a place in Brazil.
“Before the game, everybody just put their hands and hearts together and we went out there and played hard and tackled hard,” said Watson of Jamaica’s historic 2-1 win over the U.S. “Everyone was celebrating after the game like we just won the World Cup because it was the first time we ever beat the United States.”
Watson, 28, signed with the Dynamo in April 2011 after completing a successful preseason trial. The versatile midfielder has contributed in various positions across the midfield in his two years with Houston, adding depth to a loaded group of midfielders. Although Watson has only seen action in 18 regular season games this season, the Jamaican midfielder has contributed to the Dynamo’s strong start in the CONCACAF Champions League, starting all three matches and providing an insurance goal in the August 22 win over C.D. FAS.
The Jamaican has relished the Dynamo’s never-say-die mentality and its willingness to play hard until the end, a quality he shared with his teammates after falling behind in the first minute of the September 7 qualifier.
“The game reminded me of playing for the Dynamo,” said Watson. “After Dempsey scored, I was encouraging my teammates, telling them, ‘Come on, come on…’ and that is something that I’ve learned from the Houston Dynamo. This team, even if we are three goals down, never gives up until the final whistle.”
The rivalry waged between Jamaica and the United States at the track within London’s Olympic Stadium seemed to linger on the island ahead of the September qualifier. With the teams set for a rematch in Columbus, Ohio on Sept. 11, the Jamaicans knew how important a win at home could be for their World Cup hopes.
“After the rivalry between Jamaica and the United States in track and field at the Olympics this summer, with Bolt, Tyson Gay, Blake and all of the sprinters, it felt like they brought the Olympics to that soccer game,” Watson recalls. “Everybody told us that the U.S. couldn’t come to Jamaica and win after we dominated them at the Olympics. We couldn’t allow them to beat us in Jamaica.”
Part of the urge to avoid defeat at home was the harsh realization of near-certain trouble on the road. The Americans earned a 1-0 win in Columbus, making the win in Kingston seem more valuable. With the crucial three points secured at home, Jamaica is still in position to advance in qualifying.
Jamaica and the United States are tied for first place in Group 1, along with Guatemala, with seven points each and two games remaining in this qualifying stage. In Group 3, Canada and Honduras are tied for second with seven points, trailing Panama (nine points). The top two teams from each group advance to a six-team final round, in which the top three nations secure a place at the 2014 World Cup and the fourth place finisher advances to a playoff.
Regardless of the outcome of Jamaica’s quest to qualify for Brazil, the night the Reggae Boyz beat the U.S. at The Office, as their national stadium is named, will never be forgotten. The stadium, known for its Bob Marley statue outside its gates and a cacophony of noise within, strengthened its reputation on the triumphant night.
"After the win, it was crazy in the stadium,” said Watson. “I don’t know how all the fans made it onto the field. It was something I have never experienced before. It felt like we had just won the World Cup.”
The current Jamaican team has drawn comparisons to the 1998 squad, the only Jamaican team that has reached a World Cup, partially due to current national team head coach Theodore Whitmore’s role on the team. Jamaica was defeated in the first round in 1998, but it earned a 2-1 win over Japan with Whitmore providing both goals.
“Everybody in Jamaica says the 1998 team was better,” says Watson. “But the coach now (Whitmore), he played on that team and scored two goals against Japan. He is always telling us, this is a better team than the 1998 team. We just have to believe we can make it.”
Jamaica continues its World Cup journey on Oct. 12, with a vital road test at Guatemala, where a positive result could lead to a celebration four days later, when it hosts Antigua & Barbuda in the final game of this round. Watson is confident the team will be prepared for the challenging test of a road game in Guatemala City.
“We have a good group of guys,” says Watson. “After losing to the U.S. in Columbus, our team got together and said we have to go to Guatemala and get a win or a draw. The guys are ready.”