HOUSTON – The Jamaican national team couldn't have a bigger test this early: opening the CONCACAF Hexagonal with a trip to Estadio Azteca.
According to Houston Dynamo center back Jermaine Taylor, if the Reggae Boyz want to start World Cup qualifying with a coveted road result against Mexico on Wednesday (8:30 pm CT, ESPN2, UniMás), they’ll have to find some way – any way – to suck the energy out of the 100,000-plus supporters.
“It’s pretty tough,” Taylor said before leaving to join Jamaica camp. “Playing against Mexico in Azteca is not something you really want to do, but sometimes, it’s good. They’ve got a huge fanbase and that’s something you want to take out the way. If you can get those fans to be quiet, trust me, the game gets easier.”
Quieting the crowd is just one part of the equation, though. In addition to the fans, the altitude creates nother off-field obstacle to overcome, something a short training camp may hurt or help depending on whose philosophy you subscribe too.
While the external issues are very real, the game is still played on the pitch and Mexico could be the most talented team in the region. The roster is led by Manchester United forward Javier “Chicharito” Hernández, Giovani dos Santos and Olympic star Oribe Peralta.
But this Mexico team, like Jamaica, is not the same one last seen in World Cup qualifying.
“[This] is not the same Mexico,” Taylor said. “It’s a younger group, just as the Jamaica team are. Our matchup with them is not going to be that easy, but I know the guys we have now and the quality of the guys from overseas is going to be a good matchup.”
Compelling match or not, the fans, altitude and history look to be against the Jamaicans heading into Wednesday.
Road results often hold the key to qualification. If Jamaica can overcome the odds already stacked against them and focus on proceedings on the pitch, the nation could be in for a shockingly good start to their World Cup push.
“I’m not saying they’re going to be easy to beat them, but we’ve got to play hard. I know we can do it,” Taylor said. “Now we just need to go out there and deliver on the day. Sometimes football is like this. It’s who comes best on the day.”
Darrell Lovell covers the Houston Dynamo for MLSsoccer.com.