FOR much of this CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying (WCQ) campaign, Marlon King has been a central figure off the pitch. Tonight, the Reggae Boy will play a lead role on the pitch as he headlines new coach Winfried ‘Winnie’ Schaefer’s plans to beat Panama on their home turf at Panama City’s Rommel Fernandez Stadium, in what is expected to be a heated clash.
Battle lines were drawn last night as while the Reggae Boyz practised at the match venue, a volley of heavy explosions went off in the stadium. Some members of the Jamaica delegation were peeved at the fireworks practice and its timing.
For the showdown on the pitch, Schaefer highlighted King’s function as important in a 3-5-2 formation that the team appears set to play against Panama, a defensive system that establishes greater coverage with a third centre half, a sweeper.
“If you are a good striker it will be better for your defender. Then the ball is in the area from the other goal. As long as we have a good striker who can keep the ball, then it is better for us. When the ball comes back everytime to our defender then we have problems,” Schaefer outlined.
“Does the striker every time go straight and you cannot keep the ball,” he queried with rhetoric. “One striker must come out, keep the ball, play the return for the next pass.
“In Marlon King, we have a good player for this system, and I’m looking for the second striker, (so) when he goes out he can go play in his position. I have a good feeling for tomorrow, for the 11 players,” said Schaefer.
The new formation contemplated by Schaefer is different from the 4-4-2 or 4-5-1 systems previously employed by former coach Theodore Whitmore, who had ignored calls to include King in the national team for allegedly breaking team rules.
King had also previously been suspended from the Jamaica team for another infraction, then resigned from international football last November when Whitmore was at the helm.
Now, with Whitmore out, Schaefer has drafted King, along with two other proven goalscorers for tonight’s contest, which is crucial to both team’s chances of advancing to next year’s finals in Brazil.
King has scored 12 goals in 21 matches for Jamaica. Luton Shelton, the nation’s all-time scoring leader, has also been recalled – after being dropped for the two previous matches. He has netted 35 goals in 73 internationals.
And after training yesterday, at tonight’s match venue, King says all that went on “is water under the bridge”, and he is ready to give the best for the country.
Jermaine ‘Tuffy’ Anderson, the local premier league’s leading goalscorer, is also in the squad.
However, Schaefer, up to press time last night, was still undecided on his starting team.
While King is a certainty, his strike partner appears an 11th-hour decision, as is the full midfield complement. Rudolph Austin, Jobi McAnuff and Garath McLeary seem likely starters, while Alvas Powell, Obrian Woodbine and newcomer Shaun Cummings are candidates for the other two positions.
Donovan Ricketts will make his 100th appearance for the Jamaica senior men’s national team, and with Adrian Mariappa out, Jermaine Taylor, newcomer Wes Brown and Lloyd Doyley will form the back three.
The Reggae Boyz, who have not won a match this round, are bottom of the six-nation standing with two points, while Panama are fifth on six points. The United States (13) lead Costa Rica (11), while Mexico (eight) and Honduras (seven) are next in line.
Three teams will automatically qualify for Brazil 2014, while the fourth-place finisher will tackle Oceania champions New Zealand in home and away ties, to also play at the World Cup Final.