Jamaica: Guests to the Party

By: Juan Mesa

If you’re a fútbol aficionado, you’re counting the days until June 11—the kickoff of Copa América 2015 in Chile.

And we’re counting the days by profiling all 12 participant teams, like we did in the good old days before the World Cup.

This time around, we’re kicking the countdown with the most unlikely participant—Jamaica. The Reggae Boyz will play their first Copa América after accepting an invitation from Conmebol (after Japan and China politely declined the offer). And they landed in Group B along with none others than Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay.

Copa América will be the highest-level tournament for Jamaica since playing in the 1998 World Cup in France (where they didn’t make it out of the group stage and Argentina beat them 5-0).

Let’s see how things will look this time around.

BIGGEST STRENGTH: It just makes sense that the land of Usain Bolt also produces speedy wingers. The Jamaicans fly on the field, which makes them the team that can surprise in the counterattack with forwards like MLS-ers Darren Mattocks (Vancouver Whitecaps) and Giles Barnes (Houston Dynamo). The speed also helps them in defense, as the fullbacks are able to catch any striker on the run.

BIGGEST WEAKNESS: Most of Jamaica’s stars are youngsters playing in the MLS or third-level European leagues. They don’t have enough experience playing in this kind of tournament, especially against tricky South Americans. They are also prone to committing fouls when put under pressure—and everyone knows what happens if you end up playing with 10 on the field against a team that has Lionel Messi or Luis Suárez.

COPA AMERICA CHANCES: It will be hard for the Jamaicans to grab a point against three of the toughest teams in the Americas. Barring a miracle, their goal should be to gain experience for the next World Cup qualification. In the journey to Brazil 2014 Jamaica reached the final round of CONCACAF qualifying, but couldn’t make it to the party after finishing last in the decisive round.

FUN FACT YOU NEED TO KNOW: The Caribbean team is coached by a German, Winfried Schäfer, a charismatic man who has specialized in coaching in unlikely places, like Cameroon, the Emirates, Azerbaijan and Thailand, where he’s been treated like a god thanks to his engagement with the community.

IF THEY WERE A MOVIE, IT WOULD BE: Cool Runnings. Yes, it is a cliché to say this and probably a cheap shot, but seriously, Jamaica in Copa América is not that different from the Jamaican bobsled team that competed in 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary.

Juan Mesa is a freelance writer based in New York City. He covers soccer and Latin music. When he's not writing, you can find him watching soccer games, talking about soccer or collecting soccer memorabilia. To relax, he plays house music vinyls.