After leading Leicester City to an unprecedented, first-ever Premier League title is past season, captain Wes Morgan is poised to anchor Jamaica's back line at the upcoming Copa America Centenario in the United States this June.
In 2015, Jamaica made a strong run to the Gold Cup final, beating the USA 2-1 in the semifinal before losing to Mexico. Jamaica, once again, can make a statement on the international stage beginning with a June 5 Group C match-up with Venezuela. Other group stage opponents for Jamaica include Mexico on June 9 and Uruguay on June 13 to round out the Reggae Boyz group stage schedule.
They didn't play the most attractive football at the Gold Cup last year, but Jamaica boasts a defense that only let in six goals (including three in its first five Gold Cup matches before facing Mexico) in their journey to the final in 2015. As invitees to the 2015 rendition of the Copa America, the Reggae Boyz got a taste of what the best North and South American nations have to offer.
Morgan provides consistency on the back line alongside New England Revolution defender Je-Vaughn Watson, Portland Timbers defender Jermaine Taylor and Crystal Palace defender Adrian Mariappa. Taylor's 85 caps for the Reggae Boyz is only one more than midfielder Rodolph Austin with 84. Watson has earned 54 caps while Morgan is on the low end with only 25 appearances for Jamaica.
Jamaica coach Winfried Schafer named the experienced Morgan to his 23-man squad that includes a handful of players who make their trade in English football, including Mariappa. Reading FC's Garath McCleary, Leyton Orient's Joel McAnuff and Blackburn's Lee Williamson will man the midfield for the Reggae Boyz next month while Birmingham City's Clayton Donaldson was one of five forwards selected by Schafer.
The 23-man squad for Jamaica carries a strong influence from Major League Soccer as well, including goalkeeper Andre Blake of the Philadelphia Union. Forwards Giles Barnes of the Houston Dynamo and Simon Dawkins of the San Jose Earthquakes feature in Schafer's selection, leaving Jamaica with no shortage of goalscorers in the striker positions. Dawkins and Barnes have been mainstays up front for their club sides all season and should hold their places in the starting eleven for Jamaica after impressive performances during the early stages of the 2016 MLS season.
Prediction: The first match-up with Venezuela is crucial, as it's Jamaica's easiest match-up on paper. Mexico on June 9 at the Rose Bowl Pasadena, Cali. will be an unofficial road game with the amount of Mexico fans that will be in attendance, only to meet Uruguay in their group stage finale. Morgan will have his work cut out for him, and an ineffectual strike partnership will all but finish their tournament. I don't think it will be a good trip for the Reggae Boyz, who I think will finish fourth in their group.
Jamaica 23-man squad:
Goalkeepers: Andre Blake (Philadelphia Union), Duwayne Kerr (Stjarnan), Ryan Thompson (Saint Louis FC)
Defenders: Rosario Harriott (Harbour View FC), Michael Hector (Reading), Kemar Lawrence (New York Red Bulls), Adrian Mariappa (Crystal Palace), Wes Morgan (Leicester City), Damano Solomon (Portmore United), Jermaine Taylor (Portland Timbers)
Midfielders: Rodolph Austin (Brondby IF), Michael Binns (Portmore United), Chevone Marsh (Cavaler Sports Club), Joel McAnuff (Leyton Orient), Garath McCleary (Reading), Andrew Vanzie (Humble Lion FC), Je-Vaughn Watson (New England Revolution), Lee Williamson (Blackburn Rovers)
Forwards: Giles Barnes (Houston Dynamo), Simon Dawkins (San Jose Earthquakes), Clayton Donaldson (Birmingham City), Allan Ottey (Montego Bay United), Dever Orgill (IFK Marieham)