MONTEGO BAY, Jamaica Four years ago, Jamaicans were dancing in the streets after the national soccer team known as the Reggae Boyz became the first English-speaking Caribbean nation to qualify for the World Cup.
These days the island’s fans must deal with the reality that their beloved team will not be going to the 2002 World Cup in Asia. Jamaica finished fifth in the six-team CONCACAF qualify group, with Costa Rica, Mexico and the United States claiming the three berths. On Sunday, the Reggae Boyz lost to Costa Rica 1-0 at home in a meaningless World Cup qualifier, and there was plenty of grumbling about the team’s performance.
“The problem is, the national team coach just shops around the Kingston area and not here,” said Delroy Sinclair, who plays for Village United of Falmouth just a few miles from Montego Bay.
Village United was recently promoted to the 10-team National League, but it’s not a glamorous job being a soccer player in Jamaica these days. To make a living, the talented midfielder has to work in a restaurant from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. and then catch a bus to train with his team at 4 p.m. He makes $350 a month as a soccer player. His club averages about 2,000 fans, who pay about $4 a ticket.
Players like Sinclair admire Jamaican defender Craig Ziadie, who plays for D.C. United.
“Many Jamaican players lose their talent playing here because you have to work at a job, too,” Sinclair said. “Ziadie is lucky to play in [Major League Soccer] because he’s training all the time and making more money than he would here.”
Jamaicans know about Ziadie because his father and two brothers were famous players. Ziadie’s father, Dennis, a former coach with the Jamaican national team, died in a traffic accident in Mexico during the 1986 World Cup; a major soccer tournament is named for him.
Jamaicans also are watching closely to see whether Ziadie, who holds dual citizenship in the United States and Jamaica, will throw his lot in with the Jamaican team or hold out and hope to make the U.S. team.
“The Ziadie name is very famous in Jamaica,” said Dean Rose, a hotel bellhop who plays for minor league team Sebee United. “I have no problem with Craig Ziadie playing for America.”
Ziadie declined an invitation from Jamaica’s national team coach in April, saying he wanted to keep his options open and solidify his place in D.C. United’s starting lineup. Since then he has found the going a little harder with United. In the middle of the season, the 23-year-old made some mistakes on the back line, and the team turned to more rugged right back Scott Vermillion. But Ziadie, who has speed in his favor, no doubt will be challenging Vermillion for the role next season.
“If he wants to play for the U.S. team, I don’t blame him,” Sinclair said. “Jamaica is a Third World country. Ziadie has to do what he has to do.”
Ziadie probably earns more than $30,000 a year with United, while top players in Jamaica earn about $220 a week through the seven-month season.
Most soccer fields in Jamaica are in poor condition. Before the start of a minor league game in Montego Bay on Tuesday, cows and goats had to be cleared from the soccer field.
U.S. team notes The Columbus Crew’s speedy Jamaican-born forward, Jeff Cunningham, became a U.S. citizen this week, and coach Bruce Arena has invited him in camp in preparation for an exhibition game Dec. 9 in South Korea. …
The U.S. team has been drawn in Group B of the 12-team CONCACAF Gold Cup, along with the host team and Cuba. The Americans play South Korea on Jan. 19 and Cuba on Jan. 21, both at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif. The Americans also visit South Korea in a friendly Dec. 9.
Sidekicks Up-to-date scores and summaries of all men’s and women’s NCAA tournament games are available on the Chevy Chase-based SoccerTimes.com Web site. … The 2001 Honda Player of the Year, which recognizes the best player on the U.S. team, will be announced Monday in Beverly Hills, Calif. Midfielder Claudio Reyna won the award last year, and the current favorite is midfielder Earnie Stewart. Former D.C. United forward Raul Diaz Arce was waived by the Colorado Rapids this week.
International notes U.S. team stars Mia Hamm and Tiffeny Milbrett were named finalists with Chinese star Sun Wen for the first World Female Player of the Year Award. The winner will be announced Dec. 17 in Zurich. England’s David Beckham, Portugal’s Luis Figo and Raul of Spain are finalists for FIFA World Player of the Year 2001. …
Lazio’s Dutch defender, Jaap Stam, tested positive for the banned steroid nandrolone and was suspended. Stam, 29, moved to the Italian team from Manchester United in the offseason. …
Paraguay fired national soccer team coach Sergio Markarian even though he guided it to a berth in next year’s World Cup. Markarian was dismissed Thursday, a day after Paraguay lost its second straight game.