Jamaica’s Schafer excited for Copa Centenario challenge

Jamaica head coach Winfried Schafer (left) talks with former Argentina great Mario Kempes at the Copa America Centenario draw on February 21, 2016, in New York City. (Photo: Mexsport)

NEW YORK – Jamaica didn’t win a match in last summer’s Copa America in Chile, but it earned plenty of respect after three one-goal losses to Uruguay, Paraguay and Argentina.

“We played in Copa America in Chile against Uruguay and Edinson Cavani thought Jamaica in Africa,” Jamaica’s German-born coach Winfried Schafer said. “Now he knows.”

That positivity carried over to the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup, where the Reggae Boyz made history by beating host United States in the semifinals to become the first Caribbean team to reach the final where it fell to Mexico.

“Our team I think is better than before,” noted Schafer. “We played two very good tournaments and the players learned, have more confidence after the Gold Cup and they play better in their clubs.”

Schafer pointed out several success stories from his roster, including Alvas Powell, who won an MLS Cup with the Portland Timbers; Wes Morgan, who competes for English Premier table-toppers Leicester City; and Kemar Lawrence, who helped lead the New York Red Bulls to the 2015 MLS Supporters Shield.

The team’s recent success has created a new energy for football on the island, which will surely be an enduring benefit to the national team program.

“Our local players now are more passionate about football,” Schafer expressed.

Jamaica has been drawn into Group C and will open against Venezuela at Chicago’s Soldier Field on June 5. The Caribbean champion will have a rematch against Mexico at the Rose Bowl on June 9, before closing out the group stage against Cavani and Uruguay at Levi’s Stadium on June 13.

It’s a difficult group, but Schafer isn’t overly concerned.

“Jurgen is a little bit nervous,” the 66-year-old joked of fellow German Jurgen Klinsmann and the United States' difficult Group A draw. “No, the group is OK.”

Schafer is excited about the prospects of playing in this once-in-a-lifetime tournament, which will be another opportunity for the Reggae Boyz to make a name for themselves.

“We’re very proud,” he finished. “To play in the biggest tournament after the World Cup is fantastic. We are playing in America, in the States, where everything is possible.”