Thanks to the emergence of midfielder Omar Holness (pictured), Jamaica's international future is bright. (Photo: Mexsport)
KINGSTON, Jamaica – Jamaica was eliminated from contention for a place in the 2018 FIFA World Cup on Friday, when a 2-0 loss at Panama made it mathematically impossible to advance to the CONCACAF Hexagonal.
Although the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup runner-up missed out on a trip to the finals for a fifth straight cycle, there may be a silver lining. In Tuesday’s qualifying finale against visiting Haiti, it’s possible that we’ll get a glimpse of the Reggae Boyz’ future if Omar Holness is handed his WCQ debut.
The 22-year-old, who has made eight MLS appearances for Real Salt Lake this season, possesses vision and creativity in the midfield. He has also earned the respect of team veterans.
“He is always honing his skills,” defender Adrian Mariappa said of Holness during the 2015 Gold Cup. “He is in the gym and always asking questions from the professionals around him how he can improve and better his skills. This is the sign of a player who cares about what he does and it is clear he is going places.”
The signals about Holness’ potential to succeed have been abundant. In 2011, after leading Jamaica to a fourth-place finish in the CONCACAF Under-17 Championship, he captained the side at the FIFA U-17 World Cup.
A goal at the 2013 CONCACAF Under-20 Championship and three seasons of playing football at the University of North Carolina in the United States followed. As a result of that success, Holness was eventually selected in the first round of the 2016 MLS SuperDraft (5th overall) by Real Salt Lake.
The Kingston native made his full debut for Jamaica on September 9, 2014, in a 3-1 loss at Canada. Despite being chosen for the Gold Cup roster last year and other World Cup Qualifying squads, Holness has waited a long time to win a second cap. If head coach Winfried Schafer decides to make personnel changes for Haiti’s visit to the National Stadium, all of that could change.
“Since being head coach of Jamaica in 2013, if there is only one young player I am very impressed with, it would have to be Holness,” said Schafer. “For his college and now his club in MLS, he has been working very hard and he will be an asset for Jamaica in the future. Being part of the team now, he can learn from the senior players around him as four years’ from now he will be in their shoes.”
Holness signalled that he is ready, willing and able to compete whenever the second call comes.
“We are disappointed by the result on Friday, but Tuesday is an opportunity to end the campaign with pride and with a victory,” he said. “If I get an opportunity to play, I would be grateful and use it as a stepping stone as I continue to build up my career.”
A career that all Jamaicans hope includes a trip to a second-ever World Cup.