The CONCACAF Champions League can put MLS teams in the odd position D.C. United finds themselves in tonight against Montego Bay United: Facing largely unknown opponents from leagues where video is a bit harder to track down than buying an MLS Live subscription. That problem extends to us lowly scribes, who have to try and cobble together whatever information we can grab in these circumstances. In this case, that was one watch of MBU's 3-0 loss to Arabe Unido in Panama just under three weeks ago.
Sometimes it helps to ask for help, so that's what we did. Nathan Carr of The Home of Caribbean Football is an excellent source of information about soccer throughout the region, so we checked in with him to find out more about Montego Bay:
Black and Red United: Let's get to the basics first. I know it might be a tough question to answer given that the club just added a new manager in former Tampa Bay Mutiny and Colorado Rapids boss Tim Hankinson, but what is Montego Bay's style of play? What can United fans expect to see out of the visitors?
Nathan Carr: Under the stewardship of Tim Hankinson’s predecessor, Dr. Dean Weatherley, the team played expansive, attacking football with an emphasis on the counter-attack. Playing this way suits them because of the raw speed and athleticism they possess in forward areas. Hankinson might look to tinker with the formation and personnel but I suspect his core game plan will be to stay compact and not give too much away, then try and capitalize on the break. Montego Bay can’t expect to turn up at RFK Stadium and play as freely and openly as they usually would in a domestic league match, Hankinson will no doubt know that. They’re facing better quality players from DC so therefore they’ll need to be a little more rigid and defensive-minded. The team enjoyed 61% possession in their previous outing against Arabe Unido but it’s unlikely the same will happen in Washington. So when they do have the ball, they must make it count.
B&RU: Which individual players are key for MBU's success, and what do they bring to the table?
N.C.: As I mentioned, they have some dangerous forward players who can contribute to the counter-attacking system that could be used on Tuesday night. Dino Williams, who was included in Jamaica’s Copa America squad that travelled to Chile, is always a goal threat. Last season he registered nine goals as Montego Bay reached the RSPL final (where they lost to Arnett Gardens) and the season before that, he scored 11 to help fire his side to the title. He also had a brief loan spell at Charleston Battery three years ago so has experience of facing American opposition.
Allan Ottey is slightly younger than his teammate Dino but just as capable in front of goal. He was part of the Reggae Boyz’s Copa America and Gold Cup squads over the summer, although he didn’t receive any minutes in either competition. He scored eight times in 2014/15 and can be a real handful for defenders, eager to run in behind and use his blistering pace. Indeed, he’s the cousin of nine-time Olympic sprint medallist Merlene Ottey and can run the 200m in 21 seconds flat as well as the 100m in the low 10 seconds.
Owayne Gordon notched the winning goal against Haitian side Don Bosco in May that sent Montego Bay to the CCL for the first time in their history, and he’s another useful option off the bench. Captain Jermaine Woozencroft and Fabian McCarthy offer guile and craft in central midfield.
B&RU: What about weaknesses? What sort of things should we expect Montego Bay to struggle with?
N.C.: Several things. Firstly, this is their first time participating in the CCL so they’re still very much in the process of acclimatising and getting to grips with the quality of opposition. Secondly, they obviously have a new head coach who will need time to convey his ideas and integrate into the club. The players might not immediately respond to his requests and instructions from the touchline. For his first game in charge to be a CCL away trip to DC United is tough. Thirdly, as Hankinson himself has pointed out, the team is currently in pre-season training with the new RSPL campaign set to kick off early next month. He explained:
"When we go to D.C. United that’s a team in mid-season in the MLS. They have been training since January and maybe had 20 pre-season and 30 games with cup competitions. We have had one, the Panama game. So we are at the beginning of the process whereas the teams we are playing against are in the middle of the process, so that means we have to accelerate our ability to be effective and keep faith."
Finally, Montego Bay can be defensively vulnerable when playing a high line like they did against Arabe Unido. It only took two passes and Jose Gonzalez was released one-on-one with goalkeeper Jacomeno Barrett as their defence pushed up too high, became isolated and left oceans of space behind to be exploited. A deeper defensive line will be needed this time to cut out that open space.
B&RU: One of our contributing editors Ryan Keefer wants to know if there's a specific reason Montego Bay seems to prefer foreign coaches in recent years (Hankinson being their third in five years)?
N.C.: Perhaps it is indicative of a shortage of Jamaican coaching talent and a willingness to embrace different styles of management. Danilo Barriga of Peru guided them to the Western Super League title in 2011/12 to return to the top-flight following relegation to the second tier for the first time in their history in 2007/08. However, he left on acrimonious terms shortly after. The club then experimented with Brazilian Nedier Dos Santos but he lasted a solitary season.
Carlos Garcia from Spain was rather unfairly fired in April earlier this year with Montego Bay poised for the play-offs. He actually did a very good job in difficult circumstances and was later hired by national boss Winfried Schafer to become Jamaica’s video analyst for their summer tournaments. And now they find themselves with 60-year-old Hankinson who has experienced a nomadic managerial career so far, which has taken him to the likes of Colorado Rapids and more recently San Antonio Scorpions. I think bringing in coaches from overseas and having that foreign influence is a positive thing, often they can contribute a lot to the domestic game in many areas.
B&RU: Finally, what's the mood around the club right now heading into a match that MBU really can't afford to lose?
N.C.: I would imagine everyone connected with the club is really looking forward to it – many of these Montego Bay players haven’t experienced playing in front of thousands of spectators before. The players will want to bounce back from defeat in their opener and try and impress the new manager, knowing a strong performance will do their first-team prospects no harm. There’s also the incentive to play well with scouts potentially in the crowd, maybe looking for a rough diamond in the dirt. The best result the team can hope for is a draw which would be a point on the board and a building block for September’s corresponding fixture on Jamaican soil. It certainly won’t be easy against a well-equipped DC side that are going superbly well in the MLS Eastern Conference. What Montego Bay must be is clinical when they get their chances; that responsibility will primarily be with Williams and Ottey.