February 20, 2010
Star Sport



Johnson elated with Reggae Boyz debut

Jason Johnson

Audley Boyd, Sports Editor
MAR DEL PLATA, Argentina:

MANCHESTER High School footballer, Jason Johnson, said he was engulfed in an unbelievable feeling, when making his international debut for Jamaica's senior team the Reggae Boyz, in their friendly international against world football powerhouse Argentina, at the Jose Marilla Minella Stadium in Mar del Plata last Wednesday night.

Argentina won the game 2-1. Ryan Johnson scored for Jamaica in the 68th minute, but Martin Palermo equalised at the 86th minute for Argentina, before Ignacio Canuto netted in the last seconds of four added minutes, to hand Argentina victory.

The Argentines are ranked eighth by FIFA and are two-time World Cup winners, while the Jamaicans are ranked 78th and have only qualified for the World Cup Finals once, back in 1998 when Johnson was a 10-year-old attending Bethany Primary School in St D'Acre, St Ann.

"I thought I was in a dream at first ... serious thing," exclaimed Jason, now 19.

"Even before the game started and I walked out on to the pitch, I felt really good."

Jason, the only schoolboy named in the 18-man squad, went on as a substitute in the 89th minute with the game tied 1-1.

"I thought I would've been nervous, but I wasn't," Jason noted of his time on the pitch. "I noticed that it (game) was no different than playing against my fellow Jamaican teammates in training."

The team's assistant coach, Bradley Stewart, noted their reason for including the teenager in the squad, and also expressed some degree of satisfaction with his contribution, though limited as he came on to the pitch at the 90th minute.

He spent most of his time chasing the Argentines, putting them under pressure to limit their time and space; and also got a couple of touches.

"We brought him to give him a taste of the international game," said Stewart. "I thought he did well. Some people, the first time they run out on to the field, they puke (choke). He did what we asked him to do, so we will continue to look at him."

Stewart added: "At one point he tried his own little thing, he tried to outfox the defender and that's a sign of confidence."

In his early playing days, football was not Jason's chosen game. It was cricket actually, where he performed as an all-rounder while captaining Bethany.

He then moved to Knox College, where he continued playing cricket until grade eight. That was when he got his first taste of football at a certain level and he has never looked back, representing the Clarendon school in the rural daCosta Cup competition twice, in 10th and 11th grades.

Jason passed six of eight CXC subjects and completed first-year sixth form at Knox, before switching to Manchester last September, where he is currently repeating the first-year sixth form syllabus.

switching schools

"Football was one of the main reasons for switching schools because my aim was to get a scholarship," he pointed out.

At Manchester, he emerged as one of the key ingredients in an outstanding season, scoring 20 goals in leading them to the daCosta Cup final against St Elizabeth Technical High School.

However, they never had the services of several key players, most of whom were out injured; and Jason was also forced out of the game with an injury and they lost 0-1.

His excellence never went unnoticed and the Jamaica Football Federation, as they launched their build-up to the 2014 World Cup Finals, called up the more outstanding schoolboys to their training camps, which are geared towards matches like the one they played in Argentina.

"We've looked at some, probably 15 schoolboys, outstanding kids who played in the recent Manning/daCosta Cup competitions," Stewart noted. "Of all of them, he's a striker; physically, he's excellent with both feet. The advantage he brings to the team is his size, he's six-foot, near 200 pounds. He can cope with the physicality of the game."

Stewart added: "I think he has done excellently. He has a great personality, he fits in well and he's a smooth kid."

Besides the game, the Manchester High student is juggling his time on and off the pitch to ensure a perfect balancing act; tackling four CAPE subjects as he aims for a smooth transition in dealing with another career, physical therapy. Already, his plans include scoring big time in a pre-physical therapy course next school year.

And if the confidence with which he speaks is testament to his spirit on the field, then given the impression he has made on the coaching staff, the next big occasion is not likely to be so surreal.

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