November 30, 2012
Taylor ready for redemption ... But Reggae Boy's Dynamo face tough task against LA Galaxy in MLS final
GORDON WILLIAMS, Star Writer
Jermaine Taylor is new to an old American tradition. But last week, as the United States celebrated Thanksgiving Day, the Reggae Boy had multiple reasons to express gratitude.
Taylor was part of Jamaica's run to the final round of CONCACAF 2014 World Cup qualifiers. He's completing his best year as a professional footballer, gets married shortly after, and has recovered from a knee injury, which briefly clouded his season and career.
Yet, on November 22, Taylor also made clear what tops his immediate agenda. Last year, as a rookie with Houston Dynamo, the Portland native lost 1-0 to the Los Angeles Galaxy in MLS Cup, Major League Soccer's final. On December 1 he gets a second chance - against the same opponents - to win North American football's grand prize.
"As a Jamaican, to get a repeat to the big final, I have to give thanks for that," Taylor said. "A lot of Jamaicans in the league haven't gotten this far. Not even once."
Yet his dream of another title shot was almost shattered on November 4. Playing the first leg of the MLS Eastern Conference semi-final against Sporting Kansas City (SKC), Taylor stretched to block a shot and buckled. He feared the worse.
"I thought something really bad happened," Taylor explained. "I was in so much pain."
Concerns mounted when he returned from the half-time break.
"It got worse," Taylor said.
He was forced off. Scans revealed only a left knee strain.
The injury was bad enough to force him out of the SKC return and the first leg of the conference final against D.C. United. It also worried Houston.
"It was a big blow," said head coach Dominic Kinnear. "(Taylor) was playing very well for us. It was hard because you want him to be on the field."
The risk, however, was too high.
"I didn't want to force it," Taylor explained. "I had some uncomfortable moments and you don't want to go into a game with any discomfort."
Missing the play-offs hurt too.
"It's kinda hard," said Taylor, who in 2012 has appeared in 30 MLS games, 29 as a starter.
"I played 90 per cent of the games this season. So it was hard mentally to watch the team playing and I'm not there."
Houston won the two games he missed, but Kinnear immediately re-inserted fit-again Taylor for the second leg against DC on November 18.
"There was no hesitation in putting him back into the line-up," the coach explained.
Houston again won. Taylor's play at his favourite centre-half position was excellent, according to Kinnear. He is still wary of the injury, but no longer receives treatment. Now he, along with club and national teammate Je-Vaughn Watson, who also played in last year's final, can focus on Galaxy. It's their shot at redemption and the team littered with high-profile players, such as David Beckham, Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane, represents the perfect target.
"Being beaten by LA last year, we get a chance to redeem ourselves," said Taylor who, unlike the midfielder Watson, is expected to start. "It's a chance to show if we're true champions.
"I think it pumps me up more. It motivates me a whole lot."
Taylor anticipates a tough matchup against the in-form Keane. The Republican of Ireland international has scored five goals in five 2012 play-off games.
"He's a very good tactical player," Taylor said. "He knows the game, moves well and he has players getting him the ball."
Keane's suppliers include Beckham, the league's biggest name who announced the final would be his last MLS game. But the Englishman can expect no fond farewell from the Jamaican when their paths cross on the field December 1.
"No! How could I?" Taylor said laughing.
"Not even a minute of good luck I am wishing for him. Not at this moment. We need this more than Beckham."
If Houston get it, that would be the best reason for Taylor to give thanks.