Jamaica has been lingering as a low-level threat to North America's elite teams for decades, rarely getting over the hump. They had a great 1997 and '98, qualifying for the World Cup and making the Gold Cup semifinal, but they've struggled to make a big impact in CONCACAF since.
That is, until their current team came together.
After they made it to the Hexagonal round of World Cup qualifying in 2013, the Reggae Boyz upset the United States in the semifinals of last year's Gold Cup. This team has a ton of experience — both club and international — and will be a serious threat to get out of their group at this year's Copa América.
As a nation of just three million people, Jamaica doesn't have that large of a talent base to draw from. That soccer is just the country's third biggest sport behind cricket and track and field doesn't help them build a big talent pool either. For that reason, they've always leaned on British players with Jamaican ancestry to some degree, and they've recently landed their best pool of British-Jamaicans yet.
At the top of the list is captain Wes Morgan, arguably the top player at this tournament who doesn't currently ply his trade for Barcelona, Real Madrid or Paris Saint-Germain. He's also the captain of his club side, Leicester City, who won the Premier League title this season. Had he not committed to Jamaica back in 2013, England probably would have loved to have called him up for this summer's European championships.
Eight other British-Jamaicans are in this team, and five of them have Premier League experience — Adrian Mariappa, Jobi McAnuff, Garath McCleary, Giles Barnes and Lee Williamson. But importantly, Jamaica is using them to supplement a mostly home-grown side, not mask a total lack of talent development. Young Jamaican-born goalkeeper Andre Blake and defender Kemar Lawrence are two of the team's best players, while their fellow domestic-developed countrymen Jermaine Taylor, Rodolph Austin and Je-Vaughn Watson help fill out an experienced core.
To go along with their talent and experience, Jamaica also has a well-defined style of play. German manager Winfried Schäfer has developed a very direct, fast, counter-attacking tactic that suits his large and athletic team. However, creators like Dawkins and Barnes are given some creative freedom to express themselves in front of a structured side. Everyone on the team knows their role and how the team is trying to play, and it suits everyone.
And that strategy is going to make them dangerous, especially if they're not given the proper respect by their opponents. Argentina and Uruguay are likely to take the initiative in their games against Jamaica, trying to keep possession in the attacking half and committing men forward. The United States learned the hard way that the Jamaicans don't need many chances to win a match — the Reggae Boyz had fewer shots and less possession than their opponents in the Gold Cup semifinal, but very much deserved their victory.
Everything that Jamaica has done over the last four years provides a blueprint for any smaller country that wants to become highly competitive in international soccer. Don't neglect domestic scouting and development, but work hard at recruiting dual nationals too. Pick a style of play that suits your top talent and stick to it. Find the right balance between structure and letting your creators create. Decide who your leaders are and let them grow together in a consistent lineup.
Jamaica will be one of the most interesting teams to watch in Copa América, even without a particularly flashy star player. They know who they are, they're committed to their way of playing the game, and they're going to make life very hard for teams with bigger-name talent.