Sport

'There is a lot more that Leon Bailey can offer'

…Winger says poor stadium pitch hampered his flow; admits debut was surreal

BY SEAN A WILLIAMS
Deputy Sport Editor

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

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Leon Bailey's debut for the senior Reggae Boyz may not have been the start that he dreamt up.

The winger's typical piercing dribbles, blazing speed, mazy runs, and spot on shots on goal only featured as cameos on a night when Jamaica did enough to defeat Honduras 3-2 in their opening Group C match of the Concacaf Gold Cup at National Stadium on Monday.

But there were mitigating circumstances that hindered Bailey's habitual flow. But so diverse is his football repertoire that he seamlessly recast himself into a more laid-back provider role.

For Jamaica's opening goal, Bailey was the architect scooping the ball over the head of a Honduran defender for Peter-Lee Vassell to unleash from point-blank, but the latter's shot ricocheted off the keeper and bubbled to Dever Orgill to bury for his first goal for the senior Boyz in minute 15.

And Orgill's fruitful night continued when he headed home in the 41st minute from an impressive build-up to put Jamaica up 2-0 at the break.

Honduras pulled a goal back in minute 53 through Antony Lozano, before Boyz centre back Damion Lowe's majestic header three minutes later put the hosts in the driver's seat.

But another lapse by Jamaica saw Honduras snatching a deficit-cutting goal in time added, courtesy of Rubilio Castillo.

Bailey said “a bumpy and dry pitch” forced him to play out of character, but said he still managed to positively contribute to the collective effort.

“First of all, it was difficult to play out there because the pitch was horrible, and secondly, it was my first game in two months after my injury.

“But what I can say is that there is a lot more that Leon Bailey can offer. Hopefully, I can work more in training and get my fitness level up to 100 per cent. And in the upcoming games on better pitches, not only me, but the entire team can do big things,” he told the Jamaica Observer after the night's historic matches.

The double-header marked the first time Conccaf Gold Cup games were being hosted in the Caribbean. In the other Group C match of the day, El Salvador clipped Curacao 1-0.

“We played some good football and we could have done a lot better, but as I said, it's very difficult to play perfect football on these types of pitches…We dominated the game and we had a lot of opportunities, even though we struggled towards the end of the game, and we conceded two goals, but I think these are things we can work on going forward…but it's always a learning process and we are always motivated to learn, and we are all here for one purpose and one goal, and we have to just go back to the training ground and work on some things.

“When I saw the quality of the pitch I knew it was going to give me some problems, and it made no sense to overdo it and then make a fool of myself so I decided to play simple and just get through the game.

“But as I said, I am not used to playing on pitches like that as it was bumpy and very dry and I could hardly control a ball. So, it was best to just take one or two touches and then just provide for the other players, and that was my main goal tonight.”

With pitches of world-class standard in the USA, where Jamaica will play the remainder of their Gold Cup matches, Bailey is already looking to the possibilities.

“Hopefully, in the upcoming games on pitches where I can move the ball faster, then I will be able to play better football,” said the Bayer Leverkusen starlet.

Bailey, 21, as is his usual way, has set himself some personal goals for the Gold Cup.

“My personal goal for the Gold Cup is to help the team as much as possible and to score at least five goals in this tournament, and to have at least four or five assists,” he said.

Bailey, who joined Leverkusen in 2017 and who has 14 goals to his name, said Monday's rendition was not the perfect execution, but believes that the more than 17,000 spectators had something to cheer about.

“First of all, we didn't let down our fans, and playing at home we had to get the three points and we did that tonight (Monday)… and that was very important to move forward,” he noted.

Playing in front of a charged atmosphere and before home fans in an appearance which many thought was well overdue, the occasion, for Bailey, was surreal.

“Yes, the feeling was very special for me to be out there in the national colours playing in front of the fans, family and friends, and the whole of Jamaica.

“The moment was special for me and I never felt that way in my whole professional career and it was very emotional for me — even before the start of the game. So yes, it was very special,” he ended.


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