Hector, Harding eager to make mark on Jamaica's Copa America campaign

By June 18, 2024
Wes Harding (left) and Michael Hector. Wes Harding (left) and Michael Hector.

As Jamaica’s senior Reggae Boyz gear up for their highly anticipated Copa America campaign, two players, Michael Hector and Wes Harding, find themselves at different junctures of their international careers. Despite their varied experiences and career timelines, both England-born defenders are eager to leave a significant mark on Jamaica's journey in the tournament.

Hector has been a stalwart in the Reggae Boyz setup for over a decade in which he paraded his skills at three Concacaf Gold Cup tournaments –2015, 2019, 2021 –and he is now on the cusp of making his third Copa America outing.

In fact, Hector, known for his versatility and composure, is the only player in Heimir Hallgrimsson’s current squad, who has the privilege of being a part of three Copa America squads over the years.

“Obviously my first Copa America appearance was my debut and I’ll never forget that. Obviously, massive games, great atmosphere and I don’t get to appreciate it much, but when you’re in a tournament, you obviously know how big it is with the countries that are playing in it, so it is a special tournament to be a part of,” Hector said in an interview with Jamaica Football Federation (JFF) media, on Monday.

As he reflected on the journey, which has been marked by consistent performances and a deep-rooted commitment to the country, Hector also shared his excitement about their prospects on this occasion.

The 31-year-old’s leadership and defensive prowess will be crucial for Jamaica, as they rub shoulders with some of the most formidable teams in South America, as well their usual foes from Concacaf. His ability to read the game, coupled with his calm presence on the field, provides the Reggae Boyz with a solid defensive foundation.

“For me, every cap I got, every time I can have a chance to represent this country, it's an honour and I always try do my best. The journey has been special, but it has not ended. Hopefully, there's a lot more special moments to come, special nights, and special days, but, it's been a fantastic journey, one that I always treasure and want to be a part of for longer,” Hector noted.

Michael Hector challenges Lionel Messi during the 2015 Copa America.

Though only two caps into his international career, Harding, like Hector, is determined to play a key role in Jamaica's campaign, aiming to do his teammates and family proud on his long-awaited return.

“It's amazing to be back. It's been a while, over two years now, so, I’m over the moon. It's been a long, gruelling time waiting, watching from the distance, so, when he [Hallgrimsson] called me, I was really excited," said Harding, who made his debut against Serbia in 2021.

At 27, Harding, known for his speed and aerial ability, is also rated as a strong, aggressive, and tenacious player, who can contribute to Hallgrimsson’s team in the right back or centre back positions.

With Copa America representing a unique opportunity for Harding to again showcase his talent on an international stage against some of the world's best teams, he is ready to navigate the challenges to come.

Jamaica's Reggae Boyz will open against Mexico on Saturday.

"Yeah, of course, that first time (I represented Jamaica) was beautiful. I remember playing really well, I really enjoyed it, and then obviously the last time is Panama, which was so long ago as well. But, I'm just really excited to be here,” Harding beamed with delight.

“It feels good to be back with a squad. I know a lot of the players, played against them as well, so, we've got a really good squad here and I am really looking forward to it. As I said, it (Copa America) is a big thing. This is, like the Euros (European Championships) over this side of the world, so, yeah, it is really amazing to be in, and I can't wait to get started,” the Millwall FC man said with an air of confidence.

The Reggae Boyz, who are set to open their Group B account against perennial rivals Mexico on Saturday, will be aiming to be more formidable than they were in the recent World Cup qualifying fixtures.

To do that, they will have to display indomitable spirit and resilience, especially as they chase history to not only secure a point or win, but more importantly, to possibly progress beyond the group stages on this occasion. Venezuela and Ecuador are the other teams in the group at the tournament being hosted by the United States.

Sherdon Cowan

Sherdon Cowan is a five-time award-winning journalist with 10 years' experience covering sports.

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