[THIRTEEN FOR '13] Jamaicans are a hot commodity in MLS. Jason Johnson joined All-Americans Andrew Farrell, Mikey Lopez and Walker Zimmerman as MLS's first Generation adidas signings of 2013. The
VCU junior was not a big name on the college scene, but he is considered in the class of such MLS Reggae Boyz as Ryan Johnson and Darren Mattocks. He was still a high school student when he made his debut for the Reggae Boyz against Argentina. Not bad for a player who didn't take up soccer until high school after
earlier concentrating on cricket.
For many young Jamaicans, the route to a higher education and a college scholarship in the United States is through soccer.
Jamaican trailblazers included Payton Fuller, Tony Keyes and Trevor Harris, father of future MLS player Wolde Harris at Michigan State in the 1960s. Howard University became a national power in the early 1970s with players from Jamaica, Trinidad & Tobago and Nigeria. In recent years, players like Shavar Thomas and Khari Stephenson took the boarding school route and others like Damani Ralph, Dane Richards and Omar Cummings began in the JC ranks before moving on to four-year schools and MLS.
Johnson says that the chance to pursue a college education was one of the reasons he took up soccer. He switched to Manchester High School for his final year and attracted the attention of Jamaican national team scouts as well as VCU.
The Argentina match played in 2010 was intended to give the Reggae Boyz a look at some young players with an eye on 2014 qualifying. When Johnson entered the game in the 90th minute, he thought he was dreaming.
"I thought I would've been nervous, but I wasn't," Johnson told reporters after the game. "I noticed that it was no different than playing against my fellow Jamaican teammates in training."
VCU coach Dave Giffard recruited Johnson and Manchester High School teammates Romena Bowie as part of his first class after leaving Akron, where he was an assistant.
The 6-foot-0 Johnson scored only four goals as a freshman but had 11 as a sophomore and 13 as a junior when he was named the Atlantic-10 Offensive Player of the Year.
Giffard was Akron when it had Steve Zakuani, Teal Bunbury and Darlington Nagbe, and he says Johnson is in their class.
“He’s got an interesting combination of size, speed, power, and technique that not a lot of guys have,” Giffard told RVA News. “Those were the things that attracted us to him.”