Michael Johnson reflects on leading Guyana to first Gold Cup
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Former Guyana Head Coach Michael Johnson on the sidelines during Guyana's clash with the USA in Minnesota.
Former Guyana Head Coach Michael Johnson on the sidelines during Guyana's clash with the USA in Minnesota.

“The whole journey, I will never forget and hopefully it is something that the country will never forget.”  

By Rawle Toney

GUYANA featured at the 2019 CONCACAF Gold Cup, where they were placed in Group D of the confederation’s showpiece alongside eventual runners-up the USA, Panama and Trinidad and Tobago.

Head Coach Michael Johnson had selected Matthew Briggs, Terell Ondaan, Jordan Dover, Liam Gordon, Quillan Roberts, Sam Cox, Neil Danns, , Emery Welshman, Keanu Marsh-Brown, Ronayne Marsh-Brown, Callum Harriott, Anthony Jeffery, Pernell Shultz, Brandon Beresford, Elliot Bonds, Terrence Vancooten, Kevin Layne, Stephen Duke-McKenna, Sheldon Holder, Daniel Wilson, Akel Clarke and Alex Murray, as his 23-man squad, which he felt was good enough to tackle some of Concacaf’s biggest names.

On June 18, 2019, the Golden Jaguars took on the USA in Minnesota and the new Allianz Stadium, where they went down 4 – 0.

Neil Danns (right) is joined by Sam Cox after scoring for Guyana against Panama at the CONCACAF Gold Cup. (Samuel Maughn photo)

While the country’s female national football team, the Lady Jags, had qualified and played at the 2010 Women’s Gold Cup in Mexico, for the men’s team, it marked their first time playing at the Confederation’s highest and most prestigious tournament.

Former Jamaican International and UK-based Michael Johnson, the country’s head coach at the time, etched his name in history and speaking to Chronicle Sport, said “It’s one year today (June 18, 2020), that the magnificent Journey and Guyana under my leadership, where we achieved an amazing feat and to be part of something amazing to be part of something so special and especially to be the first.”

In 2018, Michael Johnson was hired as Guyana’s Head Coach and his sole job was to qualify Guyana to the CONCACAF Gold Cup.

On March 23, 2019, at the National Track and Field Centre, Guyana had to face Belize in their final Nations League Qualifier game, which also served as a qualification process for the Gold Cup, and needed a win to see them through to the Concacaf top-shelf tournament.

Watched by almost 5,000 football-crazed fans, Neil Danns scored in the 16th minute when he converted from the penalty spot, while Emery Welshman scored what was seen as the ‘game-winner’, given the fact that Belize’s Elroy Kuylen equalised in the 25th minute, before the Canadian-based Guyanese found the back of the net in the 43rd minute to hand Guyana a 2 – 1 win.

The facility at Leonora was flooded with tears, as the players and fans huddled at centre field, and celebrated the country’s Gold Cup berth, following in the footsteps of the 2010 Lady Jags team.

Looking back, the former Golden Jaguars head coach said while things could have been better, he’s happy with the team’s overall showing under his watch.

Following Guyana’s 4 – 0 defeat to the USA, Guyana traveled to Cleveland where at the FirstEnergy Stadium they fell short 4-2 to Panama and later drew 1-1 with ‘Soca Warriors’ in Kansas City.

“The whole journey, I will never forget and hopefully it is something that the country will never forget,” Johnson noted, while adding “I hope that it’s something that it’s something has kicked not one the federation on, in terms rebuilding infrastructure and girls and boys and interest in sponsorship because I hoped that, that will be the point of Guyana being on the international map, particularly in the Concacaf region where the bigger teams will take Guyana more seriously.”

Fans celebrating after Guyana had scored against Panama. (Samuel Maughn photo)

However, in August of 2019, after Guyana’s Gold Cup campaign, Johnson resigned from his position of Head Coach of the Golden Jaguars, and went on to his appointed as a Specialist Coach with the English Football Association (FA).

Johnson works with England’s Men’s U21 team and his appointment was part of the FA’s elite coach placement programme done in partnership with the Professional Footballers’ Association.

Johnson, 46, stood on the sidelines for 10 matches during his one year stint with the Golden Jaguars, but only mustered two wins, losing to Suriname, French Guiana (2 – 1), Haiti (3 – 1), Bermuda (1 – 0), the USA (4 – 1), Panama (4 – 2), while drawing with Barbados (2 – 2) and Trinidad and Tobago (1 – 1).

He was replaced by Brazilian Márcio Máximo.

“My prayers are always with the country, I’m always watching the games, and I was so proud of the way the new coach has been doing really well and hopefully, they will be another opportunity to qualify for the Gold Cup (2021),” Johnson said.

Neil Danns accounted for all three goals scored by Guyana in the tournament; he had a double against Panama when Guyana went down 4 – 2, while scoring a 54th minute beauty against Trinidad and Tobago in their 1 – 1 result.

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