The St Ignatius Girls’ U17 Football team recently returned to Grand Cayman after competing in the Disney Cup International Soccer Tournament. The tournament was held at the Disney Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, Florida and included teams from Costa Rica, Mexico, Ecuador, several states of the USA, as well as the young Cayman Islands team.
The girls kicked off for their first match at 2pm on Wednesday 28 June, squaring off against the Olympic Development Team from East Hudson, New York, the number one seed in their division. The East Hudson team competes in the under 15 division of the US Youth Soccer Federation Olympic Development League, a league with more than 15,000 members, from which players are eligible for Olympic selection. The St Ignatius girls, although younger and with less experience, were not outclassed.
A well-timed cross from the right by the East Hudson team in the 18th minute curled and dipped into the far upper corner of the St. Ignatius goal to put them in the lead early in the match. Going down a goal only seemed to fuel the resilience of the St. Ignatius team. Sophie Roberts (the leading scorer in the Cayman U17 women’s league) replied almost immediately with a beautiful run at the East Hudson defense beating three players before releasing a thunderous shot only to see it rebound off the upper right crossbar. This would be the first of several chances created by the Cayman team during the first half. Olsen Bush, coach, commented on the game: ‘The immaculate surface of the pitch appeared to do wonders for the girls’ confidence and they took every opportunity to play the ball out of the East Hudson defence taking it forward with short passes resulting in most possessions eventually arriving to one of our 2 forwards Alyssa Chin or Sophie. After East Hudson early goal it was obvious that the next goal would be very important as both teams were maximizing every possession demanding good defensive play to break up the impressive offensive tactics being demonstrated by each other.’
It was the young Cayman team who capitalised in the 34th minute. A well controlled pass out of defense to Kassidy Troake on the left midfield was quickly played into Sophie who controlled and turned quickly to finish calmly by placing the ball into the far corner of East Hudson’s goal. Despite continuous attacks by both teams, disciplined defensive efforts resulted in the half ending with the score tied at 1-1.
The second half began as the first half ended, with both teams demonstrating their awareness of the importance of getting a win in the first game. The East Hudson team began with several piercing attacks, mainly down the flanks of the pitch. During the first 10 minutes the St. Ignatius defense faced an onslaught of attacking moves by their opponents. The experience of Shenel Gall led the defensive efforts of the St. Ignatius team. Brianna Hydes continuously broke up plays along with the tireless efforts of Chloe Tathum, Ashani Francis and Eliana Moya. After the first 10 minutes, St.Ignatius seemed to take over the game controlling most of the possession and it seemed only a matter of time before they would get a go ahead goal. A water break late in the first half, as required by FYSA rules probably saved the day for the East Hudson team, who seemed to be feeling the pressure of the heat and showing more fatigue than the highly motivated St.Ignatius girls.
Despite creating some good chances the Cayman team were unable to find the net again after the match restarted and the continuous pressure from the East Hudson team was rewarded in the 76th minute. With only 4 minutes remaining Tenecha Senior, the St. Ignatius goalkeeper who had played a courageous game so far, was unable to hold on to a 20 yard shot and the rebound was tapped into goal by an East Hudson forward. With so little time remaining the East Hudson team protected their 2-1 lead and were very content to emerge with a victory from such an evenly contested battle.
Although the St.Ignatius team did not emerge victorious, they drew praise from the officials and opposing coaches, who complimented them for playing so well against older opponents. Olsen Bush one of the team’s coaches commented ‘ No matter what else happens in the tournament this game has confirmed what I felt it would, that our players have the potential to play at any standard as long as they are prepared to make the sacrifices. It is so good not only to have the team here, but also the parents who have gotten the opportunity to hear directly from other coaches and parents the sacrifices and commitment they make. I’ve always believed that success has nothing to do with where you are from but all to do with commitment’.
The St Ignatius team went on to play Candelwood United from Connecticut and Thunderbirds from California in a gruelling double header on Friday 30, June. The first match against Candelwood kicked off at 8.00am. A very wet field immediately caused problems for St.Ignatius. Only 6 minutes into the game a low cross by Candelwood was deflected into the net, creating an own goal by the St. Ignatius team. With this goal the Candelwood team grew in confidence and began attacking even more while St. Ignatius struggled to even get the ball out of their own half. In the 14th minute Candelwood strung a few beautiful passes together taking the ball into St.Ignatius’ half and finished with a powerful strike that found the upper left corner of the St. Ignatius goal. The St. Ignatius team never seemed to get anything going and managed only one attempt at Candelwood’s goal in the first half. A low shot before the end of the half from the edge of the penalty spot by 11 year old Emily Kelly presented no real problem for the Candelwood keeper. While this served to provide some glimmer of hope for St.Ignatius the half ended with the score at 2-0 in favor of Candelwood.
The second half proved to be a mirror of the first with St.Ignatius struggling to adapt to the field and the challenge of containing a very disciplined Candelwood team. Needing a win to avoid playing an elimination match that same afternoon, the Cayman team pressed forward. However, the St. Ignatius team eventually conceded two more goals as a result and the game ended 4-0 in favor of Candelwood. Coach Olsen Bush commented that ‘Not only did the conditions appear to be in favor of Candelwood who seemed to be familiar with this type of pitch but it was obvious the knocks and fatigue from the first game made it difficult for us to play as well as we did the first day.’
The St. Ignatius team were therefore forced into playing an elimination match three hours later against Thunderbirds. From the start it was obvious that it would be very difficult for the tired legs of the St.Ignatius players to compete against a team playing their first match of the day. The Thunderbird players won every 50-50 ball and controlled the game from the start. Unable to win any loose balls or take advantage of turnovers due to fatigue, the St. Ignatius team showed no signs of being able to compete against the fresh legs of the Thunderbird team. In the 5th minute the Thunderbird scored their first goal by easily beating the St.Ignatius defense with a few passes which would normally have been broken up by the reliable defending demonstrated by St.Ignatius in their earlier matches. Six minutes later the Thunderbirds added to their score with another attacking move which seemed like it would be broken up easily by St. Ignatius defense, but only resulted in the forwards simply running past the St. Ignatius defenders again.
With the score at 2-0 eleven minutes into the game and needing to win to advance to the knockout stage, the St. Ignatius players attempted to push forward to get back into the game. However, it was obvious that there was no energy left in the team to allow them to make the forward runs necessary to threaten the Thunderbird team. With the game out of reach due to fatigue, the St.Ignatius coaches used the second half to allow the younger players on the team to get as much experience as possible. At the final whistle the Thunderbird team had added 3 more goals with the score ending at 7-0.
Despite such a one sided loss to exit the tournament, Coach Gill Comins cautioned that the score sheets do not tell the full story of the team’s experience. ‘In the first place, it should be noted that the team were forced to move up two divisions to compete in the Under 16 division after several teams dropped out of the Under 14. As the average age of our girls is 12, they were competing with girls who were older, fitter and more experienced than they were. In spite of that, and conditions such as wet pitches that they are not accustomed to, they played at a commendably high level. They could have won the first match against the first seeded team. They will also have learnt a great deal about battling the nerves and exhaustion that are a natural part of a tournament like this one. It has been an invaluable experience for them and one for which we are all truly grateful to their sponsors. I have no doubt that they could come back and win their division at this tournament next year.’
‘This is truly a case of the experience being more valuable than the result’ said Albert Chin, a parent who accompanied the girls. ‘When we saw the opposing team warming up for the first match, with their white tops and black shorts, demonstrating impressive discipline and skill even in the warm up, I was struck by how much they looked like a World Cup side. I even joked that they looked like Germany! However, it was clear that the St. Ignatius girls raised their game to meet the very high standard of play and had the advantage of being able to deal with the heat much better than their opponents could’.
The girls agreed. Sophie Roberts, this year’s leading goal scorer in the CI Under 17 Women’s League, said ‘The game is played differently over here, when the ball is passed to me there are many more players challenging me, I can’t shake them. When they attack, they play the ball into the middle and always same to find an open player overlapping on the outside, I now have a better understanding on how the game should be played’.
The team drew praise from the officials and all referees and opposing coaches complimented the St Ignatius coaches and the captain on being such a strong team and playing so well against older opponents.
Coaches Gill Comins and Olsen Bush also expressed thanks to all of the team’s sponsors, without whom the trip would not have been possible. Olsen Bush, coach, added ‘Cable & Wireless in particular has been a crucial ingredient in this success. They were a major sponsor of the trip, in addition to which they provided traveling shirts for all of the girls, coaches and chaperones and a banner which we have been displaying at our matches together with the Cayman flag. We are very grateful to them and everyone else who responded to our request for funds. We will be providing a full report on the experience to all of our sponsors and arranging to thank them formally after our return.’