Cayman’s Under-15 football team is developing into one of the Caribbean’s best junior sides, despite the country’s limited pool of players.
They have just returned from the Caribbean U-15 championships undefeated from four games with glowing endorsements ringing in their ears.
They did not reach the later stages of the CFU Youth Cup but can take pride from the fact that in practice matches they beat Guyana 4-1 and the youth team of Trinidad’s top professional side, Joe Public, 3-2. (They were 1-0 down at half time against Guyana who later thrashed BVI 16-0).
In tournament games Cayman drew both matches, with Antigua 1-1 and Grenada 2-2. They needed to beat Grenada to go through but fatigue from playing two matches in 48 hours in burning morning heat took its toll. Antigua won the group after beating Grenada 3-1.
Jeffrey Webb, president of Cayman Islands Football Association, said: ‘We were unfortunate not to go through this time. That means in two years of competing at the championships, we’ve only lost once and that was to Haiti.’
The Haitians are one of the best teams in the region. Although the poorest country in the Caribbean, they can draw from a population of 8.7 million compared to Cayman’s 52,000. Unlike here, football is the only way out of poverty for many Haitians. Last year’s Haiti team is now competing in the U-17 World Cup finals and drew with France.
Webb added: ‘While we may not be able to compete yet at the senior level, we have proved that at the junior level we are able to beat the best. This is a credit to our coaches Joscelyn Morgan and Elbert Ebanks who have put a lot of time and hard work into developing them. We can now start planning for the U-17s World Cup next year.’
Bobby McLaren, head of delegation, said: ‘This is a proud moment for me and all of us. What those boys accomplished both on and off the field was phenomenal because they were distracted by the impending impact of Hurricane Dean and how it would affect their families back home.
‘The staff responded superbly and considering Ivan was still fresh in their memory they did well to get the job done. The level of maturity they showed was remarkable. They also showed great character playing two tournament games back to back.’
Cayman were unlucky not to go through. They dominated for many periods in both matches but couldn’t find the vital goals.
At least Cayman have the satisfaction of producing the two man of the matches in their games. Arvid Harris, 15, scored the goal of the tournament against Antigua. He beat two defenders, cut in and blasted from 25 yards. The Cayman Prep and High pupil said: ‘I’m happy I scored for my country. I didn’t care that much for getting the man of the match trophy because I wanted us to win.’ He is a huge Barcelona fan and his favourite player is Ronaldinho.
Darvin Watson, also 15, got the man of the match award against Grenada, finishing beautifully from a breakaway. He attends John Gray High School, supports Chelsea and his favourite player is Frank Lampard.
Head coach Morgan said: ‘The players went beyond the call for courage. It says a lot for the future of Cayman football.’