Women’s football steps into focus next week with Cayman hosting Group D of the Olympic qualifying tournament.
Haiti and Puerto Rico visit for what is essentially a women’s tournament but Cayman are mostly teenagers being groomed for next month’s Under-17s World Cup qualifiers in Antigua.
Nevertheless, Cayman want some good results in the first tournament they have hosted since Hurricane Ivan struck in 2004. Puerto Rico are not as strong as Haiti but they shouldn’t be dismissed. Both sides will test Cayman to the limit.
Head coach Thiago Cunha has been taking five sessions a week at the playing field in North Side where the matches will be played. Brazilian Cunha is assisted by Bobby McLaren, a Jamaican. The coaches took the girls to a Jamaica training camp in July for experience. They had a mixture of fortunes but gaining the experience was more important that the results, beating Excelsior 1-0, losing to Meadhaven 1-0 and going down 3-1 to Harbour View.
On Sunday Cayman played Sunset women’s team in North Side who are mostly English and Canadians, beating them 6-1. Shenel Gall and Shanice Monteith hit hat-tricks.
The girls play a boys U-16 side tomorrow and the boys U-16 national side on Sunday. ‘We organised the game against the boys for more experience,’ said Cunha. ‘We told them to go a little bit easy and we’ve made sure that the boys are only 14 or 15 so they don’t have too much power, tackle the girls hard and injure them.
‘I’m always confident for the matches next week. We’ve worked hard for it and they’ll do their best. You need luck when you play some games and I hope we get some and score some goals.
All games are at the playing field in North Side, kick-off 7.30pm. Cayman play Puerto Rico on Wednesday 24 October. Haiti and Puerto Rico play two days later and Cayman face Haiti on 28 October.
Telicia Ebanks is bursting to test herself against international competition. The 17-year-old left midfielder is in her first year with the national programme. She plays for Elite in West Bay and has to sometimes get a bus all the way from the other side. It’s no hardship for her though as she loves playing. ‘We’re not worried that they’ll be bigger and stronger, because we’re smarter,’ she said. She enjoys the way Cunha and McLaren work. ‘They’re good coaches, they don’t give up on you.’
Brittany Schirn is a defensive central midfield player. Only 15, she too is looking forward to making her debut. ‘I feel very privileged because this is my first international experience and I’m playing against an older squad. And it’s just showing me more exposure that will help me improve in the future.’
Schirn is taking her responsibilities seriously. ‘It’s my job to understand the game and reading the plays and showing vision, passing and organizing the whole midfield.’
She wouldn’t mind playing full-time. ‘I’ll take my football career as far as I can. I would love to go pro but if not I’ll continue my studies.’
Schirn only watched one game of the recent women’s World Cup, the final when Germany beat Brazil 2-0. Marta, the brilliant Brazilian was the tournament’s top scorer with seven and the most talked about player. Brittany wants to be like her: ‘If not better! Coach Thiago is a good coach and he could get anybody that far, if you have the skills and the time. He has patience with you so he can teach you right. Coach Bobby motivates the team and makes everyone feel like they’re a part of it, makes you have a good feeling.’
She doesn’t even mind being shouted at by the coaches.
‘It’s only to make us get better. We might as well take the pressure now because they’re only preparing us for the future when it could be harder because when we go to colleges the coaches will push you more. This is just a little bit of showing us what to expect.’