Cayman Islands 2
Puerto Rico 3
Ramon Sealy is better known as a cricketer than a keeper, but it’s a good job he was in excellent form between the sticks for Cayman otherwise they might have lost by a big margin.
Sealy, 17, made a series of spectacular saves throughout the game, but it was the visitors who snatched the invaluable three points in this CONCACAF World Cup qualifier at the Truman Bodden Sports Complex on Friday night.
After Cayman’s lack lustre showing in the 0-0 draw against Bermuda on Wednesday, the team was shuffled with Mark Ebanks dropped to the bench and Theron Wood and Stephen Tatum assigned the strikers roles.
But disaster struck early on when Puerto Rico’s Antonio Pacheco scored after a corner. Puerto Rico had lost 1-0 to Jamaica in their first game and were desperate to improve matters.
They certainly played with more precision than Cayman, pegging them in their own half for long periods.
The first great Sealy save came from a Wilfred Cotto 20 yarder.
Against the run of play Tatum, one of two Cayman Brackers in the side, turned inside his marker on the right, centred low for Wood who could have shot first time but deftly chose to tee himself up with his first touch before hitting it past the advancing Jan Ruiz for the equaliser.
It was a superbly taken goal by the little striker who showed wonderful skill and intuitive play throughout the game.
Before the break Sealy made a couple more wonderful saves to keep Cayman in the game.
In the second half, Puerto Rico’s passing and movement was slightly better than Cayman’s and they had far more possession.
A long range free kick from Dave McLaughlin, which never troubled Ruiz was the extent of their threats on goal.
Coach Gillie Seymour decided to throw caution to the wind and put Mark Ebanks on in a three-pronged assault on the visitors.
But the next goal came at the wrong end for Cayman. Their defence failed to clear and Cotto again seized on a loose ball and fired in from close range to make it 3-1.
Cayman’s other Bracker, Michael Sanford, came on for Michael Johnson Jr.
Sanford hustled on the left midfield but once again, Puerto Rico scored. This time it was a brilliant individual run through the Cayman defence by Manuel Mazo who seemed to glide the ball round approaching feet before sliding it past the oncoming Sealy.
Kareem James then came on for Wood.
Sealy saved from a close range Andres Cabrero shot. Sealy saved Cayman again when a loose ball fell nicely for Cotto who blasted a low shot goal wards and the keeper gathered it beautifully.
With ten minutes to go people were streaming out but they missed an entertaining end with Cayman clawing one back.
When a player was getting attended to for an injury, the Puerto Ricans took the opportunity to take a water break on the touchline.
Referee Francisco Bautista of the Dominican Republic waved play to resume as the Puerto Ricans hurried back, a startled Ruiz scurrying to defend his goal.
The ball bobbled around and Tatum took the opportunity to fire in from a tight angle for Cayman’s second.
The Caymanians in the crowd cheered deliriously and the final minutes were exciting as Cayman pressed for an equaliser, urged on by mass chanting and stomping.
Sanford tried a speculative 35-yarder which Ruiz fumbled slightly but that was as close as Cayman got to an improbable equaliser.
Seymour said after: ‘There’s a chance we can beat Jamaica. The ball is round, anything can happen.
‘The guys did well, they fought hard but we did give up two goals that we shouldn’t have. We must learn from it and that’s how we’re going to grow.
‘If they don’t see their mistakes, understand it and correct it, then they’ll never improve. We’ve been working with them with that.
‘By having three forwards early in the second half, yes, I was taking a gamble. But you have to do that sometimes in life otherwise you’ll never achieve anything. A coach that doesn’t take chances will never be successful.
‘Sealy had a great game. For a boy only 17 years of age playing Under-20s he was excellent. He may be better known as a cricketer but you know what, Sir Vivian Richards played for Antigua in football and cricket.
‘Maybe later on he might decide which way he’ll go. The other positive is that the boys didn’t give up the fight. We were down 3-1 but kept going and grasped an opportunity when
Puerto Rico were sleeping.
‘If you look back to Bermuda and Jamaica, Bermuda were sitting back and playing the ball around as if they were winning. We didn’t sit back. That shows to the people that came out to support them that they’re not quitters. I must take my hat off to all of them for that.’