The Cayman Classic youth football tournament concluded over the Easter break and the matches lived up to their grand label.
Under-17 teams from Cayman, Jamaica, Haiti and the US battled it out for most of last week and it was the Haitians who came out on top.
Cayman Classic was organised by coach Winston Chung who was reviving the tournament that he started in the Eighties. Alden McLaughlin, Minister of Sport and Cayman Islands Football Association president Jeffrey Webb were among the honoured guests.
In the final at the Annex on Saturday night, Haiti defeated EasterN Districts comprising of mostly Bodden Town youngsters, 2-1.
Shana, the Haitians, showed an impressive array of skills, fluidity and passing movement that belied their youth.
For many of them, though, football is a route out of poverty so the standard is bound to be high despite limited resources back home.
The Annex field was like a carpet to the Haitians compared to what they’re used to.
Edward Vorde, is head coach of Shana who come from the capital, Port-Au-Prince.
Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. To get the funds together to come took a lot of time and effort but it was worth it. Coach Chung was also instrumental in helping them financially.
‘We don’t have a national youth side, but I know they are very good,’ Vorde said. ‘We have been together for two or three years as an academic soccer school for kids from ten years old, but we only train about two or three times a week.’
Vorde comes from a long line of footballers. He was a national player, his brother Philip played in the Haiti side that got to the World Cup finals in 1974, another brother was an international, a nephew is currently in the national side and so on.
Every year Shana go to play in Santa Domingo, the capital of neighbouring Dominican Republic but this time they wanted to reach further.
Vorde was impressed with the warmth and friendliness he received in Cayman. ‘Everywhere we go people are nice. They treat us good, we feel like home.
‘Your fields are fantastic. We only have one field like this one at Annex in Haiti and that is at the national stadium and we only play once in a while. We’re used to dirt pitches and rough grass.
‘The boys come from a mixture of backgrounds. Some from poor families, middle class and rich. But there is a unity in our Haitian family. Those families that can help, do so for the ones that need it.’
The quality of his Under-17 side is exceptionally high even though only one of them is actually 17, the rest 16 or younger. Some, Vorde feels, can go all the way to professional level.
‘Two of them have played for the national side. A few weeks ago we played the Cuban U-17 team. They beat us 3-1. They were preparing for the CONCACAF championship and scored all their goals in the last few minutes, so it was no disgrace.’
Shana assistant coach Philip Malbranch said: ‘The kids play with their hearts and that is our trademark. Not only do we have skill, we play with passion.
‘We love it here in Cayman. People treated us very nicely. We’ve done a little of the tourist stuff but haven’t had the chance to do much because we’re too focused on football.’