Under 17s set to show progress

Cayman can boast one of the best young women’s national sides in the Caribbean.

Yet many of them are barely into their teens and it may be another decade before they reach full potential.

That bodes well for the girls’ Under-17 national side that competes in the World Cup qualifiers in Haiti soon in the Caribbean Football Union Preliminary Round. Cayman play Bahamas on 2 November, British Virgin Islands two days later and Haiti on 6 November.

The U17s have been together for a while now, many performing admirably in 2007 in Antigua at the Olympic qualifiers.

Jamaica went through then but such has been Cayman’s progress that when they went to Jamaica for a week-long training camp earlier this year, the hosts were impressed with their dramatic improvement.

Two teams go through in Haiti and Cayman are favourites to do so along with the hosts but coach Bobby McLaren plays that down for fear of over confidence.

‘I don’t know where that argument came from about us being favourites. The Jamaican results were just practice games and Antigua was two years ago.

‘We’re just going there as competitors and to do our best to qualify. As for us being favourites, I don’t know how to endorse that because we don’t want over confidence to start seeping in with these young players.

‘I object to anyone saying that we’re favourites. We are yet to prove ourselves but we’re willing to.

‘I’m very confident in the effort that these girls have shown. As a team they have grown over the past two years and put in a lot of hard work, especially in matches overseas where they’ve shown that they can compete in a hostile environment and get good results.

‘Our most encouraging part of our game is to be able to keep the football. In this age group it’s very good when you have players that are composed on the ball and making good decisions in different areas of the field.

‘There’s a maturity beyond their years. That can only be to the good when the going gets tough.’

The average age is only 15 which augers well for the future. It is not by accident.

‘We introduced them to international football at 12 and 13,’ says McLaren. ‘So now is really the time that we’re priming them. We’re all looking forward to the tournament. There are no pre-tournament jitters showing yet.’

Brianna Hydes is the captain but McLaren refuses to single out key players. ‘Each player plays a very important role on and off the field.’

Six foot tall ace goalkeeper Emily Kelly has just gone to the United States on a football scholarship and McLaren hopes she will be able to play in Haiti.

‘Hopefully, Emily will be available. We are in contact with her school but you know with scholarship issues it can be tricky. I trust that the football association is doing everything necessary to get her.’

He has high hopes that many of his squad will follow Kelly on scholarships.

‘By the time most of these girls in this programme reach 17 I’m quite sure that they’ll be in colleges overseas.

‘Earlier in the year when the scouts were here they showed an interest but because of their ages they couldn’t make contact, but I’m sure by next year most of those scouts will be back because they impressed them.’

Ashani Francis, 15, is a pupil at St Ignatius. She plays as a forward or in midfield and was a member of the squad in Antigua for the Olympic qualifiers.

‘I’m looking forward to this tournament,’ Francis said. ‘I think it’s a really good learning experience to go outside of Cayman and represent our country.

‘When we went to Antigua we learnt that as a team it wasn’t just being together to play football. We became a sort of family, looking out for each other and watching each others’ backs.

‘Going into this tournament we’ve got a lot of new people but we’ve been working hard to make it feel like a family as well. I think we have the ability to get into the top two if we perform our best and stick together and stay positive.’

Prolific striker Shanelle Frederick, 13, attends Cayman Brac High School. She learnt football’s basics from her older brother, Roshaun, 15.

‘This is my first time in an international,’ she said shyly. ‘I don’t want to go!’