History was made last Friday evening at the TE McField Annex when a Cayman Under-13 select team, representing the Primary Football League Youth Football Programme, played the visiting U-13s from Harbour View Football Club from Jamaica.
Not since the days of legendary coach Winston Chung and the Miami Classic Tournaments of the 1980s has the Cayman Islands been represented by a ‘national’ U-13 youth team consisting of players from all the major football clubs across the Island.
The match marked the first game of the Academy Sports Club International Friendship Cup between Academy and Harbour View.
The youngsters from the PFL Youth Football Programme were invited by Academy to play the visitors prior to the start of the Friendship Cup, which continued on Saturday and Sunday with two games between the hosts and Harbour View at U-13 and U-16 level.
Taking the field for the first time in an international game, the U-13s from the PFL Youth Programme were clearly at a physical disadvantage compared to their bigger, taller visitors. But the PFl did not wilt under pressure.
From the opening kick off, what the locals lacked in size they made up for in grit, tenacity, spirit and determination.
Easily outmatched physically, forwards D’Andre Rowe and Kameron Mendez used their speed to pester the Jamaican back line. Zipping in and out of spaces created behind the defence opened up a few shooting opportunities for the speedy pair but Harbour View’s towering golakeeper was in fine form.
At the other end, the PFL Youth Programme’s talented back four were doing everything to stem the flow of the attackers. Just when it looked as if a Harbour View attacker was in position to unleash a shot, a swarm of defenders were there to thwart the effort. When a shot finally went goalwards, keeper Albertini Holness collected easily.
Midway through the first half with the score deadlocked at 0-0, the PFL Youth Programme lost both influential central defenders Ajani Harris and Ricardo Wright to injury in separate incidents. Both players had played extremely well up until this point.
In normal circumstances, losing two central defenders would be disastrous for any team but the PFL Youth Programme was created on the premise that there are always two or three players available for every position on the field.
In stepped the talented duo of Rico Bodden and Cody Ebanks, who adapted exceptionally well into the heart of the defence and with Joshua O’Garro on the left and Kailan Miller and Alex McLaughlin on the right, all seemed safe.
In midfield, captain Gonzalo McLaughlin along with Alex Logvinov, Kareem Foster and Nicholas Chung were finding it tough going as the more experienced Jamaicans were making it difficult.
When Cayman did break forward, it was a joy to watch as they spread the ball wide and then across the goal only inches away from the feet of their onrushing forwards.
Chances fell for both sides but the deadlock remained at the break.
In an effort to give all their players an opportunity to play in this historic game, local coaches Antwan Seymour, Gonzalo McLaughlin and Gillie Seymour made several changes throughout the second half with numerous substitutions and positional changes.
The emphasis was not on winning but seeing how their players adapted as a unit as well as communicating with each other, supporting and attitude.
With the makeup of the Cayman team altered, Harbour View finally broke through and Tajani Fairclough, Gasford James and Rashan Mackinson each scored to make it 3-0.
As the second half came to an end, Cody Ebanks came close to notching one for the local boys as his excellent free kick struck the crossbar with the goalkeeper clearly beaten only to see the follow-up blasted just over the bar by substitute Kamani Ebanks. The score remained the same.
For many spectators it was a welcome relief to watch a young Cayman side hold their own against a strong and experienced Jamaican outfit.
Spectators were excellent in their support of both sides and were pleasantly surprised at the quality of play from the locals.
Plaudits and accolades rained down on the local boys and coaches as they went through their customary warm-down routine following the match, which was great to see. The expressions on the players’ faces was one of pride and appreciation.
Coordinator of the PFL Youth Programme Neil Murray said: “It was a wonderful showing from all our players. This U13 squad has been together for a little over a year-and-a-half and have made great strides in play, commitment and attitude.
“They understand what we are trying to do. This is only the first step in a long journey as we have huge plans for this team and the programme.
“Thanks to the coaches, parents and supporters of the PFL Youth Programme as they are committed to seeing this team. Thanks to Academy for including us in the tournament and giving us the opportunity to play Harbour View. Special thanks to the programme’s sponsors including CUC, Cayman Airways, Cayman National and the many parents and supporters’”