Cayman’s celebrated women’s footballers were in action last week with two warm-up games in preparation for the CONCACAF Women’s Under-20 tournament in January.
Cayman will host the tournament next year and, to ensure they do well, matches and training camps are planned by the Cayman Islands Football Association.
The process kicked off with two games against Miami Strike Force’s Under-19 side at the TE McField Annex last Tuesday and Thursday. The first match was a 1-1 draw and Cayman won the second 1-0.
In the first match, Cayman’s Shanice Monteith scored from the rebound after her initial penalty kick was saved. Miami equalised late in the game.
Midfielder Monteith was influential in both games and looked most likely to score in the second match, hitting the crossbar after a weaving run. Cayman’s first and only female pro, Shenel Gall, only played in the second match. The game’s only goal came from a Miami defender accidentally kicking the ball into her own net from a corner.
Gall’s skill and electric pace were evident from her first touches, giving the visitors’ defence immense trouble throughout. She was ably backed by Shanelle Frederick up front. But for a tad more accuracy and a little more luck, they would have found the net.
Gall was captain in the second game, Briana Hydes skippered in the first one.
Numerous Cayman players impressed. In the first match, Kaela Ebanks and Janel Ebanks, both 16, particularly caught the eye.
Overall, technical director Thiago Cunha was pleased with the performances, considering their relative inexperience.
“In the first game, we started with six Under-17 players,” he said. “They did very well playing against 19 year olds. For the second match, we used 17 players under 21. Only two were over 21.
“It’s not easy to step inside the field against pro teams. Our girls are showing great character. They are representing the country very well. Cagliari Miami Strike Force are sponsored by the professional team in Italy and they were 2013 Miami champions.”
He added: “Miami’s population is close to three million people. They have a large pool of players to choose from. Our girls are young, but we have a nice strategy to keep the ball always under total control. We had more chances to score. We need to work very hard on that. When we create one chance we need to finish, because in the tournament games maybe we will have only one chance to score.
“It’s not easy to play teams like that. They are professional and have a sponsor from Italy. Our girls did very well. They managed the ball well and we can work on that.”
Cunha said that he liked the way the teams played in both matches.
“We always look for perfection. We will refocus and watch the game videos to explain to the players the correct way to move forward. We are now looking for a training camp trip,” he said.
Cunha added that the players have been in the women’s programme for around eight years, yet most of them have 10 more years before they reach their peak.
“We have a very young senior team and we will keep all of them together for the Caribbean Football Union Women’s Caribbean Cup later in 2014.
“I would like to thanks Gaglari Miami Strike Force for the games and U-15 football camp. They have a very well organised team who play with a good style,” he said.
Cayman have a new head coach, Joe Supe, from Orange County, California, who has been appointed until January to work with Cunha. He is licensed with US Soccer and has coached professional teams throughout his career.
“I know the women’s programme here is in the development stages and the federation is putting a lot into it because they want to make it succeed, that’s why they have me here,” Supe said. “I also have to do an assessment on the programme to find out what we need to do here to improve and to develop more players.”
Supe said he is impressed with local facilities, plus, of course, the beaches, adding that he believed the player were very talented.
“Technically, they are very good. I think we will do really well in the qualifiers. In Los Angeles, we have a population of 15 million to draw from, so here is quite different.
“The players here know they have to step up and work hard for the country. They are doing that. Players who are only 15 and 16 years old are playing against much older opponents and it’s good to see.
“I think we can make it work as we adjust. We have to get ready for the tournament and become tactically aware of positioning on the field so that we have more success in finishing.”
Many players are away from September until the Christmas break studying at colleges in the US, but Supe is not daunted. “At least we will have them back for five weeks from December to prepare for the tournament and that will help tremendously.”