The Cayman Islands’ young footballers have a shot at making the top four when the territory hosts the CONCACAF Under-15 championships next month, football chief Bruce Blake said last week.
Blake, the first vice president of the Cayman Islands Football Association, admitted the prospect of playing back-to-back games in the 24-team contest would be a big ask for the boys.
But he said they had been going through intense preparations ahead of the tournament – the first of its kind in the region – and he was confident they would do well.
It is the first CONCACAF tournament that the Cayman Islands has hosted and sports and tourism leaders are determined to cultivate a strong relationship with the governing body to bring more events of similar magnitude to the territory.
Regional powerhouses El Salvador, Honduras, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago will be among the favourites when the first whistle blows on 13 August. The teams will compete in four groups of six during the first phase, with only the group winners progressing to the semi-finals.
The island’s football venues got a $200,000 facilities upgrade, funded by government, ahead of the championships in order to meet the strict demands of CONCACAF, which is bankrolling the tournament.
The venues – Truman Bodden Sports Complex, T.E. McField Sports Centre (the Annex) and the Ed Bush Sports Centre – will host three consecutive games each night during the group stages.
Local organisers are putting together a team of 200 volunteers to ensure the event runs smoothly.
On the pitch, the Cayman side will focus on physical fitness over the coming weeks to prepare them for the rigours of tournament football. They recently played consecutive practice matches against a club side from Honduras as part of the build-up.
Blake said: “This group of players has been together for a long time. Anyone who saw the games at the weekend could see the level of football was very high.
“I don’t see why we can’t get out of the group stages. The main thing that could hamper us is back-to-back games. The important thing is how we recover. Five games in seven days is a lot.”
The tournament is also expected to provide an economic boost to the islands with the hotel bill alone running to more than $1 million for all the teams and their entourages. The list of expenses for the tournament will also include a $30,000 Gatorade bill, with CONCACAF picking up the tab.
The logistics of organising such a large tournament are a challenge with local organisers looking to fly in additional massage tables and recruit makeshift ambulances to be on standby at the venues. Entry to all the round one games will be free with a fee of $10 for the semi-finals and $15 for the final.
The championships, designed to invigorate youth football in the region, was the brain child of Cayman’s Jeffrey Webb, who is also the head of the regional body and an influential figure in world soccer.
Sports Minister Osbourne Bodden said it would inspire Cayman’s young footballers to new heights.
“It is pleasing to see the return of international football to the Cayman Islands,” Bodden said. “This will be an incentive to young footballers to set new goals for themselves and I think we will see a lot more interest in the game at the local level.
“I’d like to encourage the public to come out and watch. Admission is free for the first round so there is no excuse.”
Former Sports Minister Mark Scotland, a CIFA member and part of the local organising committee, admitted the sheer number of players involved made the tournament a serious undertaking.
He said around 70 volunteers were already signed up to help and urged anyone else interested in getting involved to call the football association.