Mayor's Cup is the goal again

The Under-14 team from the Cayman Islands Youth Football Program will return to Las Vegas this weekend to participate in the 2014 Mayor’s Cup International Showcase. 

The team competes in the U-14 division with first-round games scheduled for Saturday and Sunday, semifinals set for Monday and the final on Tuesday. 

The 20 boys, five staff members – including three coaches, a manager and team doctor – and a number of parents, leave Grand Cayman on Wednesday and return a week later.  

This is the second time that local boys are competing in the tournament in Nevada. A year ago they were in Las Vegas under head coach Ernie “Gillie” Seymour and assistant coaches Antwan Seymour and Gonzalo McLaughlin. This year, the team returns with Gillie, his son Antwan and Ken Downey. 

The Mayor’s Cup International Showcase is one of two annual football tournaments co-hosted by the Downtown Las Vegas Soccer Club and the city of Las Vegas, the other being the International Tournament, which is played in October.  

Each year, the tournament welcomes amateur and professional clubs from Canada, Russia, the United Kingdom, Germany, China, Poland, France, Australia, Dominican Republic, Denmark and Africa. 

The U-14s from the Cayman Islands Youth Football Program have been together since March 2011, training once a week and playing in friendlies and competitions with local and foreign teams in preparation for tournaments such as the Mayor’s Cup. 

The Cayman Islands youth program consists of 40 of the best players in the U-14 age group from all clubs in the Cayman Islands and although not yet acknowledged by the Cayman Islands Football Association as the next Cayman Islands national U-15 team, this has not affected the ambitions of the program. 

The ultimate goal of the program over the next few years is to prepare players to represent Cayman at the U-15, U-17, U-20 and U-23 levels for the national team.  

In addition, and more importantly, teams from the program will continue to participate in overseas tournaments in the U.S. and elsewhere to gain exposure in the hope of being spotted by high school and college coaches and earn scholarships to further their education and play at a higher level. 

Also, the players are being prepared for tryouts to professional youth academies in the United Kingdom and other parts of Europe.  

The organizers anticipate that other youngsters may follow the lead of Sebastian Martinez, Kray Foster and Nathan Borde, who now attend the Youth Academy at Swindon Town, and Cameron Gray at the Youth Academy at Reading in England. 

One of the program’s most recognized player is 14-year-old Foster. He was recruited by the professional academy at Swindon Town following a training session while he was with the Cayman Islands youth program two years ago during the first visit of Swindon Town’s youth team.  

Foster also competed with the Cayman Islands National U-15 team during last summer’s CONCACAF U-15 Championships in Grand Cayman and remains an ambassador for the youth program.  

The Las Vegas trip has been financed through corporate sponsorship and fundraising efforts by the program’s players, parents and coaches. 

Coordinator of the Cayman Islands youth program Neil Murray said, “Our players and coaches are looking forward to returning to Las Vegas to gauge how we have improved in a year.  

“During last year’s tournament, our boys were true ambassadors for the Cayman Islands as they represented their country superbly on and off the field.  

“Although the team was disappointed with the results from the games, they played admirably throughout, gaining the respect of many of their opponents, coaches, spectators and tournament officials. Our group is a year older and more experienced and ready for the challenge.” 

On their return from Las Vegas, the squad will be playing two exhibition games prior to the featured games of the 2014 C3 Cayman International Youth Football Tournament involving the Cayman Select team and the Youth Academy teams from Swindon Town and the Houston Dynamo from Major League Soccer, on Feb. 20 and Feb. 22. 

Murray added, “Special thanks to all the corporate sponsors, including Cayman National, Entech Ltd., Business Solutions Technologies Group, Grasspiece Promotions, Water Authority Cayman, Flowers Bottled Water, Cayman Airways, The Sports Injury Centre, Webster’s Tours, Rawlinson & Hunter Ltd., Cayman Immigration Consultant Services, Financial Integrated Services Ltd., Kensington Management Group Ltd., Foster’s Food Fair, A.L. Thompson’s Home Depot, Hurley’s Supermarket, Cost-U-Less, Economy Printers, CUC and Squadra Uniforms, and to the public who supported the program’s fundraising efforts.” 

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U14 squad, back, from left, Ernie “Gillie” Seymour (head coach), Ken Downey (assistant coach), Kion Parchment, Ricardo Wright, Alex Logvinov, Corey Mellaneo, Louis Gordon, Albertini Holness, Trey Ebanks, Jaden Downey, Nicholas Chung, Cody Ebanks, Jiffon Robinson, Rico Bodden, Ricardo Damaso and Antwan Seymour (assistant coach). Front, from left, D’Andre Rowe, Oladapo Bailey, Joshua O’Garro, Kareem Foster, Alex Clarke, Kailan Miller and Francisco Murillo.

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Ajani Harris chases Corey Mellaneo in training.