Some of the world’s top Under-14 football teams converge on the Cayman Islands this week for the inaugural Cayman Airways Invitational Cup. The tournament runs from Monday until May 11 and includes Cayman’s national U-14 team playing Charlton Athletic (England), IMG Academy (U.S.), Real Club Deportivo España (Honduras) and Jamaica’s Harbour View.
Many players hope to carve a career in the game and see this tournament as the ideal opportunity to make an impression on scouts.
Owen Dinall, the Cayman Islands U-14 national manager and a member of the tournament organizing committee, said the event is part of a long-term view.
“We expect that the players in the U-14 team will be in next year’s U-15 CONCACAF tournament,” Dinall said. “From there they will go on to the U-17 team, the U-19 team and on all the way through to the Olympics and the World Cup.
“As we prepare for the future of football in the Cayman Islands, tournaments such as the Cayman Airways Invitational Youth Cup are really exciting for the community as a whole, and we hope that everyone will come out and support all the teams playing in the event.”
Arden “Cheeky” Rivers is the technical director of youth football for the Cayman Islands Football Association and the founder of the West Bay Sports Foundation. The foundation, a nonprofit started in 2009, is geared toward empowering youth to be great role models by achieving significance in life through success in sports and education.
He said he sat down with Virgil Seymour, head of youth development at Academy Sports Club, a long-established nonprofit organization providing youth football programs, to see which age group ought to be targeted for this tournament. Both are former national team players and focused on raising the overall standards here.
The U-14 assistant coach is JC Connor, a former national goalkeeper and national coach.
“Last year’s U-15 team came fifth out of 22 teams in the CONCACAF tournament, so we decided we should catch the next generation for this tournament,” Rivers said.
“We have ambitions to propel football forward to the next level. We had the momentum, it was just a matter of getting everyone on board.
“We reached out to Cayman Airways to see if they could bring multiple teams to the island, and we looked at some of the world’s best football academies worldwide to see who would participate.”
Cayman Airways was immediately supportive of the event, understanding the tremendous benefit the exposure to international teams would have on Cayman’s youngsters.
Cayman Airways ensured that the overseas teams made it successfully here. Also on board as vital supporters are the Cayman Islands government, Dart, McAlpine and Crighton Properties, with many more valuable sponsors.
Players have been selected from Academy Sports Club, Cayman Athletics Sports Club, Sunset, Scholars International Sports Club, Bodden Town Sports Club, Elite Sports Club and Future Sports Club.
Seymour said, “This is the first time in their age group that some of the players have looked to take on international players. They look to their team players who have traveled to play overseas for leadership. Those with experience tend to be more vocal in training to keep spirits up.”
Charlton Athletic, for example, is a huge club, Seymour said, with tall players who have a height advantage over the Cayman players.
“I’ve been focusing on the psychological side to their training to ensure they are faster and smarter intellectually,” Seymour said.
“I tell them that they must make every opportunity count as you don’t get two or three chances. The players will be focusing hard on the speed of play, to keep the ball moving so as to play to tire the opposing team, who may not be used to the heat and humidity of Cayman.”
Seymour says the boys have been very receptive to his tough training regime.
“They haven’t given me any resistance,” he said. “I break down why we are training so hard so they can understand the purpose behind the method. This has helped us move diligently forward in preparation for the tournament.”
Seymour firmly believes that international exposure for the local team plays a huge role in their development as players and individuals. He makes regular trips to the U.K. with his Academy teams, and so far they have had tryouts at Ipswich Town, Barnet and Gillingham.
“It’s about breaking down barriers, giving them exposure to games on a professional pitch and watching their confidence grow,” he said.
Set on the Gulf Coast of Florida, IMG Academy is based in Bradenton and has established itself as one of America’s top private schools, combining elite academics with world-class athletic training. The IMG team said it is excited and hopes the event’s success continues for many years. IMG, made up of players from around the globe, is always eager to give their players opportunities to travel, meet new people and see other styles of play. Their team has shown great improvement over the last nine months and they hope that continues in this competition.
Harbour View, nicknamed the Stars of the East, plays at the highest level in Jamaica, constantly placed in the National Premier League, and is a prominent team within the wider Caribbean, with an impressive 53 titles to their name to date. The club has developed a special relationship with Cayman’s Academy Sports Club. Academy will visit Jamaica to play a series of friendlies with other clubs.
Two years ago, Harbour View sent a group of 43 to the Cayman Islands with two teams – U-13 and U-15 – playing games and socializing with the Academy team members and their families to strengthen the bond on and off the field.
The Jamaicans have also traveled to the U.S., Britain and Europe for experience.
Harbour View coaches say their participation in the Cayman Airways Invitational Youth Cup is very important, as it is another step to participate annually in international competition.
The club insists that winning would be great but that is not the main focus, as they want players to become well rounded.
Based in south London, Charlton Athletic’s academy is a testament of the club’s commitment to develop young talent. Since the inception of the academy in 1998, 22 young players have made it all the way through to the first-team squad. It is now recognized as one of the best in the country for youth development.
Charlton tour leader Adam Lawrence said his U-14 team has been working hard.
“It’s a real privilege for us to be participating in a tournament of this magnitude in the Cayman Islands,” Lawrence said.
“While some of our players have had international exposure, none of them have ever traveled to play in the Caribbean.
“It’s going to be a great education for our players and an important learning experience as they get to appreciate different cultures, countries and backgrounds. We expect to see our players develop a great deal over the week, not just from the exposure to the football, but also socially as well.”
Lawrence said, “We’ve had some half decent weather here in England just recently, which has helped. We’ve been getting group training going, working on systems and styles and how they would differ playing in Cayman. The main challenge will be the weather, and we’ve therefore been trying to teach a style of play suited to the climate.”
While the club’s philosophy is all about developing players and people, they still want to be competitive, so they hope to be getting a trophy out of the tournament. In addition, Lawrence said, he is looking forward to sharing ideas with coaches in Cayman and from the other participating countries.
“We already have an established relationship with the organizers of the tournament and we hope to build that relationship to strengthen it over the years.”
Real Club Deportivo España
Real España is one of the most successful clubs in Honduras and had the Spanish designation “Real” (“Royal”) given to them by Spain’s King Juan Carlos in 1977. Real España is the only football club outside of Spain to be granted such a title by the Spanish monarchy.
España is also considered to be one of the most accomplished Honduran football clubs.
The club’s youth academy is eager to establish a close relationship with Cayman.