The ever-improving Under-15 Cayman Islands youth football team returns to Las Vegas, Nevada, for the 2015 Mayor’s Cup International Showcase, high in confidence after excellent showings in the last two years.
The team’s first round games in the six-a-side tournament are against California Rush Miglietti and America Colorado Inter on Feb. 13 and NSYSL Cordica 00 (Nevada) the following day.
The quarterfinals will be played on Feb. 15, with the semifinals and finals the following day.
The party includes 25 boys.
Two years ago, the team went to Vegas guided by head coach Ernie “Gillie” Seymour and assistant coaches Antwan “Chico” Seymour and Gonzalo McLaughlin.
The team returned last year with Gillie and his son Chico and Ken Downey, and they all will return this time.
The Mayor’s Cup is one of two annual football tournaments co-hosted by the Downtown Las Vegas Soccer Club and the city of Las Vegas. The other is the International Tournament, played in October.
Each year, the tournament welcomes amateur and professional clubs from Brazil, Colombia, Canada, Mexico, Panama, Russia, the United Kingdom, Germany, China, Poland, France, Australia, Denmark, Africa and the Dominican Republic.
The U-15s from the Cayman Islands Youth Football Program have been together since March 2011, training every week and playing in regularly friendly games and in competitions against local and foreign teams in preparation for tournaments like the Mayor’s Cup.
The Cayman Islands Youth Program consists of 40 of the best players in this age group from local clubs.
A squad was recently selected for national training to compete in the 2015 CONCACAF U-15 Championships in Cayman in August.
The program’s ultimate goal over the next few years is to better prepare players to represent Cayman at all age levels up to the seniors.
Teams will continue to participate in overseas tournaments in the U.S. and elsewhere in the hope that players will be seen by high school and college coaches and potentially earn scholarships to further their education and play at a higher level.
The program is also designed to help players attract professional youth academies in the United Kingdom and other parts of Europe and emulate the likes of Sebastian Martinez, Kray Foster and Nathan Borde, who now attend Swindon’s youth academy, and Cameron Gray at Reading’s academy, both in the U.K.
Kareem Foster, the program’s standout 14-year-old, was invited to train with Swindon Town for one week last October.
He played in several practice games, including against Southampton’s celebrated youths, and his performance impressed Swindon’s coaching staff.
Nicholas Chung, another talented youngster from the program, has trained with Ipswich Town’s academy in the U.K. Chung plays for Academy Sports Club.
The Vegas trip has been financed through corporate sponsorship and fundraising efforts by the players, parents and coaches.
Neil Murray, coordinator of the Cayman Islands Youth Program, said, “Our players and coaches are looking forward to returning to Las Vegas. At last year’s tournament, our boys were very impressive, winning four games and losing only one and missing out on advancing to the semifinals by one point.”
Murray said that although the team was disappointed by not advancing, they played admirably throughout, gaining the respect of many of their opponents, coaches, spectators and tournament officials and were even featured in the sports section of the Las Vegas Review-Journal newspaper.
“Our group is a year older, a year more experienced and ready for the challenge,” Murray said.
Their next tournament is immediately afterward, the 2015 Cayman International Youth Tournament, involving the U-15 academy teams from Swindon Town and the Houston Dynamo from Major League Soccer, from Feb. 19-21.