The Cayman Islands national men’s football team returns to international competition for the first time in four years Wednesday, traveling to Belize for a World Cup qualifier match.
Cayman then play Belize again in the second leg at home, at the Truman Bodden Sports Complex on Sunday.
Over the past four years, the Cayman Islands Football Association has decided to withdraw the senior national side from international competition, primarily because of a poor run of results, and instead concentrate on youth development.
The thought process was that when the youngsters matured, the senior side would benefit from the injection of youth and become more competitive.
A number of talented youngsters have graduated to senior level and are being blended with the more experienced players, such as captain Abijah Rivers – a central defender; Jedd Ebanks in defense and midfield, striker Mark Ebanks and keeper Ramon Sealy.
Expectations are optimistic that Cayman can overcome Belize and go on to the next round.
The Cayman squad has experienced some frustrations in its preparations, such as having at times to travel to North Side to train when facilities in George Town and West Bay were not available.
Renard Moxam, director of national teams, said having to go to North Side is not ideal, but at least the squad has fewer distractions there than when training at the TE McField Annex or Ed Bush stadium.
He praised the players, especially the ones who live in West Bay and George Town, for making the long trip. “That says a lot about their character,” he said.
Refreshing’ football environment
Cayman’s new football environment is a refreshing one, Moxam believes. He said, “If we play to the level I know we can play at – which was demonstrated to me recently when we played two matches in Jamaica – with a degree of luck we can go through.”
Although Cayman lost 4-0 to the Jamaica national Under-23 side, it was 1-0 after 80 minutes. Moxam was impressed with Cayman’s commitment, technical improvements and cohesiveness up to that point.
Since then, Cayman’s fitness level, mental toughness and tactical nous has improved considerably, he said, which is one reason why he is upbeat about doing well in Belize and going through after playing at home.
Faith in technical team
He places a lot of faith in the technical team he has surrounded himself with, which includes Alex Gonzalez, Alban Ruiz, Luis Searra, Manuel Navarro, Lovane “Pelo” Joven and Alexis Reve.
Moxam also has considerable confidence in some of the young players in the squad. Midfielder Matthew Suberan is the outstanding player of that crop, which includes Danner Taylor, Jamaal Seymour, Wesley Robinson, David Connolly and Martin Webb. Most of the squad play for Elite Sports Club or Cayman Athletic.
The 100 percent commitment from the squad, despite problems with preparation, has encouraged Moxam, who said that while he does not have a full library of information on Belize, he is aware that they too are going through “a regeneration process of their football programs.”
He added, “We’re focusing on how we need to play home and away in order to get the desired results.
“The technical team and myself are optimistic because the boys work hard, show a good attitude and willingness to embrace the new challenges and changes in approach as we prepare for the games.
“I want to encourage the public to support and demonstrate a new level of respect towards our national teams because they can rest assured the players are also being taught to understand and respect their responsibility relative to the public.”