UPDATE: The first phase of the CONCACAF Nations League ended Sunday night with Montserrat just missing out on a top-ten berth and qualification for the Gold Cup. Montserrat finished 11th in the 34-team standings. The Cayman Islands finished 29th.
A tenacious Cayman Islands side put up a strong fight before going down 2-1 to Montserrat in front of a packed house at Ed Bush stadium in West Bay on Friday.
In time, this Cayman Islands squad, back on the field in recent months after years of inaction, may write its own rags to riches story. For now they must settle for being a sub-plot in the fairytale rise of Montserrat.
The tiny British Overseas Territory, with a population of less than 5,000, is on the brink of progressing to the CONCACAF Gold Cup after Friday’s win. If they qualify, they will face the likes of the U.S., Mexico and Costa Rica on one of the biggest stages in world football.
To put the achievement into perspective, the entire population of Montserrat could fit ten times over into Chicago’s Solider Field, where the final of the competition will be held later this year.
The slender margin of victory over the Cayman Islands on Friday means Montserrat are dependent on other results going their way if they are to make history.
But for star striker, Lyle Taylor, who plays professionally in the English League One with Charlton Athletic, the team have done themselves proud, no matter what.
“We’ll keep grafting and if we don’t make this one, we will try and make the next one. If we don’t make the next one, we will keep going. That is all there is to it,” he said after the game.
Taylor is one of a cadre of English players with Montserrat roots drafted into the national team. The tiny island has a wide diaspora thanks to multiple waves of immigration to the U.K. both during the Windrush generation, when the British government encouraged mass immigration from the Caribbean in the aftermath of the Second World War, and following volcanic eruptions on the island.
Taylor, whose grandparents are from Montserrat but who had never been to the country before he played for them internationally, said the British influence showed in his team’s style.
“The majority of us being from England, we play a very different game to the rest of the Caribbean nations. We aren’t afraid to mix it up and play a physical game.
“The Cayman boys stood up to that and they stood up to that really well and provided a stern test. I don’t think their world ranking (203) represents how good they are.”
Cayman played some neat football at times and were unlucky to go behind on the stroke of halftime, Adrian Clifton converting a penalty for Montserrat after a hand ball in the box. There were some good performances from the Cayman men in front of a 1,410 strong crowd. Joshewa Frederick looked impressive, striding forward from the back and Mark Ebanks always looked a threat on the counterattack.
It was Ebanks who levelled the score early in the second half, latching on to a neat through-ball to place a cool finish under the keeper.
A physically imposing Montserrat team, filled with professional and semi-professional players, began to assert themselves as the second half wore on.
Ramon Sealy was called on to make some sharp saves, including a point blank stop from Taylor, who was clean through on goal. Unfortunately for the impressive Sealy, it was his misplaced goal kick that led to the Montserrat winner. Amid confusion in the Cayman defence, the ball fell to Bradley Woods on the edge of the box and his looping volley found the right-hand side of Sealy’s net.
Montserrat piled on the pressure in the closing stages, hurling aerial balls into the box, and it took another sharp save from Sealy to deny them a third.
After the game, Ebanks praised Cayman’s defence for withstanding the aerial assault – something they had worked on in training in the run up to the game.
He said it was nice to be on the score sheet again in front of his home fans, but acknowledged it had been a bruising encounter against a physical side.
“It was very tough, but you have got to enjoy it. It is football, you have got to love it. We have to build off this game and learn from our mistakes.”
He believes Cayman can be inspired by the success that Montserrat has had, despite its tiny population.
“We have to put our heads to it and continue to work hard. If we get the support from our fans and everybody in the Cayman Islands to back us, we can go far.”