After a strong start last week, in which they convincingly beat Grenada and the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands Under 17 Boys National Football squad found their next two games at the CONCACAF Under 17 Boys Championships to be somewhat more challenging.

Grouped with Nicaragua, Grenada, the U.S. Virgin Islands and St. Vincent and The Grenadines in Group A of the qualifying round at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, only the group winners advance to the final round scheduled for May 2019.

St. Vincent

The Cayman Under 17 Boys were held to a 1-1 draw by St. Vincent and the Grenadines in the team’s third game in Group A of the CONCACAF Under 17 Boys Championships qualifying round Friday at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida.

A St. Vincent penalty in the 86th minute cancelled out Corey Smith’s 62nd minute opener in a game largely dominated by the Cayman Islands.

Knowing that a win would place the team in an excellent position with only one game remaining – against Nicaragua on Sunday – the Cayman squad pressured their opponents from the kick-off.

Dominating much of the possession, Cayman was unlucky not to take the lead following some fine build-up play.

The back line of Daniel Wallace, Luke Byles, Victor Thompson Jr. and Caleb McFarlane, coupled with Jonah Sigsworth and Jahrion Bodden slotting in the centre of midfield, set up a formidable wall that the Vincentians found difficult to penetrate.

Offensively, Jahmai Griffiths, Corey Smith, Barry Dre Tibbetts and Gunnar Studenhofft were causing havoc in the St. Vincent defence as the Cayman players pushed forward in search of the opening goal.

Shots from Bodden, Studenhofft and Tibbetts in quick succession caused further confusion in the Vincentians’ penalty area, but the opening goal proved elusive.

Caleb McFarlane was replaced in the 37th minute after sustaining a wrist injury.

After a few minutes of injury time were played, the half-time whistle sounded with the score locked at 0-0.

The second half resumed with the Cayman Islands in the ascendency as Smith and Tibbetts mad several strikes that went agonizingly wide. Studenhofft was making the most of his first start as he tested the goalkeeper, after being put through by Tibbetts.

In the 62nd minute, the Cayman Islands’ dominance paid off as Smith found the back of the net to lift his team into a 1-0 lead. Winning the ball back after the restart, Studenhofft hit the inside of the post, with the rebound bouncing into the hands of the floored goalkeeper.

In the 65th minute, Jackson Kirkconnell replaced Sigsworth and in the 82nd minute, Joshua Small came on for Studenhofft.

With time running out, St. Vincent were awarded a penalty from a questionable hand ball, and from the resulting spot kick tied the game with four minutes of regulation time remaining.

After a few more forays up front, the full-time whistle sounded, much to the Cayman team’s disappointment, as they knew it was two points lost rather than one point gained.

Coach Bruce Sigsworth lamented on the missed opportunity saying, “Our young men battled hard and found their stride more in the second half than the first. They did extremely well to recover after losing Caleb [McFarlane] to a broken wrist.

“Their perseverance paid off with a well-taken goal and the boys did well to maintain the lead, only to lose it to a poor refereeing decision. The referee’s dismal day continued as he failed to award us an obvious penalty. The boys continued to push for the winner and should have secured the three points after going close on several occasions.”

Nicaragua

The Cayman Under 17 boys squad suffered their first defeat, 0-3, to Group A favourites Nicaragua at the CONCACAF Under 17 Boys Championships qualifying round Sunday.

Nicaragua’s victory secured them the top spot in Group A and a place in the CONCACAF Under 17 Boys Championship final round in May.

With the loss, the Cayman Islands finished a very respectable second in the group of five.

The Cayman team found themselves under intense pressure from the opening whistle as the Central Americans knew they had to win the game to top the group on points. A draw would see Cayman top the group and qualify for the final round.

Cayman’s back line of Daniel Wallace, Luke Byles, Victor Thompson Jr. and D’Shawn Brown coped well with the offensive onslaught, and Micah O’Garro in goal was called into action on numerous occasions.

In the 19th minute, Nicaragua took the lead from a corner and five minutes later, the Cayman team found themselves down 2-0. Nicaragua continued to pile on the pressure and the Cayman boys were finding it extremely difficult to retain possession.

The half-time whistle couldn’t have come any sooner for the Cayman outfit, as a respite from the onslaught was needed, as well as some changes and tweaks to their strategy.

Gunnar Studenhofft replaced Joshua Small up front at the start of the second half, and in the 63rd minute Kameron Bennett came on for Jahmai Griffiths. With the two changes, Cayman began to gather momentum, although Nicaragua were still in control of the game. In the 67th minute, disaster struck as Nicaragua scored their third goal.

In the 78th minute, Syrus Conolly replaced Corey Smith and it was ‘all or nothing’ for the Cayman boys. Almost immediately, the Nicaraguan goalkeeper pulled off two great saves as he stopped an initial shot from Studenhofft and recovered well to block the rebound off the boot of Conolly.

It just wasn’t to be for the Cayman Islands, as the final whistle sounded. Nicaragua were through to the final round.

Following the loss, Coach Bruce Sigsworth said, “We did not impose our style of play on the game, and gave away far too much possession. Our back line felt the loss of our starting centre back Caleb [McFarlane], who was injured in the previous game with St. Vincent. To add to this, not enough of the team performed at their best, which was imperative for this game.

“It was also obvious that the lack of competitive games in preparation for this tournament was a key contributor to the separation that exists between us and the likes of Nicaragua, the top Caribbean countries and the other Central American countries in general. Our staff and players will definitely learn from this tournament.”

The Cayman Islands team returned to the island on Monday.

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