Cayman on verge of CONCACAF qualification

Cayman hugs and huddles immediately following the tying score on Friday night.

Cayman’s under-17 women’s football team has a five-goal cushion and a chance to control its own future.

The home team took a 1‑1 draw Friday night against Martinique, which means that it can book passage into the knockout stage of the CONCACAF U-17 Women’s Championship with a win on Sunday.

Cayman’s climactic game against Antigua and Barbuda was set to occur after press time Sunday.

But by virtue of a tie against Martinique and an 8‑1 demolition of Dominica in the tournament opener, Cayman will know what it needs to advance. If Martinique beats Dominica early, then Cayman will need to beat Antigua and Barbuda. But if Martinique draws, then Cayman can also advance with a draw.

Cayman heads into Sunday with a +7 goal differential, while Martinique is +2.

“If we win and if they win, it’s goal difference,” said assistant coach Gisela ‘GG’ Gamba on Friday. “But they play before us. They play at 5:30, we play at 7:30. When we play, we’ll know what we have to do.”

While Wednesday’s game was a free-wheeling offensive spectacle, Friday night’s game between the group’s two frontrunners was combative and physical. Martinique took an early advantage in the ninth minute when forward Ludmila Gaydu pounced on an errant back pass and slotted it into the net.

Martinique controlled much of the possession and had more of the scoring opportunities in the first half, but both teams screwed down defensively and overcame some hard tackling.

“I think that early goal gives you the ability to play differently, defend with many players and start kicking long balls,” said Gamba. “They have that advantage early in the game where they could relax a little bit and play differently. We had the pressure where we needed to score. At some point, with young players, that pressure makes you play in a rush instead of thinking about what you’re doing.”

Cayman began pressing harder and harder in the second half, and winger Ethana Villalobos played the role of hero late. Villalobos streaked in from the right wing in the 71st minute, took a pass from Molly Kehoe and scored the tying goal over the outstretched hands of Martinique’s goalie.

That sparked a team celebration from Cayman and a hunger to find a winning goal.

When Cayman lines up Sunday night, it will know exactly what it needs to do to advance. – PHOTOS: Spencer Fordin

“It was a pass from Molly. I went and took a shot,” said Villalobos. “I thought it missed because it tipped her finger. But at the end, I heard everyone screaming, so I felt really good.”

Only one team will come out of Group B and advance to CONCACAF’s U-17 Women’s Championship, and both Martinique and Cayman will be motivated to get their chance on a giant stage. Gamba said she was pleased with the way Cayman experienced adversity and rebounded Friday night.

“I think we started a bit nervous,” she said. “We got into that unfortunate goal at the beginning that sort of brought us down, but in the second half, the girls started to play more of their game. They brought their hearts into the game so we could score a goal and equalize. We wanted to win, but we’ll take the equaliser. What I think we’ll take from this game is the girls never gave up until the last minute.”

Winger Shayana Windsor attempts to cross the ball back into the middle of the box in Friday night’s draw against Martinique.