They have their minds set on a big prize and their eyes pointing even farther down the line.

Cayman’s national U20 football team left Wednesday for a five-day training camp in Cuba designed to prime it for the qualifying rounds of the next U20 World Cup. That tournament won’t be held until 2021 in Indonesia, but Cayman will play its earliest qualifying rounds in February of 2020.

Claudio Garcia, U20 team coach, said Wednesday that his players are younger than people might expect but they all possess a maturity and a professionalism beyond their years.

“We have between two and four players from the U15 team,” he said. “They are young but they are very good. Basically, the team is U17s, but we have five proper U20 boys. The idea is that this group will grow together and go to the U23s for the next Olympic qualifying. Also, they’ll be an option for the senior teams. Some of the players are very prepared, but some of them are really young.”

By having such a young team, said Garcia, there’s a hope that the players will have at least 10 to 15 games of international experience under their belts by the time they reach competitive tournaments. That, in turn, could enable them to dig deep and perhaps exceed the sum of their collective talents.

Garcia said that many of his players have been honing their games in the Cayman Islands Premier League. Nine of the 19 players, in fact, have been playing together for Academy Sports Club.

While in Cuba, the team will train every day and play two games against Cuba’s U20 national team at Estadio La Polar in Havana, home to FC La Habana. Garcia said there’s also a possibility that his team will be tested against Cuba’s U23 team for additional experience.

The training camp in Cuba is another sign of increased cooperation between the Cayman and Cuba football associations. Cayman earlier agreed to host two games for the senior Cuba national team this year, one already played against Canada on 10 Sept. and an upcoming game against the US on 19 Nov.

Alfredo Whittaker, the president of the Cayman Islands Football Association, will accompany the team on the trip, and his son Alfredo Jr. will be one of the players. Garcia said that Cody Ebanks will be named captain, and Rohelio Wright, D’Andre Rowe and Alexander Clarke will serve as vice-captains.

“We’re not going just for the experience,” said Garcia. “We’re going to compete. We’re going to train. We’re going to develop our skills and prepare for February. We’re not going on a vacation. This is a very responsible group. [Punctuality] and all those things, this is a very serious and professional group.”

Support local journalism. Subscribe to the all-access pass for the Cayman Compass.

Subscribe now