One more game separates Cayman from Nations League glory.
Cayman’s national football team overcame a driving rainstorm to beat the US Virgin Islands 1-0 at Truman Bodden Sports Complex Saturday night, and it will play in Barbados on Tuesday with an excellent chance to win its group in CONCACAF Nations League C.
Cayman has won four of its five games and needs only a draw to lock up the group championship on Tuesday, but it will be facing a resolute Barbados squad that sits second in the table. Cayman beat Barbados 3-2 at home in September, but will need to dig deep for another positive result.
Moments after Saturday night’s win, coach Ben Pugh said his team is focused on the task at hand.
“They’re very motivated and they’re very hungry. There’s not a lot I have to say to them because they know the position we’re in and they know what they have to do to recover,” he said. “We’re happy with the win, but we know we have a very difficult task ahead and we’ll focus fully on that. Hopefully, if we prepare properly, we give ourselves every chance to qualify and win the group.”
For a while, it looked like Saturday’s game wouldn’t be played. Cayman was deluged with rain for much of Saturday, and a heavy storm began moments before the teams took to the field.
The corners were waterlogged and muddy and many of the players slipped on the surface early in the first half, but the rain lessened and allowed both teams to find a rhythm.
“I thought the pitch held the rain really well, to be honest with you,” said Gilberto Damiano, coach of the USVI team. “Before the game started, we thought the pitch was going to be unplayable.
“But it drained really quick. I thought the pitch was OK considering the amount of rain that came.”
Cayman controlled possession for 60 percent of the game and had 17 shots to USVI’s nine, but the only goal of the game came from an unlikely source. Cayman defender Ackeem Hyde pounced on an errant corner kick in the box in the 17th minute and squibbed a shot past a diving USVI goalie.
Both teams had multiple chances to score, and Cayman hit the post twice in the second half. But Hyde’s goal stood up, and fellow defender Mason Duval was thrilled with his team’s performance.
“For me and the whole team, it’s one of the biggest wins we’ve ever had,” he said. “We’re top of our group now in Nations League and that’s all we’ve ever wanted. The boys have been working so hard. I couldn’t have asked for more for them. It was a war out there and they pushed through.”
Cayman currently has a three-point edge over Barbados, but it trails in the goal differential category. Cayman will win the group and advance to Nations League B with a win or a draw. But if Barbados is able to take a win on its home soil, the Bajans will win the group and advance to the higher league.
“Naturally, I’m delighted,” said Pugh of their position. “I think we fully deserve that. Where we were perhaps in March when we finished the original group to where we are now, I think we’ve grown [in] leaps and bounds. That’s a testament to the players, because their attitude and their commitment and their desire has been on another level. They fully deserve to be in the position we’re in.”