As the inaugural CONCACAF Under-15 tournament unfolds hosts Cayman Islands have emerged as one of the better teams thanks to comprehensive victories over St. Maarten and US Virgin Islands.
Host countries traditionally do well in any sporting tournament for obvious reasons and in Cayman’s case an added factor is that CONCACAF President Jeffrey Webb is Caymanian, a deadly striker in his playing days.
Cayman smashed US Virgin 8-0 on Thursday following a 12-0 opening game thrashing of St. Maarten on Tuesday, both at the Truman Bodden Sports Complex in the capital George Town.
Cayman’s Leighton Thomas Jr. is the talk of the tournament so far, having scored five initially and then a hat-trick. He even missed a penalty against US Virgin Islands before being substituted, presumably saving him and other best players for the stern test that awaits them tonight against Bermuda, the other Group A favorites, who beat Bahamas 1-0 yesterday.
Cayman manager Owen Dinnall said: “My players were excited about this latest win. In the second half they got complacent after being 7-0 up at half-time.
“Leighton is very good but he’s a very humble player. After scoring five on Tuesday he was happy but jokey about it and tonight he got a hat-trick but was still played unselfishly.
“I expect Bermuda to be a much stronger team than what we’ve already faced. They beat US Virgin Islands 8-0 too. Against Bermuda we will be more focused and play a more intelligent game. It will be a real test.
“Perhaps the winner will be the group’s winner, but the ball is round and you never know.”
Dinnall revealed that in the few months since Cayman got the green light to host this tournament the squad has trained at a level to rival even a top pro side.
Confirmation of its staging didn’t come until end of March and the 40-strong squad from four main teams began preparations in April.
Training sessions were initially one day a week because many players already had club commitments. Then it went on to four times weekly once the season ended.
“We started with two-hour sessions, melding players together, going through tactics and assessing players for positions,” Dinnall said.
“Then by May and June we whittled them down to 28. We also had four players abroad. Then we had two international friendlies with the Honduran club CD Victoria here.” Cayman won one and lost the other.
Three of those four overseas players are with pro clubs in England. Sebastian Martinez and Kray Foster are at Swindon Town and Kray Foster is with Reading.
Goalkeeper Matthew Guitard attends the Dalton Academy in Georgia, Atlanta.
Then Cayman went to Panama for two days training, four draining sessions in all. They played a Panama select team on the third day, losing 6-0.
“The result did not reflect the nature of the game,” said Dinnall. “We had a lot of substitutions and tried different things. It was great experience though to see where we’re at after being fatigued.”
There was more technical work four times a week when they returned along with practice games against local clubs. Their last practice match was against a tough Under-17 team which the U-15s won 2-0.
“The players from pro clubs bring experience and knowledge and in the sessions others players mimic that. They show leadership to the team.”
Cayman also have a nutritionist, advising on diet and proper hydration. Dinnall believes his youngsters adhere to it.
“You can tell in training. If you pull a muscle in training that means you don’t have enough water, or you’re cramping from the sprints you can tell you had a bad meal before the game. We don’t have a problem like that.
“We also get a lot of support from the parents who do a great job.
“Now we’ll do a nice ice bath tonight and get a lot of rest for Bermuda.”