John: ‘The MLS is a great opportunity for Caribbean players to showcase their talent’
Former Trinidad and Tobago international Stern John says while the Caribbean region is brimming with talent, it will require more than that for young players to make it at the first-class level.
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BRIDGETOWN, Barbados – Former Trinidad and Tobago international Stern John says while the Caribbean region is brimming with talent, it will require more than that for young players to make it at the first-class level.

The former Coventry City striker noted that during the Barbados leg of the MLS Caribbean Combine which is currently underway, he as one of the coaches will be keeping an eye out for players showing a broader scope of assets than just raw ability.

 “There is an abundance of talent in the Caribbean where the players have a lot of skill, but for these young players (Combine participants) I will be looking for technique, ability to read the game and their understanding of the game,” said Trinidad and Tobago’s all-time top scorer with 70 goals in 115 appearances.

At the MLS Caribbean Combine, John said if he were to give advise to the players, it would be this: “Just go out there and express yourself and enjoy the moment and at the same time to be a team player.”

John, one the highest scorers in Major League Soccer’s history with an impressive 44 goals in 55 games in 1998-1999, believes the American football league remains a  stage for Caribbean players to strut their stuff.

“I think the MLS is a great opportunity for Caribbean players to showcase their talent on this stage because I believe that Caribbean players have done well in the MLS over the years.

“I think it is a market we need to tap into strongly again,” noted the former Birmingham City man, indicating that Caribbean representation has dwindled in the recent past due to the league becoming more difficult to get into as its appeal grows.

John, who was key member of Trinidad and Tobago’s Soca Warriors team that historically qualified for the Fifa World Cup of Germany 2006, argued that the growth and development of footballing talent in the Caribbean is being stymied by what he referred to as restrictive coaching methods, and in some cases, below par on-passing of the football knowledge to the youngsters.

 “I think in the Caribbean at a young age the coaches are restricting the players from dribbling and expressing themselves, and we have to allow players to enjoy themselves at a young age, and I think that is one of the biggest problems in the Caribbean, to me as a player and coach,” he said.

The Trinidadian pointed specifically to the technique of crossing the ball in active play as a major Achilles heel of Caribbean players and a technical flaw that needs to be corrected.

“I think the failure is with the coaching at a young age to master this technique (of crossing the ball), so by the time they reach Under-17, Under-20 or even Under-23 levels, they come and are unable to cross the ball properly,” noted John, who is currently a player/coach and Trinidadian club Central F.C.

Along with John, other former MLS standout Jamaicans Andy Williams, Wolde Harris and Shavar Thomas are acting as coaches in the MLS Caribbean Combine.

The Jamaica leg of the two-prong Caribbean exercise ran October 15-18 in Kingston. The Barbados portion, which started on Monday, will end on Thursday.

The MLS Caribbean Combine is a result of the partnership between MLS and Concacaf that serves as a pathway for some of the best players under the age of 24 in the Caribbean area to showcase their talent for MLS clubs.

Through an expanded format, this scouting opportunity has grown from one event, featuring 22 players from 15 countries, to two events this year featuring 40 players from up to 30 countries, with 20 players taking part both in Kingston and Bridgetown.

The most highly touted prospects will be named MLS Caribbean Combine Most Valuable Players and will earn invitations to the MLS adidas Player Combine in Orlando, Florida, January 3-9 next year.