GEORGE TOWN, Cayman Islands -- To score on your international debut in front of your home fans is the dream of most aspiring footballers, but to do it five times is way beyond even the wildest expectations.
Yet that is exactly what Leighton Thomas Jr. did for the Cayman Islands under-15 national, when it defeated Sint Maarten 12-0 on Tuesday at the CONCACAF Under-15 Championship.
Thomas struck in the first minute and by half time, a mere 34 minutes later (U-15 Championship games are 70-minutes long), he was high fiving for many reasons before going off for good early in the second half.
A versatile player, Thomas seems adept wherever he is on the pitch, although defensive midfield is his favored position.
“I like to hold up the ball and I’m not afraid to take on a man and score,” he said.
Beating Sint Maarten was not a total surprise, considering how long and hard Cayman prepared as host of the competition.
Practice games against senior sides, intense coaching, tough gym sessions and a training camp in Panama were all part of the build-up. Every cent spent and bead of sweat dropped proved worthwhile with that first result at the Truman Bodden Sports Complex in the capital George Town.
Thomas started his football career at John A. Cumber Primary School in West Bay and was spotted by one of Cayman’s top sides, Scholars International.
He eventually joined Elite, before linking up with coach Roy “Huta” Ebanks at Future Sports Club, where he currently plays.
Relatively big and strong for a 14-year-old young man, Thomas is grateful to come from an athletic household and the fact that his father cooks nutritious meals for him regularly.
Although dad prefers cricket to football, he is very supportive of a son who hopes to turn pro with a major European or Major League Soccer club in the future.
“I’m hoping at these championships to be scouted and to actually get somewhere one day,” said Thomas. “I particularly want to be a pro in English football.
“I support Manchester United and my favorite player is Robin van Persie.”
Ardin “Cheeky” Rivers, Cayman’s technical director, speaks highly Thomas and his talent.
“Leighton is a very technical player for someone of his age,” he said. “Outstanding, in fact. He is also a very useful utility player who can play in defense of midfield and when he plays forward he scores a lot of goals. He is a great midfield player because of his work rate and other attributes. His distribution of the ball is also quite good and he’s also a great ball winner. He is basically a complete player at only 14 years old.
“Not many players in the Caribbean can you say that about. He basically just has to keep his head level and have the right attitude and passion for the sport and he will do well in the future.”
Cayman play US Virgin Islands on Thursday and then Bermuda on Friday in a clash of Group A favorites.