In Jamaica, Aruba (pictured) is making its first-ever CONCACAF Under-20 Championship appearance. (Photo: Mexsport)
KINGSTON, Jamaica – Aruba’s debut in the CONCACAF Under-20 Championship was never going to be an easy one. The schedule called for meetings with Panama and Trinidad & Tobago, the first-place finishers in Central American and Caribbean qualifying, respectively, in its opening two encounters.
The Arubans dropped both decisions by a combined score of 9-1. In Sunday’s 5-1 loss to the Trinidadians, they valiantly played two-thirds of the game with only 10 players, following Joel Geerman’s red-card expulsion for a foul from behind in his own penalty area.
After Kadeem Corbin converted the penalty kick in the 29th minute, though, Aruba’s play improved despite being down a man.
Head coach Arent Bekhof, who assumed the coaching reins less than a week ago, understands what his team up against and has been able to identify reasons for optimism.
“It’s our first performance here at this level, so it’s very hard for my team to beat a team who has more experience,” Bekhof said. “In the second half (against Trinidad & Tobago), with 10 players, I think we did a good a job and I’m very happy that we scored also a goal.
“Perhaps it gives more enjoyment for all my team to do it Wednesday against the USA. Perhaps we have a better performance.”
In a demanding group stage that calls for five matches to be contested in 13 days, key aspects of any team will be tested. From depth to fitness and man management to mental make-up, a breakdown in any of those areas could have a direct impact on execution.
This is unchartered territory for Aruba, something of which Bekhof is cognizant.
“I have 20 players with me and they need, all of them, they need experience,” the Netherlands native noted. “Football in Aruba needs experience, so I want to use all my players in this tournament."
Challenges will keep coming Aruba’s way. Next up, on Wednesday, is the United States, which is also looking for its first win after drawing with Guatemala (1-1) and falling to Panama (1-0).
“Being motivated is not the problem,” Bekhof responded, when asked how he will keep his team encouraged. “The problem is you have it’s a lot of energy they need and we have only two days rest. The problem is not the motivation, the problem is the rest between the games. They have to become fit for the next game.”
Against the Americans, Bekhof is hopeful that Aruba can continue to demonstrate growth, just like it did in the last forty-five minutes against Trinidad.
“The positive thing is that we played with 10 players in the second half and I see some progress in the team,” he concluded. “For example, the position play is becoming better and better.
“And, perhaps, Wednesday, we play better as this evening.”