MIAMI, Florida – The initiative of the Concacaf Nations League has benefitted many nations from across the Caribbean region, and perhaps none more than the Cayman Islands.
Since the start of CNL Qualifying in September 2018, Cayman Islands have played 10 official matches and amassed a solid record of 4W-1D-5L in their four CNLQ matches and six CNL League C contests.
It is no wonder then that Cayman Islands are eager to carry that form into the start of Concacaf World Cup Qualifying in October.
“I believe all of us are ready and hungry to capitalize on our achievements from the Nations League and to bring that same momentum into the World Cup Qualifiers. The new system gives us a great opportunity to play against new competition and create history. With football being stopped for several months, we are all very excited to finally get back on the pitch and play the beautiful game which we love,” said Cayman Islands MF Mason Duval in an exclusive interview with Concacaf.com.
The advent of the CNL, along with the revised format of Concacaf WCQ in which Cayman Islands will play four different opponents in the First Round, has been like an injection of energy into the Cayman Islands program.
“With more games, it’s going to get more competitive, so you’ll have more people trying to fight to get a starting spot. In the past few years, it wasn’t very competitive, just two or four games a year. Nobody was motivated to train with the national team, but now you’re getting six to eight games a year. With more games, you get more scouts, more playing time, more film for highlight videos which you can send around to agents. It’s going to be more competitive, which means guys will have to step up their game, get better, train harder and that will pay off on the pitch. We’ll be closer to these top opponents than we were before,” said Duval, who is currently a sophomore at Elon University in Elon, North Carolina.
Duval also had the opportunity to represent his country at the 2018 Concacaf Under-20 Championship, which he says was an eye-opener in many different regards.
“That was an amazing experience because that was the first tournament in which I’ve been in that was so properly organized. IMG is an amazing facility and it was great having all of the teams being in one area together. I thought it was very unique. I had never had that before. Being around big teams like Mexico, Canada, being able to play against Guatemala, El Salvador was very good experience. I think that was the best Concacaf tournament that I’ve been in so far,” said Duval.
Drawn into Group F against the likes of El Salvador, Guatemala and Curacao, not much was expected of Cayman Islands in the 2018 CU20. But what happened was a team that went toe-to-toe with all their group opponents, sparking a change felt not just within the Under-20 Team but also the Senior Team.
“There were people back home that when we were going to the tournament, they said, ‘Oh, they are going to lose every game, we’re not going to watch them, this is going to be like the National Team, they are not going to have a chance.’ And when we went to that tournament and got the results we did, a lot of people started to believe in us and I think that was the starting point of a big change for us. We started winning those games and that transferred into the Senior Team. We started winning those games and had our first win in over nine years for the National Team and then had consecutive wins after that. I think that tournament positively changed us for the better,” said Duval.
Part of that effort at the 2018 CU20 included Duval scoring the equalizing goal in a 2-2 draw with Guatemala, which the Elon man called “an amazing feeling”, but on a larger scale, it signaled a shift in attitude.
“The chemistry got a lot better, playing together got a lot better. It was a big spark. We got more fans, more funding to go travel to different places and play more teams. We got more experience and also brought in other players from overseas like England, the U.S., so I think it was a big game-changer,” said Duval.
Even at the young age of 18, Duval already has two senior caps to his name, in addition to his participation in the 2018 CU20, and there is no question that he cherishes every opportunity to wear the Cayman Islands shirt.
“When you put on the shirt you know you are playing for something bigger than yourself. You’re not playing for your team; you’re playing for your country. It’s a small country, but there are still 60,000-odd people behind you. You have the fans and people who supported you, so when you put on the shirt, you just want to do your best for all the people that have supported you. When you put it on, you are also putting it on for the people before you, so it’s one of the best feelings ever for a player. There is no other higher achievement,” concluded Duval.