After League C success, Lake and Sint Maarten want more
MIAMI - Gerwin Lake and Sint Maarten have turned it around, and they aren’t done yet.
As the 2023 Gold Cup Prelims quickly approach in June, the Sint Maarten National Team is preparing for the biggest matches in their nation’s history. The recent League C graduates now stand just two wins away from qualifying for their first ever Gold Cup group stage -- not bad for a side that finished bottom of their group during their first Nations League back in 2019/20.
Any story about Sint Maarten’s success in recent years cannot be told without mentioning star forward Gerwin “Smally” Lake. Lake led the entire 2022-23 Concacaf Nations League with eight goals and netted two hat tricks during the recent Nations League campaign. He also scored five goals in four matches for Sint Maarten during the previous cycle.
The ace goalscorer talked about Sint Maarten’s run and the upcoming Gold Cup Prelims in an exclusive interview with Concacaf.com.
To recap, in order for Sint Maarten to win Group A they needed a victory in their final match and also for Bonaire to lose on the final day. While some coaching staffs may elect to keep the out-of-town results a mystery to avoid distracting their players, Lake says the Sint Maarten staff were up front about the situation: “At halftime, the coaches told us Bonaire was behind 2-1. And it was 0-0 in our game, so knowing that gave us extra motivation.”
Sint Maarten pressed hard for a goal in the second half, and Lake made the breakthrough in the 58th minute. But when the US Virgin Islands equalized with 15 minutes to play, Sint Maarten did not panic. Instead, they played focused, calculated football the rest of the way and were rewarded with Jeroen Cox’s late game-winner to secure first place and the rewards associated with it.
Although the team’s belief in themselves never wavered, Lake would be lying if he said he didn’t stop to take in the moment. Recalling the euphoria after the match, he said: “When the last whistle blew, I can’t really describe the feeling. It was unreal.” An understandable reaction for a player who has watched his team over the past four years climb up from last-place finish with no points to group winners.
For a goalscorer as prolific as Lake, sometimes there can be a burden or added pressure. But not so for Lake, who remarked half-jokingly: “I am relaxed out there. Before the games, I am already telling my teammates, I can score. Just get me the ball, and I can score.”
Though clearly intended as a light-hearted comment, there is a truth to his boast. No team has been able to stop Lake so far, and he has reigned over the Concacaf Nations League C in two consecutive tournaments.
One of the new developments helping instill that relaxed confidence was the arrival of Chovanie Amatkarijo, whose brilliance was on full display in both matches last month, but especially in the 6-1 victory over Bonaire. Lake said of his new teammate, “I told one of our assistant coaches that this guy was really going to help out up front, and you saw that in the first half with the two assists against Bonaire, and then in the second half he got his goal.”
The dynamic duo was simply dominant in March and will provide a significant challenge for any defense they encounter in the Prelims.
As Sint Maarten prepared for the final window in March, knowing they needed two wins in two matches, the team arranged for several exhibitions against Dutch club sides, including high level amateur teams and youth sides of pro clubs. Lake noted in particular that the matches against professional competition helped to shore up their defending heading into those last two games, where they conceded just two goals.
After this past week’s Gold Cup draw, Sint Maarten have learned their first opponent in the Prelims will be French Guiana. There is little doubt this match will be their toughest test so far, but it’s clear that you can’t count Sint Maarten out. After some early adversity in the CNL, they responded with a 6-1 performance against Bonaire. This team is stronger and more well-rounded than ever, and head to the Prelims with genuine hopes of achieving something remarkable: a place on the big stage in the Concacaf Gold Cup.
The Gold Cup Prelims are set! pic.twitter.com/tmbrvly72B— Gold Cup (@GoldCup) April 14, 2023