Puerto Rico have hired a new women's national team director - former Haitian National Team Head Coach Shek Borkowski
On March 11, 2017, the Puerto Rican Football Federation (FPF) announced the appointment of Shek Borkowski as the technical director for all the women's national teams.
Labrador Rosa, the FPF President said: “For the first time in history we are designating a national coach specifically and permanently for our women's teams, which highlights the importance we are giving to women's football, understanding that we have a great chance of achieving a significant and rapid progress at an international level. We understand that with the arrival of Borkowski we give a big boost to the growth of that process of female advancement."
Borkowski, who was the women's national team coach for Haiti for the past five years, has to hit the ground running in order to organize and prepare a team as 2019 Women's World Cup qualifying in the Caribbean region will begin this May, with the 3 Caribbean teams decided this August for the CONCACAF finals—a year sooner than with the 2015 WWC sub-regional qualifiers.
The final 8 CONCACAF qualifiers are anticipated to face off in late 2018. In addition, Borkowski will also have CFU (Caribbean Football Union) U-20 qualifiers in July and U-17 qualifiers in August. Borkowski will take a leave from FC Indiana—the club he helped to found over a decade ago—and spend the summer in Puerto Rico.
Borkowski, 54 years old told Tribalfootball.com a day before leaving for Puerto Rico this week that he was very excited about his new position.
He said that: “My goals for the Puerto Rican National teams are to be the number one senior team within the Caribbean Football Union and in the top four in CONCACAF."
Puerto Rico's Caribbean competition for one of the top three CFU spots is Trinidad & Tobago, Jamaica and his former side Haiti, who finished third in the CFU World Cup qualifying for the 2015 Women's World Cup in Canada. For CONCACAF sides, Puerto Rico must jump past traditional powers Canada, Mexico and the United States, as well as developing forces in Costa Rica and Trinidad & Tobago, the latter who recently appointed former Canadian and Italian National Team Coach Carolina Morace to lead them. For Puerto Rico's youth sides, Borkowski said that he: “wants to finish within the top three in the CFU at both the U-20 and U-17 level."
Puerto Rico should feel fortunate with their selection of the experienced Shek Borkowski. In five years in Haiti, he took the U-15 and U-20 sides to CFU championships—with the U-15's winning a CONCACAF crown a few years back—while his U-17's finished in second.
Borkowski, a native of Poland who played at the University of Akron, started FC Indiana in Goshen, Indiana (population 30,000) in 2000. FC Indiana played their first senior game in June of 2004 when they beat the Australian National Women's Team 1-0, which was preparing for the Athens, Greece Olympic Games. FC Indiana quickly became a juggernaut of American amateur leagues, winning two WPSL crowns (2005 and 2007), two U.S. Open Cup titles (2005 and 2008) and a W-League runners-up spot (2008). They continued to perform well against international teams, defeating New Zealand in 2007 just before the Kiwis went to the Women's World Cup in China.
They have also won against the Canadian and Mexican U-20 sides in a tournament that they hosted in 2008 and narrowly lost to Ireland the next season. In 2008, Women'sWorldFootball.com named F.C. Indiana the third best club side in the world. In 2009, Borkowski moved to Russia to coach two-time reigning league champions and UEFA Champions League runner-ups Zvezda-2005, based in Perm.
Borkowski discussed the crucial differences that he sees between his previous work with Haiti and his new job with Puerto Rico—both being island nations in the northern zone of the Caribbean Football Union—besides the obvious difference that Haiti is French speaking while Puerto Ricans are typically fluent in Spanish and English, as it is a territory of the United States. Borkowski and his staff were new to the French language but his Haitian players would spend 6 months every year in Indiana for training and games and the language barrier quickly receded. Crucially, Puerto Ricans are American citizens and Borkowski will have no difficulties with travel plans due to visa acquisitions, which under the Trump Administration has now become even more uncertain. Borkowski will not lose players to defections as he did when in charge of Haiti; eight of his squad over the past few years chose to stay in the United States illegally rather than return home—which prompted the U.S. Government to halt issuing any visas for his players to train in 2017 in Indiana. Two ex-players even visited the Haitian team in Florida during a training camp last year as they were working in a nearby hotel; a realistic situation given the economic situation in Haiti and much of Latin America, but a difficult obstacle for a soccer coach who is trying to build a team in a developing market for women's football. Borkowski frequently lamented the fact that he could not get visas for his Indiana-based Haitian players to go to Canada—despite having a standing invitation for friendlies from
Canadian head coach John Herdman, who in 2007 saw his New Zealand Women's World Cup side lose 1-0 in Indianapolis to Borkowski's FC Indiana side. Herdman told this reporter after that game that he was impressed by Shek's winning squad, which included 2016 Notts County's and Melbourne City's Aivi Luik, who played a blinder of a match in midfield for FCI, which had only one bench player to call on as it was their last match of the season.
Borkowski also expects fewer parental concerns and pressure for players to stop playing in their early twenties in Puerto Rico compared to what he faced in Haiti, when parents would frequently tell his players: “Why are you playing this game for no money and wasting time? Get married or get a job." When Haiti stepped in for Australia to play the 2015 World Cup Winning U.S. team in two friendlies in late 2015 when the Australian national team players were in a contract dispute, he essentially had U-17 and U-20 players on his side, because he had so much difficulty keeping players involved past their late teens and early twenties.
Borkowski already has had an impact on the Puerto Rican diaspora in North America. He reached out to his extensive college coaching network as well as to elite club soccer coaches and he has received a number of recommendations of players to scout, including some who have played for Puerto Rico at the youth level but have been overlooked since. Borkowski is not the type of coach who will use a squad of mainland based players at the exclusion of island-based talent; that has never been his style. With Haiti, he used three or four American-based diaspora to support a strong youth base at home. Some of the talent that he is excited about includes former Washington State University forward Mikeala Castain, who took some time off after college to work in business before becoming an assistant coach at the University of Montana last year. Castain was the third all-time goalscorer in WSU history with 33 goals from 2010 through 2013. Tessa Andujar is a former University of Florida defender who has tried out with the Houston Dash in the NWSL in the past; she played youth international for Puerto Rico. A current NWSL defender who also played youth internationals for P.R. is Michelle Cruz of the Seattle Reign; she has played in Europe with Apollon in Cyprus and collegiately at the University of Portland. Borkowski also has a Puerto Rican youth international with FC Indiana—Laura Suarez--who played at Broward College in Florida. Borkowski is confident that he can assist in “increasing the pool of talent at home and abroad for the Puerto Rican national teams."
Another benefit that Puerto Rico will gain is that Borkowski is a huge proponent of the international game, having coach women's club ball in Russia, and sent many of his former players overseas as well as his long-time assistant Kaloyan Petkov, who is now the head coach of Kazakhstan and BIIK—the top club side in the country. His most recent export is18-year old Nerilia Mondesir of Haiti, who is now playing in Montpelier's of France's first team. He helped Shanna Hudson—a Haitian-American who played at the University of Southern California--play in Japan with FC Charme. Longtime FCI midfield and a junior at the University of Indiana, Annelie Leitner was named to the Austrian Women's National Team squad for the 2017 Cyprus Cup. Scottish-Canadian goalkeeper Shannon Lynn—who has been capped by Scotland--moved from Hibernians of Scotland to Chelsea and onto Vittsjo of Sweden after a solid season at FC Indiana in 2009. Other F.C. Indiana alumni include former Canadian internationals Lauren Sesselmann (defender), Mexico's Monica Ocampo (forward), Spain's Laura del Rio, Ria Percival of New Zealand (defender) and Japanese 2011 World Cup Winner Mizho Sakaguchi (midfielder).
Borkowski—given that FC Indiana is the only club to have teams in both semi-professional North American leagues in UWS and WPSL for 2017—will also be well-placed to explore ways to have a San Juan-based side in one of those leagues. The Puerto Rico Capitals played two seasons in the WPSL in 2008 and 2009. The first season, they finished fifth of six Sunshine Conference teams with a 2-5-5 record for 11 points. In 2009, they finished fifth again in the conference on a 1-1-7 record for 4 points.
Puerto Rico qualified for the CONCACAF Women's Gold Cup only once—in Canada in 1998—but last year made the 8 team CONCACAF finals for the Rio Olympics, flaming out with big losses to the U.S. (10-0), Costa Rica (9-0) and Mexico (6-0). The hiring of Shek Borkowski will energize the Puerto Rican national side and women's football on the island. He is experienced, goal orientated and exceptional at tactics, holding a European Coaching License. He has already planned three friendlies against college teams in April to help prepare his new side ahead of CFU World Cup qualifying this summer: April 20th at Nortre Dame, April 22nd at Ball State (Indiana) and April 24th at St, Bonaventure (New York). Borkowski will definitely have a positive impact on Puerto Rico's women's football development—more rapidly than most people will anticipate.
Tim Grainey is a contributor to Tribalfootball. His latest book is Beyond Bend it Like Beckham on the global game of women's football. Get your copy today.
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