This week, Tim Grainey previews the Caribbean Cup Tournament in Trinidad and Tobago, part of CONCACAF's Women's World Cup qualification process for next summer.
The Caribbean Cup for eight national teams in the Caribbean Football Union, a sub-regional body within CONCACAF, starts this week and runs from August 19 through to August 26 in Trinidad and Tobago.
The top four teams advance to the U.S. in October for the Women's Gold Cup. That eight team event, staged by CONCACAF and including the U.S., Mexico, Guatemala and Costa Rica, will send the top three teams directly to Canada's 2015 Women's World Cup while the fourth place team will battle with the third place team from CONMEBOL (South America) for the last spot from the Americas.
The preliminary stages of the Caribbean Cup tournament were held in late May and June in five regional tournaments, sending five teams to Trinidad and eliminating 12 others. Below is a brief preview of the Caribbean Cup, which has divided the teams into two, first round groups:
Antigua and Barbuda
St. Kitts & Nevis
Trinidad & Tobago (hosts)
The favorites likely comes down to those that can afford to do camps in the U.S. ahead of the tournament, to get access to better training facilities, provide their players with more concentrated training and better competition for exhibition matches. On this basis, Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica and Haiti should all qualify for the CONCACAF finals.
Another factor for teams in the Caribbean is the reliance on players abroad at colleges in the U.S. and Canada, as well as those born abroad but who qualify to play for the national team through their parents or grandparents. Some teams like Bermuda and Puerto Rico are more reliant on those from abroad, while the practice could be beyond the budget of other nations.
In Group A, Trinidad and Tobago has the advantage of hosting the tournament plus last month they hired American coach Randy Waldrum to guide the team on a part-time basis. Waldrum won two national championships while coaching the University of Notre Dame Fighting Irish women and is completing his first year as coach of the Houston Dash of NWSL.
Houston, an expansion franchise, currently is eighth out of nine teams with a 5-3-14 record. The Dash had experienced U.S. internationals Megan Klingenberg and Whitney Engen join late from Swedish side Tyreso. The Dash also has Canadian international midfielder Kaylyn Kyle and goalkeeper Erin McLeod. Other imports included Nigerian international defender Osinachi Ohale and Austrian forward Nina Berger-a late season addition. The team has equipped itself well in defense but has struggled to score, with its 23 goals scored tally the lowest in the league.
Waldrum brought T&T to Houston to practice a few weeks ahead of the Caribbean Cup. With NWSL's regular season ending next week, he will not be worried about training two sides for that event.
Antigua and Barbuda head coach Rowan Issac is going with a primarily island-based squad, along with two players based abroad: Marley Jarvis of Rochester New York and Breanna Humphreys with Ottawa Fury in Canada.
Martinique-a French territory--is an unknown quantity but topped Puerto Rico and Barbados in their first round group.
St. Kitts and Nevis, who finished second to Bermuda in their first round group, will rely on forward Phoenetia Browne, who was born in the Bronx and is currently at Colombia University. Browne scored six goals in three games in their first round group.
In Group B, Jamaica came to Miami earlier this month for a training camp and will rely on some key players with experience abroad, including Omolyn Davis, who played at George Mason University, in WPS with magicJack and is now with FC Kairat in Kazakhstan. Shakira Duncan, who played at the University of West Florida and in Iceland, scored eight goals in two group matches in the first round.
Haiti has been training in the U.S. for three years, compared to a couple of weeks for T&T and Jamaica. The Haitian Football Federation has taken a much different approach to overcoming the lack of structure and organization for women's football in one of the poorest countries in the world.
In February of 2012, FC Indiana coach Shek Borkowski was named Head Coach of Haiti's National Women's Team. Borkowski essentially has transported their national side to South Bend, Indiana for six month camps each year during the spring and summer, even providing the core for FC Indiana in WPSL Elite in 2012 against professional sides such as the Boston Breakers, Chicago Red Stars and the Western New York Flash-all formerly of WPS and founding members of NWSL.
Though they won just one out of fourteen WPSL Elite games that season, that experience along with games against top college sides - including Notre Dame and Brigham Young University - during their stays in the United States, helped the coaching staff institute tactical and organizational structure. Coach Borkowski, who coached women's club ball in Russia, said:
"For the past two years, we completed focused on defending. Now I think we have a pretty good platform by a Caribbean standard of defending and are pretty disciplined defensively now. This year we have started emphasizing how we are going to attack and score goals."
The biggest surprise winner from the first round was Bermuda, who won their preliminary round group in Turks and Caicos, after initially not being part of the original 19 team draw in mid-April.
Coach Naquita Robinson explained how she initially declined to play and then changed her mind the next day: "I was asked by the technical director on the deadline entry day if I would like to enter the women into the tournament. At first I declined but then had a thought and prayed about it and decided 'why not?' I reached out to a few of my senior players and asked them if they were interested. They said yes and we started the ball rolling. Some of the girls had been in training since last summer and we were under the impression the qualifiers were not until November."
In essence Coach Robinson, a native of Bermuda who captained her country in her playing days, discovered that they only had a little over a month to prepare the side. Robinson trained the side six days a week-half of which being two-a-days,--emphasizing fitness and technical proficiency.
Only one of Bermuda's player lives abroad full-time: defender Marley Christian who lives in Baltimore and will play for Rhode Island's Bryant University in the fall. The rest of the squad lives in Bermuda but a number have attended college in North America including: Jenae Edness (University of Prince Edward Island in Canada), Sari Paul (Saint Leo University) and Keunna Dill (Drexel University). Robinson has leveraged the experience that her college players have brought, calling it a "huge asset."
Robinson has already seen the benefits of the team's success in Turks and Caicos at home, through the interest in the national team program by players and their parents.
"I have received many phone calls from parents wanting their daughters to play. We are in the process of kicking off our grassroots program, which I feel will be very successful."
Bermuda's success is phenomenal given that the country does not have an outdoor premier league for women; only an indoor futsal league from January to April, which primarily comprises players who are under 17 years of age, increasing the importance of older players going abroad for college. Opponents would be unwise to underestimate the Bermudians.
Puerto Rico can utilize Americans, since the U.S. Territory residents are U.S. passport holders. For the most part, they have utilized primarily native-born Puerto Ricans and a few second-generation players raised on the mainland. A solid core has collegiate experience in the U.S. including: goalkeeper Aissa Pedraza (Texas A & M-International University), Laura Suarez (Broward College) and Stephanie Colon (Duquense University).
At goalkeeper, the team uses American born goalkeeper Karly Gustafson, who plays at North Carolina State and qualified through her parents. If Puerto Rico advances from Trinidad, it will be interesting if they stick with their core group or start drawing on their large diaspora based on the northeastern seaboard. Tim Grainey is a contributor to Tribal Football. His latest book Beyond Bend it Like Beckham on the global game of women's football. Get your copy today.
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