The Caribbean Cup final round will be held this August in Trinidad and Tobago, from August 19 thru August 26. The Caribbean Cup, which doubles as a sub-regional World Cup qualifier for CONCACAF, will send four teams to the U.S. for October’s Gold Cup Final, where the three top teams advance directly to Canada, while the fourth-place team faces a playoff series against the third-place team from CONMEBOL (South America).
The two groups are as follows:
Antigua and Barbuda
Trinidad and Tobago (host)
St. Kitts and Nevis
This will be an interesting tournament with Trinidad and Tobago (Group A) and Jamaica (Group B) favored to advance; both countries having been the most active of the Caribbean national teams for years. Omolyn Davis — who played at George Mason University, in WPS with magicJack and is now with FC Kairat in Kazakhstan — scored two goals in Jamaica’s crucial 7-0 win versus the host nation Dominican Republic in their first round group earlier this month. Shakira Duncan, who played at the University of West Florida and in Iceland, scored four against the Dominican Republic after scoring four in their previous match, a 14-0 win over St. Lucia.
Haiti, utilizing FC Indiana’s coaching staff and base for the last three years for training purposes, should also be strong in Group B, but Bermuda—surprising winners of the first-round group after initially not entering the Caribbean Cup–should not be overlooked. They have a number of players at North American colleges.
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, went to high school in New Jersey and is currently at Colombia University. Browne scored six goals in three games in their first-round group.
In group A, along with host nation Trinidad & Tobago, Antigua and Barbuda’s head coach Rowan Issac may utilize U.S. Women’s U-17 staff coach Tricia Taliaferro again, as he did before the opening round, where they advanced over Aruba, St. Vincent & the Grenadines and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Taliaferro has worked with Antigua and Barbuda’s U-17 national team in the past and is the director of coaching for Florida’s Weston FC.
Martinique and Puerto Rico, who both advanced from Group 2, are relative unknowns. Puerto Rico can utilize Americans, since the U.S. Territory residents are U.S. passport holders. For the most part, they have utilized either native-born Puerto Ricans or second-generation players raised on the mainland. Some played with the former WPSL franchise Puerto Rico Capitals and a solid core have collegiate experience in the U.S., including: goalkeeper Aissa Pedraza (Texas A & M-International University and Wyoming’s Laramie County Community College), Franchelis Alvira (Laramie County Community College), Laura Suarez (Broward College), Stephanie Colon (Duquense University), Jaqueline Guerra (formerly of the University of Illinois), Marthaliz Taboas (Mars Hills University) and Deysla Reyes and Zahimara Fantauzzi (both of Valdosta State and Laramie County CC).
The U.S. Virgin Islands, who finished tied for second with St. Vincent and the Grenadines with 4 points in their first round group, supplemented their local core with some Americans who had no personal or family connection to the U.S. Territory. Some might see this as a mercenary approach, but one of the new USVI national team members presents a different view of what the experience of playing as “an invited guest” means. Holly Herzig is a centerback who plays at tiny Cornell College in Mt. Vernon, Iowa, near Cedar Rapids. Originally from Lake City, Minn., she will start her senior season at the Division III school this fall.
Herzig is now a national team player, having played for USVI in their three first-round matches last month in Antigua and Barbuda. Herzig and Kendra Wisely (a midfielder from Portland, Ore.) were invited to train last January by Cornell teammate Zauditu Kaza-Amlak, who is a native of the Virgin Islands. They were joined by a few other small college American players from Pennsylvania who had no previous connection to the island nation other than playing collegiately with a USVI native. The imports helped USVI to be quite competitive in their group: USVI lost to the host nation Antigua and Barbuda 1-0 in their first game, then tied St. Vincent and the Grenadines 0-0 and finally defeated Aruba 1-0, scoring only once despite numerous shots on goal.
Equatorial Guinea has controversially recruited men’s and women’s players from other African countries and Brazil to play for their national team, in order to rapidly become competitive on the world scene. FIFA requires professional players to live or play in the country for two years but for USVI, which has no women’s league, this is a different situation. In addition, anyone with an American passport can technically play for them, so it doesn’t contravene FIFA regulations, though some would argue that it crosses a line in terms of fair play.
But for a developing nation trying to build up women’s soccer, where is that line? Their use of “guest players” increased their player pool astronomically. Herzig and the others certainly did not see themselves as mercenaries. Herzig was ecstatic when she discussed the opportunity that she had to train and then to be selected to the team that journeyed to Antigua, calling it: “an amazing experience.” Sometimes new players from abroad—even true diaspora—find resentment from the local players, who don’t consider them truly ‘Polish, Irish, Lithuanian, etc.’ Herzig found no animosity among the local players.
“There wasn’t any pushback, probably because there weren’t that many girls who played seriously….They really embraced us being there,” she said. She found that, during training leading up to the Caribbean Cup trip to Antigua, that there were: “more local players coming out to practice.”
A senior this fall at Cornell College, Herzig wants to continue to play for USVI in the future, but wants to give back to the local game at the youth level. She is planning to move to the Virgin Islands next summer and help build the game there, perhaps through a camp or even helping to start a women’s league.
“There really is nothing there for any young girls who are trying to play. The biggest thing that the local girls lack is role models to inspire them to play,” she said.
Herzig feels that she and the other imports’ understanding of the game can help bring organization and structure to the program. For small nations like the United States Virgin Islands, bringing in mainland players with no connection to the Island has not only helped them build a competitive national team, but also allowed these players to get involved in building the game at the grass roots level in their “new” country.
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