THE NATIONAL Under-15 football team will be looking to advance to Division 1 after participation in the upcoming CONCACAF Under-15 Championships which begins Sunday in Florida.
Head coach Renaldo “Pee Wee” Gilkes is confident the team have what it takes to get the job done, despite some recent hiccups they would have experienced during their last-minute preparations. “I don’t know anything about the opponents. We played Guadeloupe once before, but as we did they are likely to make changes. It is difficult to gauge what to expect from them.
Belize and Puerto Rico are the same. We’re expecting that Puerto Rico would utilise their USA connections to get players in the academies and such like. “I believe at the Under-15 level, from my experience coaching in the US and Canada, that all the players in this age group are all on the same level. The disparity or separation comes in the psychological department, which is the culture of the country,” he explained during one of the team’s last practice sessions at the Wildey AstroTurf.
While acknowledging the team were one of the least aggressive in the football arena across the region, he said since the Souliga Tournament, they had been working on conditioning the players.
“It has been my task, along with the parents, in restructuring the minds of these players. Hopefully, because I do not know the level of the opponents, we have done our bit in creating that edge above our opponents in all facets of the game, particularly psychologically, that we can do well.
Only one group qualifies from the group into the play-off stage for a place in the Division 1 category.
“Souliga would have been our introduction into international football . . . Our first game against Guyana, which we drew 0-0, was their one chance to be nervous. After that we went on to gather our confidence, and finished third overall. In the friendlies we had here, we definitely dominated. Looking at the games we’ve played, we were able to gauge ourselves against our Caribbean counterparts, and prepare for this tournament,” he said.
However, during preparations last week, a few last-minute changes had to be made in the best interest of the team going forward. “We had to make a slight goalkeeper change due to our number one goal keeper, Shaquan Phillips, receiving a succession of injuries, and the doctor did not think it would be wise to take him. Joshua James takes over for him,” he said.
Additionally, Tajio James, Souliga’s MVP and player with the most goals, fractured his ankle during a practice session and would be out for the next eight weeks. “We brought in Nazario Adamson for Tajio, who is an equally talented player. There are different dynamics with Tajio; where he is more nimble and crafty in and around the in-yard box, Nazario is aggressive, athletic and he has an aerial advantage over Tajio who is of a diminutive stature. We think that at this point Nazario would have been the most suitable replacement for Tajio.
“You could imagine the actual game blow it was losing Tajio. The guys are actually using this as added reason to do well in the tournament. At first our main objective was for patriotic reasons, wanting to do well for the nation of Barbados and put them on the football map,” he said. “Now we have an added reason for Tajio, because we know he would have loved to be here, and his contributions to the team would have been key to the success which we would have acclaimed over there.”
The young Bajan Tridents leave bound for Florida tomorrow. (RA)
SQUAD: Rashon Gittens (captain), Joshua James, Ishawn Babb, Nathan Skeete, Andre Applewhaite, Lemar Catlyn, Shaquaine Phillips, Thierry Gale, Jaylan Gilkes, Jahmali Hutson, Abiola Grant, Kyle Lewis, Nazario Adamson, Ethan Bryan, Devonte Richards, Axel Funk, Triston Brancroft, Hashim Brewster. OFFICIALS: Renaldo Gilkes (coach), Ryan Brewster (assistant coach), Raphael Holder (manager), Ahmed Mohamed (technical director), Dr Rhea Corbin (team doctor).
Adapted from nationnew.com