The home game for Vincy Heat against the USA and the overseas encounter against Guatemala may well have brought to the fore several important issues that should concern all Vincentians, whether or not we are into sport.
In the away game against the USA we lost 1 – 6. At home we lost 0 – 6.
Against Guatemala earlier this week in the Central American country we were hammered, losing by a whopping 3 – 9.
In less than a week we scored three goals while having 15 scored against us.
Many local sport pundits feel that Vincy Heat has some young athletes imbued with immense football potential. They did well to get beyond the first round preliminaries for the FIFA World Cup of 2018. However, once the team qualified for the tougher second round preliminaries, it was felt that the services of a professional experienced coach were critical to ensure adequate preparation of the team going forward.
This is not the first time that the national team has done well enough to get to the second round of the Cup. Experience has shown that adequate preparation for the scheduled encounters necessitated a more experienced professional coach. One is uncertain as to why it is that the local football authorities did not engage such a person.
Was it that the football authorities lacked the requisite funding to employ a more professional and experienced coach?
Was it that the authorities here believed that the team was not worth the investment?
Was it that the authorities felt sufficiently confident that the local technical staff were appropriately competent to meet the demands of the second round preliminaries?
It ought to be remembered that St Vincent and the Grenadines does not yet have a professional football league. There is no local team that has as yet found it necessary to employ a professional coach to help develop their players.
The quality of the game played at the secondary schools’ level does not receive the attention it deserves in respect of appropriate coaching from experienced coaches. Perhaps we have become too complacent.
Once schooling is completed there is no system that brings the footballers with the best potential together for advanced coaching so that they can be groomed for national representation.
A second component of the preparation is the fitness level of the players.
Last Friday’s game showed that the majority of the team members are just not fit enough for the quality of the game in which they were involved. We were occasionally treated to some flashes that gave hope only to watch the players wilt under the pressure.
Vincy Heat has become known over the past years for staring a game well and losing it all in the final 15 minutes through inadequate fitness.
The US team may well have understood only too well the approach and fitness level of Vincy Heat. They took their time and played the game to their advantage at every stage. The fitness differentials of the players were always evident.
National teams desirous of evaluating the level of their preparation for competition at different stages always strive to engage in friendly games. While it is prudent to start such friendlies with teams at a similar competitive level it is important that as the team shows progress it be pitted against successively stronger teams.
Vincy Heat did not have the benefit of an appropriate slew of friendlies lined up once the team qualified for the second round of the CONCACAF World Cup preliminaries.
The one warm up game was played against Martinique not long before the qualifying one against Trinidad and Tobago. This was certainly not enough.
The absence of a slew of friendly encounters to aid in the preparation of Vincy Heat meant that the team’s management could not have had the confidence in their players’ readiness for what lay ahead in the second round preliminaries.
Was it a matter of shortage of funds?
Was it a matter of inadequate planning?
Whatever the reason the absence of friendlies against appropriately chosen teams left Vincy Heat woefully short of adequate preparation. The team could not have gained the confidence needed to compete with their opponents in a consistent manner.
Athletes performing at home are supposed to feel that much stronger and confident with all of the support provided by large, enthusiastic crowds.
On Friday last many may well have been surprised by the thousands of Vincentians lovers of football that turned up at Arnos Vale to lend their support to Vincy Heat.
One remains uncertain as to the level of mental preparedness of the team. Before the official warm up period four Vincentian players took to the field, walking around the competition arena without an apparently clearly defined purpose. They then returned to the pavilion.
When eventually Vincy Heat took to the playing field there did not seem to have been any planned approach. They seemed to have been just going out there. They did not look the part.
One also remains unclear as to the strategy to have the team warm up in the manner chosen, almost ensconced in a shady part of the field near the Frank Thomas pavilion while the US took half of the playing arena. This may well have given the latter team a mental advantage over their opponents in their own backyard. This made it appear almost as if we were scared of the opposition and lacking in the requisite self confidence in a game of monumental proportion.
Following the first goal scored by the USA, it was most noticeable that the Vincentian players, for the most part, hung their heads. To even the casual observer it signalled a certain mental disposition. It may be fair to say that this mental disposition stayed with the majority of the team members for the duration of the game despite the fact that they were playing at home and the crowd was in full support.
In the game against Guatemala in Central America on Tuesday last Vincy Heat may have lost even before leaving St Vincent.
On Saturday 3 September, half of the team boarded LIAT at Arnos Vale in the evening bound for Trinidad. After flying for a while the plane returned to St Vincent and the flight was declared cancelled.
Of course this meant that they would miss their 6.00am flight from Trinidad that was scheduled for the following day. Those from the cancelled flight also could not get on the morning flight to Trinidad on Sunday which was carrying the remaining half of the team.
The flight muddle meant that the full team would finally get together in Guatemala one day later than anticipated, leaving them tired both physically and more importantly, mentally.
The result of the game in Guatemala speaks for itself. It is a reflection of the challenges facing the local team.
One wonders whether it was not prudent to have the team travel to Guatemala the very day following the loss at home to the USA. This would have allowed them time enough to at least not have more than the game to worry about.
Vincentians love sport and they love to support local teams engaged in regional and international competition. The attendance and involvement of the crowd at Arnos Vale on Friday last ought to have been a most encouraging sign.
The fallout of the misstep by Prime Minister Gonsalves in respect of the opening of the Argyle International Airport may linger on for some time to come but the sport-loving Vincentians at home made good their overwhelming support for Vincy Heat.
Many did not expect Vincy Heat to win, given the away encounter against the USA. They did however expect that they would have been treated to a much more spirited response to the foreign team while playing here at home. This was the purpose for the large crowds and their donning of national colours in support of Vincy Heat.
Vincentians were only too eager to let the USA and the world know that small size does not in any way make us less of a competitor in the field of international football. The crowd came away quite disappointed at Vincy Heat’s performance but still remain committed to supporting them.
One can only imagine that Vincentians everywhere were even more disappointed with the 3 – 9 drubbing at the hands of the Guatemalans in the home country of the latter.
Basil ‘Bong’ Cato, always reminded us, ‘Soccer – the game of the people’. Unfortunately, the performance of the football fraternity this time around seems to take us back to our earliest World Cup encounter where we appeared inept and out of place even as we continue to produce players with the requisite talent yet to be appropriately harnessed for success.