Vincy Heat falls well short

At the conclusion of the game against Grenada when Vincy Heat won by a 2 – 1 goal margin, a journalist briefly asked the coach his impressions about the team’s performance and whether he felt that they would be moving ahead in the 2014 World Cup Preliminaries.
One is not sure how many people listened to the coach’s comments in response. He really skirted the question. Instead he commented favourably about the youthful nature of the team with an average age of 21 years and declared that they would really come good in another four to five years time.
The coach of the Vincy Heat therefore with his many years of experience has recognised that he is in the midst of building a team for the future. The present was really part of the process to get them there.
It was not that the coach was not giving due respect to the team’s participation and challenge sin the current World Cup Preliminaries. It was instead that he was being realistic. He knows the team he has in his charge.
The Grenada game
St Vincent and the Grenadines defeated Grenada at Arnos Vale by a 2 – 1 margin and we all felt good.
Those watching the game however, while being happy that Vincy Heat won, they were not at all satisfied with the display of football from the national team.
The Grenadians controlled the final 15 minutes of the game while Vincy struggled to hold on to its one-goal advantage.
The Grenada encounter raised several concerns amongst football aficionados here especially in the area of match fitness and poor strategizing.
One commentator lamented that as the game got into its later stages Vincy Heat was holding on for dear life as many of the players’ tired feet failed to carry them across the Arnos Vale playing field. The fitness required of players at this World Cup level was simply nowhere evident.
At the final whistle many thought that Vincy Heat came away very lucky.
The Grenadian officials congratulated the Vincentians but sounded a warning that things would certainly be different when they meet in the second encounter but before a partisan Grenadian crowd.
The Guatemala game
Guatemala handed Vincy Heat a 4 – 0 drubbing in the Central American country. The reports indicated that the Vincentian players were no match for the Guatemalans. Despite the loss however the team’s management and of course all Vincentians were hopeful that when the Guatemalans came to St Vincent and the Grenadines the local team would give much better account of themselves before their home crowd at the idyllic Arnos Vale Sports Complex.
In the game played on Friday 7 October 2011, there was an unfolding of precisely where we are in football in this country today.
In the first half the Guatemalans had five shots on goal versus a mere two by our team. Of the five shots on goal the Guatemalans converted one goal while we did not score.
The Guatemalans also won 18 throws to our 16, two off-sides to our three, four corners to our two and committed six fouls to our five.
There was nothing about Vincy Heat’s approach to the first half of the game that suggested we were capable of defeating the Guatemalans. Indeed with 15 minutes left in the first half many of our players had already grown very tired and some were even walking rather than running. One would have thought that there been at least one change in the team before the conclusion of the first half.
Additionally the midfield was conspicuously absent and hence we were essentially playing a game we could not win.
From the start of the game it was clear that Mario Rodriguez, sporting the #10 jersey, was the playmaker of the Guatemala team. It should have been evident from the game played in Guatemala. Unfortunately throughout the first half and indeed the entire game Vincy Heat had no one assigned to even so much as attempt to keep him in check. Not surprisingly he scored the lone goal of the first half with efficient ease.
The second half began much like the first half. Guatemala stepped up their game while our declined significantly. The absence of the midfield left far too much room for the opponents to manoeuvre and they took full advantage.
The visitors applied considerable pressure almost uninhibited. They secured nine corners to our three (getting two yellow cards in the process), 16 throws to our nine, one off-side to our two and had five shots on goal to our four.
In the second half Mario Rodriguez scored with a tremendous volley that came to him while totally unmarked on the right side, leaving the goalkeeper without a chance. Later, Dwight Pezzarossi Garcia added the nail to Vincy Heat’s football coffin for the day leaving the final score line 3 – 0.
It could be argued that at the end of the game at home we lost by one goal less than was the case when we played in Guatemala and that this was an improvement. However, no one could be impressed. The reality was that Vincy Heat started the second half already jaded and grew ever more so as the game wore on. There was no letting up.
The substitutions for Vincy Heat cam far too late and the changes made questionable.
Team preparation
During the week before the game against Guatemala the National Sports Council went public complaining that the Arnos Vale #1 was handed over exclusively to the St Vincent and the Grenadines Football Federation for the use of Vincy Heat. The complaint was that there were too many distractions.
While there may have been merit in the complaints the fact was that it was already too late for Vincy Heat.
Watching the team prior to the Guatemala game it was clear that the players were far from fit. There was hardly anyone who looked capable of running competitively for the 90 minutes of a game.
Prior to the start of our involvement in the World Cup Preliminaries it was clear that we were not getting into position for genuine football match fitness.
Working the ball and engaging in strategies for each game was certainly not enough to prepare the team and one expects that the Football Federation would engage in a review of the performance of the existing team coach and technical director.
An important part of the preparation is getting the team involved in more competitions – friendlies. This did not take place. Had this been done it would have allowed us to see the low fitness level much earlier and hence address the problem and related issues.
Even at the local level it did not appear that there was enough interest to get the team playing competitive against local teams or combined teams merely to get into the habit of playing together for the full 90 minutes.
It is common for technical directors to be evaluated after a round of competitions to determine whether he seems to be making progress and the causal factors inhibiting this. Following such evaluations coaches are often cautioned, fired or retained without comment.
Another important feature of the preparatory exercise is the marketing of the team. That was not done. Vincentians really do not know the players and far less the coach and technical team. Vincentians were not in the know about what was happening with the team enough to generate interest and enthusiasm amongst sport-loving fanatics.
The crowds at Arnos Vale were not what we usually expect for international games of football. This was a result of weak marketing of the games.
Going forward
One must necessarily return to the comments of the coach in the interview following the game against Grenada at Arnos Vale.
It seems clear that the coach’s focus is not as much on the World Cup Preliminaries as it is on the future of the national representative team.
Clearly the youthful nature of the team allows us to look ahead while recognising that we have not yet begun in earnest the kind of preparation required for such an important competition as the World Cup.
The team is nonetheless still involved in the World Cup Preliminaries and every effort must be made to salvage some respectability and pride in the remaining matches.
It may well be too late for the team to get to the fitness level required but the coach would have to devise strategies to stave off embarrassment.
Guatemala has already defeated all of its opponents thus far and are left with only Grenada to play both home and away. They need only draw to book their place into the next round of the Preliminaries.
Grenada has apparently risen from their slumber. The turned the tables on Belize when they met in St George’s and eagerly await Vincy Heat then Guatemala.
Vincy Heat must be aware that Grenada would be very dangerous at home.
We also have Belize to play at home and away. All is not yet lost for us. The challenge is to step up the game.
There is talk in some quarters for a change in the coach and technical staff. This is to be expected. There is little chance of this happening while the World Cup Preliminaries are being contested. The coach must be concerned that as yet he has really not produced a team of which we can be proud and Vincentians do not like to lose.
St Vincent and the Grenadines has a proud football tradition and Vincy Heat, the coach and technical staff must be aware of this and must lift the game to the requisite level.
True, the facilities are still a problem but there is reason enough for us to do better than we have done thus far.
Vincentians are avid lovers of the game and would relish a victory or victories going forward.
The bigger picture of course is setting the stage for continuity and an elevation of the development process of the sport in all its aspects. This is the primary challenge confronting the new executive of the Football Federation.