Gold Cup Within Reach | Steve Menary
Montserrat, one of the world’s lowest ranked and most inactive national teams, is on the verge of a major finals.
Many of the smaller Caribbean islands in CONCACAF’s new Nations Leagues have suffered heavy losses but the tiny British overseas territory has won two out of three games.
If Montserrat win away to the Cayman Islands on March 22, a place amongst the top 10 ranked teams and qualification for the 2019 Gold Cup finals in the USA is within reach.
For an island with a population of just 5,000, no functioning league and a national team that had not played for two and a half years before the Nations League kicked off, that is some performance.
Before the Nation’s League, Montserrat’s last game was a 2-2 draw with Curacao in the 2018 World Cup qualifiers.
“All the players were in a What’s App group and people were asking what’s going on when we didn’t play again but we all stayed in touch and then it all kicked off again,” says striker Massiah McDonald, whose father left the island aged 11 for Jamaica before emigrating to the UK.
The catalyst was Willie Donachie taking charge earlier this year. Despite just two training sessions in the UK, the former Manchester City left back quickly melded a competitive side. A 2-1 defeat at home to El Salvador was followed by a 1-0 win over Belize and a 2-0 victory in Aruba.
“We’re all very optimistic regarding qualification now,” says defender Joey Taylor. “After the El Salvador game it was quiet. We all saw what it meant to everyone in Montserrat, what it meant to them to get the game on there and we wanted to repay them against Belize and Aruba.”
Taylor, who qualified through his father’s grandparents, is a defender for Horsham in the Isthmian League. His brother Lyle, who scored the goal against El Salvador, is one of only two Football League players and plays for Charlton.
Midfielder Brandon Comley plays for Colchester. The rest play in various levels of the non-league game from Maidenhead to Redbridge and Bromley.
Donachie has based his tactics on the players’ background.
Taylor adds: “Against El Salvador we didn’t have a lot of possession. We knew they would pass the ball about. Willie said from the get-go that we’re not playing two-touch football. We’re getting the ball in their half and playing with the ball there.
“It was very physical. We turned it into a longer game and made it more direct.
I don’t think that El Salvador coped with that and it rattled Belize. They didn’t get to play the game they wanted.”
No-one is apologising for the style. MacDonald, who Southern Premier League outfit Barwell, adds: “It might not look pretty at times but we put teams under pressure. It works for us.”
Donachie’s tactics involve getting the ball forward quickly and with Lyle Taylor as a solitary forward supported by Maidenhead’s attacking forward Clifton Comley.
Aruba were no more able to cope, losing to goals from Peterborough Sports’ Spencer Weir-Daley and Bradley Woods-Garness, who is without a club after leaving Bedford this summer. Qualification is within reach.
“For a team that’s 202 in the world to think about playing Mexico or Trinidad & Tobago is ridiculous,” says Taylor.
Qualification would be a major fillip for Donachie, who was previously reserve team manager at Newcastle United and splits his time between working for Montserrat and running the academy at League One side Accrington Stanley.
He says: “I’m not snobbish about football. I love watching Man City but Pep Guardiola will be the first to tell you that the most important thing is to win.”
For each game, a squad of 14 travel to the Caribbean from the UK, where there are around 20 eligible players but some are well into their 30s or playing at a low level.
“I don’t want to take players that won’t play,” says Donachie, who won 35 caps for Scotland and played at the 1978 World Cup finals,
The squad is made up to 18 with local players, who have few opportunities.
The Montserrat FA want to enter a U17 side in the league in nearby Antigua, but transport is a problem. There are also attempts to bolster explore the diaspora outside Britain.
Two thirds of Montserrat’s population were evacuated after the Soufrière Hills volcano erupted in 1995 and destroyed the capital, Plymouth. Most left for Britain but the MFA is also looking for players in Canada and Cyprus.
“We need to get younger players for the future,” says Donachie, whose search will surely be aided by the boost to Montserrat’s profile from playing in a high profile tournament like the Gold Cup.
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