The Major League Soccer-Caribbean Combine is ready to launch in St John’s, Antigua, this coming January. Here’s everything you need to know about it…
The key details
In November, in an attempt to further enhance football in the Caribbean, Major League Soccer announced a partnership with the Caribbean Football Union to form the ‘MLS/Caribbean Combine’, the very first of its kind. The three-day event will take place at the Antigua Recreation Ground from 2-5 January next year, in Antigua, as players will compete in games and participate in a training session in front of MLS scouts. The ultimate aim is to earn an invitation to the annual Adidas MLS Player Combine in Fort Lauderdale, Florida from January 10-14 prior to the annual MLS SuperDraft. 24 players from 16 Caribbean countries have recently been invited to St.John’s in Antigua where they’ll hope to impress.
See the following 24 players:
|Damian J.S. Bailey||Anguilla||5/5/1991||M/D||6′||185|
|Quinton T.P. Griffith||Antigua and Barbuda||2/27/1992||M/D||5’9”||175|
|Stefan Smith||Antigua and Barbuda||8/11/1989||F||5’11”||172|
|Ramon Sealy||Cayman Islands||4/22/1991||GK||6’2”||185|
|Quinton C.E. Christina||Curaçao||5/3/1995||F/D|
|Jean Ismael Voltaire||Haiti||5/4/1994||D||6′||164|
|Luckner Junior Horat||Haiti||9/27/1994||D||5’6”||140|
|Joseph Y. Marrero Garcia||Puerto Rico||9/4/1993||M||5’5”||140|
|Samuel J. Soto Alvarez||Puerto Rico||8/11/1992||M/F||5’10”||164|
|Jose Sandoval||Puerto Rico||1/1/1991||M||5’8”||160|
|Jamal J. Francis||Saint Kitts and Nevis||3/23/1993||GK||5’9”||170|
|Kimaree B.A. Rogers||Saint Kitts and Nevis||1/14/1994||F/M||5’10”||159|
|Eden Charles||Saint Lucia||10/19/1993||M||6′||160|
|Stefano Rodney Rijssel||Suriname||3/26/1992||F/M||5’6”||171|
|Miguel Danny Darson||Suriname||5/27/1993||D||5’4”||145|
|Kavon Troy Ceasar||British Virgin Islands||5/13/1994||D||6’2”||150|
As you can see, several players from the same island have been selected. All individuals are aged below 25 as the whole point of the Combine is to encourage young talent and filter it through to the MLS in years to come. Specific players that are likely to catch the eye are: Jamaica’s versatility man Kemar Lawrence and speedy St Lucian striker Eden Charles who currently stars for Northern United All Stars in his homeland. But that’s not to say the others selected won’t impress. This bunch of 24 has been carefully picked by the respective national associations.
MLS Technical Director Alfonso Mondelo: “Quite a few players have played, continue to play in the MLS and have done so successfully. Now we are looking forward to the next generation of players who will be coming in.”
MLS Executive Vice President Todd Durbin: “We recognize that the CONCACAF area, and particularly the Caribbean, is rich with soccer talent, and this will be an opportunity for our scouts to evaluate and identify the region’s top players. Caribbean players from islands like Jamaica, Haiti, Grenada and others have been key performers in MLS. This event will help recognize the next generation of MLS stars as we look to achieve our goal of being among the best leagues in the world by 2022.”
CFU President Gordon Derrick: “As CFU Member Associations turn their attention to Russia 2018, this is an exciting developmental opportunity for the opulent young talent in the Caribbean to assess their developmental level and the growth required to play at the highest level. This partnership with MLS is another way in which we at the CFU are seeking to bridge the gap that exists between talent availability and scouting opportunities that the Caribbean region has received from professional leagues.”
Sporting KC Manager Peter Vermes: “A lot of those guys, they play in our region of the world, so they understand the game, the physicality and the travel involved. In a lot of respects, they are pretty adaptable to our league. There are good players there [in the Caribbean] that are reasonably priced in comparison to the rest of the world, especially when you are looking at Europe or South America.”
22-year-old Cayman Islands international goalkeeper Ramon Sealy: “This is a great opportunity for me, one that I have been looking forward to since I started playing. It’s a chance to try to be professional and I am hoping to really do well once I get there.”
Caribbean contingent in MLS
The Caribbean actually has quite a strong affinity with the MLS with a whole host of Caribbean footballers currently plying their trade in the league. Not to forget past players who played prominent roles in certain MLS teams – there are plenty of examples. Ezra Hendrickson (St Vincent and Grenadines) enjoyed a fruitful career in America winning the MLS Cup three times with three separate clubs. The burly central defender played for MetroStars, LA Galaxy, Dallas, D.C. United, Chivas USA and Columbus between 1997–2008 before hanging up his boots. Gavin Glinton (Turks and Caicos Islands) remains the only player from Turks and Caicos Islands to play in the MLS. The forward featured sporadically for LA Galaxy, Dallas and San Jose. Incidentally, Glinton is his country’s all-time top goal-scorer with…wait for it. Four goals. Shaka Hislop (Trinidad and Tobago) played in between the sticks for a year with Dallas. Andy Williams (Jamaica), three shy of 100 caps for Jamaica, operated the right flank for six different MLS teams from 1998–2011. There’s tonnes more.
Then you have the current batch of Caribbeans strutting their stuff in America. I had a post on the website not too long ago recapping the performances of Caribbean players in the MLS in a particular week. Stand-out names include: Reggie Lambe (Bermuda and Toronto), Osvaldo Alonso (Cuba and Seattle Sounders), Peterson Joseph (Haiti and Sporting KC), Shalrie Joseph (Grenada and Seattle Sounders), Frédéric Piquionne (Martinique and Portland Timbers), Josh Saunders (Puerto Rico and Real Salt Lake) and Atiba Harris (St Kitts and Nevis and Colorado Rapids).
‘Bridging the gap’
As CFU President Gordon Derrick mentioned with his comment about talent availability and scouting opportunities, hopefully this Combine will go a long way to bridging the gap between the MLS and CFU. There is a vast array of talent in this region but as the saying goes ‘without opportunity, ability is nothing’. The youngsters must be given a chance to thrive on, to flourish and succeed. Without evaluation camps like this, a lot of talent would undoubtedly go to waste. These 24 individuals are being handed an opportunity of a lifetime to show their worth and achieve their aspirations. Let’s take lanky defender Kavon Troy Ceasar from the British Virgin Islands. Imagine if he made it to the MLS SuperDraft? Just imagine the effects it could have on him as a player and the effects on his country.
As has already been expressed by the people at the top, this is all about producing the next generation and looking ahead to Russia 2018 and beyond. There is talk of a Caribbean Professional League (CPL) being set up in 2015 with different clubs from different countries from the region competing against each other in one big division. But first we must see how the MLS/Caribbean Combine functions and the results that come with it. In terms of youth development and providing hope, this project is a truly fabulous one and Cayman Islands international Ramon Sealy speaks on behalf of all the youngsters when he “hopes to really do well” once he gets there.
By Nathan Carr