The Caribbean region is bursting with young, exciting talent and it is important that these talents are projected to a wider audience. So here are four players who have impressed over the course of the season…
Name: Rundell Winchester
Country: Trinidad and Tobago
Club: Central FC
The name Rundell Winchester bares little significance beyond the shores of Trinidad and Tobago, in particular the Ato Bolden Stadium, Couva where Pro League team Central play their home games. But Winchester is building up an impressive reputation in his homeland.
The 20-year-old was instrumental in leading his team to one of their best seasons to boot, notching a total of 14 goals in just under 30 appearances in all competitions. Former coach Terry Fenwick, who recently departed for pastures new in Belgium, paired Winchester up with teammate Willis Plaza and the two hit it off, showing promising signs from the outset.
In terms of his style of play, Winchester is a lanky striker with an explosive turn of direction and knack of being in the right place at the right time. Last season his goals varied from tap-ins to long-range screamers but because of his height, he also acts as a useful focal point to the attack. He only has three senior caps for the Soca Warriors, his latest coming in a friendly series against Jamaica in the back-end of last year. The national coach, Stephen Hart, is excited by Winchester’s promise: “The young man has some qualities. He has to learn how to bring those qualities to the team, but he’s a player for the future.”
Winchester has already had a brief, albeit unsuccessful trial with a club in England, Walsall, but the only real way he will be able to pick up the interest of foreign clubs is by playing on the international stage. It just so happens that Trinidad are preparing for two famous friendlies in early June, against Argentina and Iran, and the forward has been selected in the squad for both. He isn’t expected to start but if he comes on and makes a difference, then who knows what might happen. Any kind of scout could be there watching…
Name: Kemar Lawrence
Club: Harbour View
Nicknamed ‘Taxi’, seemingly for his penchant for marauding up and down the left channel, Kemar Lawrence has proved valuable member of the Harbour View’s rearguard since his move in 2007. The left-back has been one of the brightest defenders in the Jamaican Premier League for the past several seasons and his work is beginning to earn recognition from national boss, Winfried Schäfer.
Lawrence made his debut for Jamaica in November last year, ironically against Trinidad and Rundell Winchester. He has been called up as the main left-back for The Reggae Boyz’s batch of friendlies over the coming days, and provided the assist for Michael Seaton’s goal against Serbia in the first of their friendlies on Monday night. With the Caribbean Cup coming up later this year, then the Copa America, Gold Cup and 2018 World Cup qualifying, Lawrence looks set to hold down his spot for the foreseeable future. The 21-year-old is under no real competition for the position and is yet to put a foot wrong in the yellow colours of Jamaica.
A relatively short, but speedy operator, Lawrence’s stocky build helps him come out on top in challenges and cover both the forward and backward areas of the left flank. He loves attacking as much as defending, as exemplified in the Serbia friendly as he found himself high up the pitch and Jamaica’s goal derived from his composure and pinpoint cross. In the Jamaican Premier League, though, the intensity of play is a lot slower than he is used to internationally. It will be interesting to see how Lawrence copes against upcoming World Cup opponents such as Switzerland and France, teams accustomed to high tempo and sharp transitions.
For now, the man called ‘Taxi’ is deservedly picking up the plaudits.
Name: Dimitrie Apai
Club: W Connection
Brought in as a January reinforcement, little Surinamese attacker Dimitrie Apai has made an instant impact at Trinidad and Tobago champions, W Connection. The club’s scouts were sent to watch Apai – then of S.V. Transvaal in the Hoofdklasse on semi-professional terms – playing at U20 level for his country late last year and they were suitably impressed, offering him a trial and then eventually signing him on a permanent deal in the January transfer market.
The 19-year-old was welcomed by fellow countryman, Stefano Rijssel, in the midst of a strong season for the Couva-based club. Coached by St Lucian, Stuart Charles-Fevrier, Connection started the season in ruthless fashion but their form dipped leading up to the final weeks before they finally wrapped up the title in early May.
Indeed, Apai played an important role in this title triumph. In February, Charles-Fevrier’s men traveled to bitter rivals Central in which the outcome was telling in shaping the title race. Connection were trailing by two goals with less than 10 minutes left on the clock and were desperately trying to grab a goal and salvage at least a draw. Joevin Jones saw a penalty saved but he mopped up the rebound and then with moments remaining in stoppage time, that man Apai popped up and nodded home after coming off the bench for his first goal in the white shirt.
Since his arrival, Apai has been predominantly used as a late substitute because of his pace and ability to wear defenders down. The Connection coaching staff appreciate that he is still very young and has quite a lot of maturing to do physically. If Apai has a fruitful Caribbean Cup with Suriname later this year then that could work wonders for his first-team chances at club level.
There’s still lots of room for development, but this raw talent has much going for him.
Name: César Ledesma
Country: Dominican Republic
Club: FC Münsingen
Now I realise this article is entitled “starlets” and at the age of 23, César Ledesma might have a few years on the other three names mentioned but he is still very much a player to keep tabs on in the Caribbean. Funnily enough, I only recently came across Ledesma.
Dominican Republic faced Indonesia U23s in Jakarta earlier this month, on a Thursday afternoon, and I managed to tune in and catch the game via a stream supplied by Indonesian TV. It finished all square at 1-1 as Indonesia snatched a late, late penalty at the death but for large parts the Dominican defence was very strong. And Ledesma was a key component.
Los Quisqueyanos set up in a 3-5-2 system with two wing-backs pushing forward. Ledesma operated wide right and had an excellent 90 minutes; marshaling his central defenders Hansley Martínez and César García while having the legs to get forward and support the right winger Kerbi Rodríguez. His positional sense was sound, he frequently made the right decisions and didn’t panic when in possession. The caliber of opposition is hardly reflective of the sort of opposition that the Dominicans will face at the Caribbean Cup but given that there was travel issues for the trip to Jakarta and the squad was jet-lagged, Ledesma performed very well indeed.
At his club in the third tier of Swiss football, Münsingen, he is one of three foreigners in the squad (along with German duo Maximilian Dreier and Marcel Koch). Ledesma is used sparingly but even playing professionally abroad is symbolic in itself for a Dominican, as the vast majority of players in a baseball-orientated country settle for the the Liga Mayor or divisions below.
I’m certainly looking forward to seeing more of Ledesma at the Caribbean Cup later this year.
By Nathan Carr