This year’s CONCACAF U-17 Women’s Championship took place from 3-13 March in Grenada’s capital, St George’s, with Haiti going the furthest from the Caribbean’s representatives…
In its fifth edition since beginning in 2008, this year’s CONCACAF U-17 Women’s Championship (CU17W) served as this region’s qualifying process for the U-17 Women’s World Cup to be held in Jordan from September to October. Three teams represented the Caribbean at the eight-nation tournament: Grenada, Jamaica and Haiti.
Here The Home of Caribbean Football reflects on the action from a Caribbean perspective, giving particular praise to Haiti for going as far as they did…
So near, yet so far. The young Les Grenadiers girls came extremely close to qualifying for their first U-17 Women’s World Cup, squandering opportunities against Mexico in the semi-final and Canada in the third place play-off. They were ultimately outdone by slightly better opposition in terms of overall quality and experience, with Mexico and Canada having participated in World Cups at this age level previously.
Having said that, Haiti did overcome Canada in group play as they registered maximum points across three games. First up for manager Shek Borkowski’s side were hosts Grenada and there they had no problems here, resoundingly beating their Caribbean counterparts 13-0. 17-year-old striker Nerilia Mondesir showed why she is so highly rated by scoring four goals, while Mikerline Saint Felix, Melissa Dacius and Lovelie Pierre grabbed braces. It was a merciless and ruthless performance which set the tone for the rest of their group encounters.
Against Guatemala they were challenged much more, racing into an early two-goal lead thanks to a Saint Felix double before conceding twice in the second half. In the dying minutes it seemed as if both sides would have to settle for a point. But the aforementioned Mondesir, so dangerous and clinical inside the box, popped up to give her country three precious points with two minutes left of normal time.
In the team’s final game they faced Canada, who had just put seven goals past Grenada. This was a crunch tie to determine Group A’s winner. Borkowski’s girls came out on top by launching a terrific comeback within the last 10 minutes. Saint Felix levelled on 81′ and then Dacius dispatched from the spot on 84′ to put Haiti in the semi-final against Group B runners-up Mexico. A superb effort.
The Mexicans proved to be too powerful. An individual error from central defender Saraphina Joseph gifted them an early lead before Maricarmen Reyes produced a great strike from distance to double Mexico’s tally. Tournament stand-out Montserrat Hernandez wrapped up the win in the latter stages of the second half with an equally impressive long-range strike. Haiti’s offensive threats such as Mondesir, Saint Felix, Dacius and Pierre were all kept relatively quiet as they struggled to impose themselves on proceedings. This wasn’t the end of the road, though. They had another shot at qualification via the third place play-off.
Two days later they lined up against Canada, the same team that they’d beaten in group play. Replicate the same scoreline here and a spot at the World Cup would be theirs. But the pressure that such an occasion brings affected Haiti and they were 4-0 down by the 75th minute. Golden Boot winner and Best Xl pick Mondesir notched twice in the final 10 minutes to salvage some pride in the defeat. Yet it was Canada who prevailed and thus booked their ticket to Jordan, joining Championship victors USA and runners-up Mexico as the CONCACAF representatives.
In the end the gulf in quality between Haiti and the North American sides manifested itself. Borkowski admits that his players “have a long way to go” until they can reach the same heights. Having said that, though, Haiti were a credit to their nation and they should be praised for the way in which they performed at the Championship. They played attractive, attacking football which reaped 20 goals overall, including 18 in group play. Working on a limited budget with limited resources, Borkowski is doing a very admirable job working with a very talented yet very raw squad.
There is certainly cause for optimism.
Appearing at the Championship for the first time, the hosts Grenada must try to take positives from this experience. They didn’t win a game – scoring none and conceding 27 – but it’s important to look at the bigger picture: they successfully staged a CONCACAF youth event and their players will have learned a great deal from playing at such a level.
You could clearly see that their team needs a lot of work in terms of improving positional sense, tactical awareness and defensive structure. With time these areas will surely develop. They experimented a little with squad selection, calling up 10-year-old (!) Melania Fullerton from the US. Not many teams would do that.
For the coaching staff and players the next few months will be about analysing where they did well and where they could do better from the tournament. If they can learn from their defensive mistakes and add some firepower up top then that in itself is a sign of improvement.
To finish bottom of Group B without picking up a single point was a disappointing outcome for the young Reggae Girlz. There was perhaps a greater amount of focus on them beforehand as they beat Haiti 2-1 in the final of Caribbean qualifying to be crowned CFU champions at U-17 level. But things didn’t quite go to plan for Jamaica.
They were blown away by the US before putting up a good fight against Costa Rica, twice taking the lead only to end up losing 3-2. They conceded a minute into stoppage time, too, further compounding their misery. Then against Mexico they lost by a single goal from Jacqueline Ovalle which is nothing to be embarrassed about.
Jamaica’s forward players such as Shayla Smart – who was one of the goalscorers in the Caribbean final – and Tarania Clarke failed to be as influential as they were in qualifying. Admittedly they were placed in the tougher group out of the two, but the team didn’t quite click or gel as much as shown previously. Indeed, it’s worth pointing out that the Jamaican squad was very young. Only three of head coach Lorne Donaldson’s 20 players were 17-years-old, while nine were 15 or younger.
CHAMPIONSHIP WINNERS: US
Congratulations to the US who beat Mexico 2-1 in the Championship final to win the U-17 trophy. Those two teams as well as Canada will represent CONCACAF at the U-17 Women’s World Cup later this year.
Better luck next time for the Caribbean sides, especially Haiti who continued to demonstrate their remarkable progress as a small footballing nation.
By Nathan Carr