The evening started with an improved game from the Bahamas Tottenham Hotspurs team as they made a few telling changes to their personal that caught the seemingly-overconfident Honduras National Team off-guard. Still, a strike from inside the penalty box gave the Hondurans the lead but did not dent the Bahamians’ enthusiasm who struck back before half-time with a deserved penalty to equalize. 1-1 stirred up a hornet’s nest that buzzed until it stung, Bahamas with three second half goals conceded to finish 4-1, lifting Honduras to the top of our zone with 6 points.
HVFC had to raise their game to overthrow the opening night 8-0 winners, the Cuban National Team.
Cuba kicked off confidently with a brisk series of one-touch passing all around the field to win a corner, serving notice that they aimed to continue the dominance from the night before. Hitting the flanks to load up across the penalty area and score is their signature play; it served them well within the first ten minutes to lead from a right-sided corner that was easily headed in at the back post from the unmarked opponent as the ball eluded our goalkeeper, Valentine’s, attempt to intercept.
HVFC responded positively, as the competitive spirit was awakened to shouts and cheers from the Jamaican supporters in the stands who were silent before and doubted our resolve after falling behind 0-1. Coach Blaine had devised a tactical deployment to effectively hurt the Spanish-speaking neighbours, where it mattered, in defense and the team unleashed the plan.
Strong leadership in defense, by Kristopher McDonald and Qwayne Williams, Ranoldo Thoms and Raheem Clarke coordinated midfield play from Jamone Shepherd, Ronaldo Clarke and captain, Shawn Daley. That thwarted the Cubans, and our attacking trio of Jacob Lazarus, Kellijah Morgan and Kemar Martin running relentlessly at the back line meant the Cubans were not going to have an easy night as they did the night before. Game on.
Soon the game was restored to level pegging. Ronaldo Clarke’s splitting pass found Lazarus streaking down the middle, who rounded the 6’3″ Cuban goalkeeper to slide inside of the far post as his backtracking defender could not detour it, 1-1.
Jolted, the Cubans confidently went back on the offensive. We delayed their progress as the stands got deeply involved in the keen contest, now divided by languages, as the Spanish-speaking contingents partnered against the English in good fun. Halftime approaching, we repeated the cardinal error from our first game to concede a minute before the break, at the other far post unfortunately. 1-2 at the break, a downer.
We were not done yet and the stakes were raised in the second stanza, as the real fighting spirit of the young “Stars of the East” came to the fore. Teamwork (that was lacking the night before), above-average work rate, focused commitment, and intelligent football maneuvers spurred them on, motivating our team to excel in a must-win game.
Lazarus released Martin down the left flank about the half-line as he streaked goal-wards under a constant chase of the Cuban right back who could not match strides. He escorted him to the edge of the box to lash home at the near post and equalize, 2-2.
Going for broke, the U15s had the bit between our teeth and were ready to deliver, but cramps, fatigue and a test of wills were now the enemies as much as the disciplined Cubans were. Trading attacks, possession, and defenses were intriguing as we scrambled a shot off the goal line by blocking a few attempts. Our substitute, Raheem McLean’s, 27-yard drive was perilously close to going under the crossbar, before the fingertips of the alert goalkeeper touched it over at the last minute.
It ended 2-2, as both squads exchanged handshakes with smiles of respect all around the field as football development won the night. Jamaican flags were raised, supporters danced and sang as they greeted the squad leaving the arena to the changing room. Pride renewed, next we go for victory.