The Virgin Islands U-23 Men’s National Team got an early lead but was unable to hold on against Cuba in the opening game of Olympic Qualifying matches for the 2020 Olympics.
After just 10 minutes of play at the new Bethlehem Soccer Complex, it was Raejae Joseph who put the Virgin Islands ahead by scoring the game’s (and the stadium’s) first goal.
Joseph was able to chest down a cross by Dante Nicolas and control the ball in the box before slotting it home in the bottom corner of the net.
Ten minutes later, Konner Kendall was able to convert after finding space behind the defense and slotting home a 1-on-1 opportunity versus the Cuba goalkeeper.
After a long goal kick from Connor Querrard, the ball was battled for around midfield before it eventually found its way to Joseph, whose quick pass led Konner into the open space he needed to double the Virgin Islands’ advantage.
A long throw-in from Cuba found its way to the opposite side of the penalty box and was controlled and finished to cut their deficit to just one after 26 minutes.
With halftime approaching Cuba was able to draw a penalty and convert with just seconds remaining in the half.
In the second half, it took 25 minutes for Cuba to take the lead for good.
Head coach for the Virgin Islands National Team Gilberto Maicel said after the game “our game plan worked really well the first 20-25 minutes; we used our strength, which was making runs in behind, winning the ball in transition to try and take advantage of the speed we have up front and we scored two goals, which is exactly what we trained for.”
Maciel said he thinks the effort shows the Virgin Islands “can play at the same level of any national team at the age of under-23s,” but there is still work to do. “The only thing that we need to make better now is the preparation before a national team game,” he said.
Maciel added “most of our kids are below the age of 20, their season has finished and they haven’t had a proper fitness session or practice. To come here and get together, train for four days before playing an amazing team like Cuba, there’s no more I can ask for.”
Team Captain Karson Kendall said he was “proud of the boys working hard throwing their bodies on the line, working until they couldn’t work anymore.”
“I think we did very well in what we talked about with coach, we were great in transition and we got two goals off the tactics we worked on all week, so that was class,” Kendall said.
“We need to work on staying disciplined. We did good for the first 50-55 minutes of it, but once that came down we couldn’t track them anymore and got lost,” he added.
Cuba will have the chance to clinch the group with a win or a draw against Barbados on Friday night at 5:30 p.m at the Bethlehem Soccer Complex.
If Barbados wins, that will still give the Virgin Islands the opportunity to advance when the teams meet on Sunday at 5:30 p.m at the complex.
A Barbados one-goal win would be the best result for the Virgin Islands. That would mean if the Virgin Islands are able to win by two in the Sunday clash, they will advance to the next round of qualifying.