The U.S. Virgin Islands started Sunday’s Olympic qualifying soccer game on St. Croix with hopes of beating Barbados by more than one goal, the threshold to stay in competition. But the visitors broke open the scoring early and never looked back, winning the game 5-0 and clinching a spot in the next round of Olympic qualification.
The scoring at the Bethlehem Soccer Complex on St. Croix started just 12 minutes in when Niall Reid-Stephen sent a cross into cross into the box that T’Shane Lorde finished with a shot to the back of the net.
Reid-Stephen scored the second goal as he finished a 1 on 1 opportunity just after the half-hour mark, and Thierry Gale scored goals on both sides of the halftime break as Barbados steadily increased its lead.
Gale said after the game that it wasn’t about the two goals but more about “helping the team get the three points” to win the Group B qualifier.
The fifth and final goal was scored by Gale’s replacement, Dishon Howell, who scored with his first touch after coming off the bench, completing the onslaught.
USVI head coach Gilberto Maciel said after the game that the V.I. just wasn’t ready for Barbados yet.
“We gave our best, Barbados was much, much better than us,” Maciel said. But looking to the future, he added, “The kids did well, let’s use this as a way of making us stronger for the next time we get together and compete and the international level.”
Maciel admitted it will be a long process, saying “we are here to prepare the national team for international football, that might take a few months, a few years. (The) reality is we’re not there yet but there is a huge, huge, huge, group of boys that can get to that level.”
Olympic Qualification is an Under-23 tournament but most of the Virgin Islanders on the team were younger than 20.
Jett Blaschka, one of the crowd favorites for the USVI team, said his feelings towards the outcome of the game were “not good,” but he was philosophical about the outcome.
“We gave everything we had,” he said. “You win some, you lose some.”
According to Blaschka, training leading up to the game was promising. He said the coach had given the team “a perfect strategy” for how to face-off against their rivals, but the team only executed it for the first five minutes.
“Then from there, it kinda just fell apart,” Blaschka said. “Part of it was the fitness level just wasn’t there.”
Like Maciel, Blaschka said a lot of the members on their team have youth and time on their side. The loss will be a learning experience as they prepare to take part in the next Olympic qualifier in a few years.
The Senior Men’s national team will have a camp in August in preparation for Nations League, which begins in September, and expectations are “very high.” The USVI “might be able to go up to the second division by the end of this year ” Maciel said.
Barbados will play the winner of Group C, which contains Haiti, Suriname, Grenada, and the Cayman Islands, in a final play-in match to the CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament.
Sen. Javan James, chairman of the Senate’s Committee on Youth, Sports and Recreation, was on hand for the game, and said afterwards the match means more than simply winning or losing. It illustrates the Virgin Islands’ potential in more than one way.
“Today basically shows the Virgin Islands that we have potential for sports tourism,” he said. “And if we do capitalize on it, we will be the hub of the Caribbean.”
James described the Virgin Islands as a melting pot of people. He said hosting international games here would not only foster economic growth but also create a unifying platform for residents of varying nationalities.
“The Virgin Islands is a mixture of people from different parts of the Caribbean and different parts of the world, so somebody from Barbados can really relate to the Barbados team. We have people here from Cuba as well so once we have people from St. Kitts, Nevis, Jamaica, and Trinidad come here to play sports, guess what? The individuals who live here will actually come out to the games so it’s a great start.”
Wyndi Ambrose contributed to this story.