The countdown to the 2017 CONCACAF U-20 Championship is now on as the St. Kitts and Nevis U-20 National Football Team makes final preparations before departing the federation for Costa Rico on 7th February.
In October 2016, the team qualified in the CFU Caribbean Cup Finals held in Curacao.
They have been drawn to play in Group B that includes the national teams from Haiti, Panama and the United States of America. Their first game will be on 18th February against Haiti, followed by Panama on 21st February, and the United States on 24th February.
Since qualifying for the CONCACAF Finals, the team has been on a path that will see them clash against some of toughest teams in the CONCACAF region.
SKNFA Technical Director Lenny Lake is the teams’s manager, who provided an update on how the team was preparing for the prestigious and highly competitive championship.
“We’ve been working with the players since November, and we know it would have been difficult in December – Christmas, then Carnival, so we balanced the time the players would spend with their families and the time they would give to training, as they have to maintain a certain level of fitness. We certainly could not wait until January to start training,” Lake said.
According to Lake, preparing for this level of football needs at least 12 weeks of preparation, especially knowing the team will compete in a group that has diversified playing styles.
Lake commented, “The challenge here is that we have to be prepared to deal with the various styles. So, we have been working assiduously making sure the team is prepared the right way and the players are in top shape.” And this had to be done in the context of players being in school, at college and at work. So practice time was at a premium.
“We have done what we can, with the resources available to us and the time we had available,” Lake said.
According to Lake, the preparation plan was designed around making sure that the players stayed at a high level of fitness, and then, early in January 2017, began the tactical work. By the end of January, the team began to prepare under a competition environment playing against an ‘elite team of players’ drawn from various football clubs, as part of the Elite Preparation Camp that was instituted.
In that regard the SKNFA invested in additional expertise to raise the probability of success.
Lake explained, “We sourced the expertise of some top professional coaches, who worked in the region, and more specifically in Central America. So we obtained the services of Gary Stempel, who took Panama’s U-20 to the World Cup. He is here with us until we leave for the tournament in Costa Rico.”
He said it is important that when the players are preparing that they are also aware of the level of the teams they will play against. He indicated that Gary provides the team with his experience, having taken the Panama U-20 team to the World Cup.
Continuing, he said, “We also sought the services of Leonel Flores out of Honduras, who is a physical trainer, and he too had success in taking a Honduras U-17 team to the World Cup, in terms of physical preparedness. He is making sure the players are physically ready.”
Further, prior to leaving the federation, the team will have the services of a professional goalkeeper coach.
The team will leave for Costa Rico on 7th February and go into camp immediately on arrival to become acclimatized to the environment, which is substantially above sea-level.
“We know it is going to be tough. We know we are coming in at a disadvantage, being one of the teams in the Caribbean that made it as a fifth place. But it is football, and anything can happen once you prepare and go out and do your best. Sometimes the results will favor you, when you do the right things,” Lake said.
It is the second time a national U-20 team will play at this level and Lake believes the team is ready. “I think we have a good chance, just like everybody else. I think we have a very good group of players. They have been playing together for a while.”