Saint Lucia’s men’s football team ended up in the cellar position of their Caribbean Cup semi-final group, which ended play on Sunday evening at the Ato Boldon Stadium in Couva, Trinidad & Tobago.
Coached by Francis ‘Baba’ Lastic, the national team has had a decent year so far, winning the Windward Islands Championship and emerging from the first round of qualifiers.
But with just two overseas-based players and unable to go into camp for as long as the coaching staff had hoped, it appeared that this group might have reached its limit, as they ended winless in the semis.
On Wednesday, after taking the lead against the top-ranked team in the Caribbean, Antigua-Barbuda, Saint Lucia were perhaps unfortunate to concede the winning goal in injury time, losing 2-1 to the Benna Boys.
They played well against against the home team, but eventually fell 2-0. And on Sunday they lost to the Dominican Republic. Led by central defender Sheldon Emmanuel, the Saint Lucians were unlucky to concede a first-half penalty – duly converted – against Dominican Republic.
But aside from that spot kick, there was little in the game until the 71st minute, when Edipo Rodriguez doubled the lead for the Dominicans. Six minutes later, midfielder Zacchaues Polius would pull one back for Saint Lucia, but Inoel Navarro restored the two-goal lead in the 85th minute.
There was still time for a final strike, Polius again cutting into the Dominican lead with just three minutes remaining.
On the bright side, Saint Lucia was largely competitive in these three games. But in the opening round, hosts St Kitts-Nevis had 10 overseas players, called in from Trinidad & Tobago, the USA and United Kingdom. Trinidad & Tobago of course boast a host of overseas players, plying their trade mainly in the United Kingdom, and most of their local players are professionals as well.
Even Antigua-Barbuda has eight players from as far off as Slovenia. On Sunday evening they confirmed the wisdom of that strategy, qualifying for their first-ever Caribbean Cup final, despite losing 1-0 to the Soca Warriors.
For Saint Lucia, youngsters like Caniggia Elva, Janoi Donacien and Zaine Pierre are playing in Germany, England and Italy. Several other eligible players, including young attacking players in the United Kingdom and the United States have expressed an interest in joining the national setup in recent years.
Yet, aside from Kurt Frederick and Shayne Paul, both with W Connection in the Trinidad & Tobago Professional League, Saint Lucia has played all of its 13 or so matches in 2014 with an all-local team.
To compound matters, whilst the national team was in action in Trinidad & Tobago, there were two local competitions ongoing. One was the privately run Blackheart Tournament, but the other is the Super League, which is an official Football Association competition.
In November’s Caribbean Cup finals, Trinidad & Tobago will play in Group A alongside defending champion, Cuba, French Guiana and Curacao while Antigua-Barbuda is in Group B with host Jamaica, Martinique and Haiti.