Academy Sports Club boasts plenty of Cayman’s best young footballers, but the side with more teenagers in its senior team than any other in the Premier League is struggling to remain in the top flight.
Although Academy beat Elite 2-0 at the TE McField Annex on Sunday, they are still seventh of the eight teams with only 13 points from 19 matches, four behind Cayman Athletic. There are only two games left in the season. Academy looks likely to have to fight for Premier League survival in the playoffs.
Virgil Seymour, Academy’s director of football, is not too worried about relegation because he sees it all as a big learning curve for his youngsters, many who are being groomed for pro careers abroad. In terms of skill, tactics and fitness, Academy can match any side, it’s just the physical demands they are really lacking in.
“This season has been a transition for us,” Seymour said. “We’ve lost a lot of older players through retirement. Age has caught up with them, including myself. The older guys hung around as long as they could and now the kids are trying to see out the season by staying up.”
He added that their model for the next two years is just to stay up and develop the kids.
Seymour envisions Academy emulating Bodden Town within a couple of years and becoming a top three side.
Teenagers like Martin Webb, Joshewa Frederick, Jamiel White and Julian Moxam, Seymour feels, will mature fast enough for that to happen.
Webb is one of the brightest prospects, Seymour said and he is giving Frederick more playing time as his strength increases. Welcome and Moxam are coming on well, considering their age and inexperience, he added.
“Making the transition from high school football to the Premier, although we do have the Under-23 league, is a little different,” Seymour said. “The kids know they’ve got to work hard, hassle and fight. Physically it is only one element, they also have to develop mentally and psychologically.”
He puts an emphasis on the role of each player in the squad rather than pressuring them to go out and win as much as possible. Academy had their usual quota of kids going abroad for tryouts with pro clubs over the Easter break. One of them was Seymour’s son Elijah, a 15-year-old left winger, who impressed the coaches at Conference Premier club Barnet who play in the English league’s fifth tier. Elijah Seymour went initially in October and was called back earlier this month and impressed Barnet’s coaches again.
“Elijah did really well and got a two-year contract offered to him with their academy, which my wife and I are considering,” Seymour said. “The kids are doing well. It’s going slowly but steady. We try to match them with clubs that suit their abilities and try not to throw them out on a limb by themselves.”
The new national football youth programs are a welcome introduction for positive thinking coaches like Seymour who feels that other sports relied on the footballers to bolster their teams too heavily during the close season.
Now that there is a grassroots program aligned with the national youth policy, kids as young as five can enjoy playing football throughout the year if they wish. Seymour gives props to the Cayman Islands Football Association for that.
“Now we’re closing the gap for kids to play other sports,” Seymour said. “Once football had finished, the kids would gravitate to, say, baseball, cricket, softball, hockey, track and field …
“We had the boys Under-15 CONCACAF tournament here last August, girls U-20 CONCACAF here in January and the next one is the Cayman Airways tournament for the U-14s next month.
“CIFA and the president, Jeff Webb, are trying to keep it rolling so that all the programs in place can be effective. It has to happen. That’s the only way we can get football back to where it used to be when I was growing up. No disrespect to other sports but I love football!”
Although Academy beat Elite 2-0 at the TE McField Annex on Sunday, they are still seventh of the eight teams with only 13 points from 19 matches, four behind Cayman Athletic.