This weekend, old rivals will meet again for the first time in a long time. The last Windward Islands tournament was played in Grenada in March of 2001 with the hosts claiming the championship. More than 12 years later, the Spice Boyz will finally get to defend their title. The 4 featured nations in the tournament are Grenada, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Dominica. Despite being fairly close neighbors, that 2001 tournament was the last time Dominica played both Grenada and St. Lucia. The other teams have met sparingly since then.
Prior to the scheduling of this tournament, each of the 4 teams did not even have a game on their schedule. All 4 were eliminated from World Cup qualifying back in late 2011, and each subsequently came up short in a Gold Cup 2013 bid. The Windward Islands tournament should provide an opportunity for each nation to assess current and future talent with a little less at stake.
One of the reasons this tournament is great, and there should be more like it, is due to the lack of opportunities the Caribbean Islands face. Since many islands do not even share a border with another nation, the only way to play an opponent is to fly. Given that often times a connecting flight is needed to get somewhere, costs can add up quickly for nations without a significant budget.
Currently, there are 35 FIFA members who are also members of CONCACAF. Of these 35, only 12 are not island nations. In the past 18 months, all 12 of these nations have played at least 8 international matches, including the top 7 overall in matches played. Of the 23 island nations, only 8 have played at least 8 international matches. While this is most likely due to not advancing in World Cup and Gold Cup qualification, there are very few additional opportunities for development and team-building outside of these tournaments. The 4 island nations who have played the most (Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Cuba, Antigua and Barbuda) are among the richest in the Caribbean.
Perhaps these factors are what contributed to the 4 participating nations deciding to rekindle an old flame. Playing in a regional tournament like this makes everyone better.
We had an opportunity to speak with up-and-coming Grenada footballer Kayon Wellington. He currently plays for GBSS in the Grenada Premier League and is weighing an opportunity with 2 time defending champs Hard Rock. In addition to being an extremely nice person, Kayon provided us with some insight into the development of international football in the Caribbean. “Maybe they should have a Windward Senior competition for the islands in case you have no FIFA World Cup Qualifiers or CONCACAF Gold Cup qualifiers”, Wellington thought to himself before learning of the upcoming tournament. “We can just have the Windward Islands and keep us busy. I’m glad they’re having it.”
Clearly the players want to be involved in more competition. To be prepared for the biggest stage in the world, you need time to prepare and develop. Reviving the Windward Islands tournament is a great start, and hopefully with a successful tournament, more opportunities will arise. All it takes is some commitment from the federations themselves.
As far as the actual tournament itself goes, the competition should be tough. At this point, most of our rankings are determined by Gold Cup qualification so a small sample size must be taken into consideration. We think it will come down to Grenada and St. Vincent, and Wellington agreed. “I really think St. Vincent is going to be a very tough opponent for us in this competition, but Grenada also does well away from home”.
In the end, our rankings and the home field advantage lean towards St. Vincent, but after speaking with Kayon, we can’t help but root for Grenada and wish Kayon the best of luck in his upcoming endeavors. Given the few number of matches each of the teams have played recently, they’ll have an opportunity to move up in our rankings quickly with a strong performance.