By BRENT STUBBS
Senior Sports Reporter
WITH the country now locked down again and no venue to train on, men’s national soccer coach Nesley Jean said he’s hoping that he can still get the Bahamas Football Association’s team ready for the CONCACAF Qualifiers for the FIFA World Cup QATAR 2022.
The Bahamas will be one of 30 teams in the new CONCACAF Qualifiers with three rounds for three and-a-half World Cup slots.
The first round (30 teams) will be played between the CONCACAF Member Associations ranked 6-35 (Bah-33), based on the FIFA Rankings as of July 16, 2020.
The 30 men’s national teams will be drawn into six groups of five teams in a seeded draw. Each team will play every team in their group once, playing a total of 4 matches - two home and two away. These games will be played in the FIFA match windows of October 2020 and November 2020. At the end of the first round, the six group winners will progress to the second round.
In preparation for the qualifier, Jean said there are at least 50 players based locally and abroad, who are eligible for the team selection. But he noted that the problem is getting the players together for a tryout.
“We have an app programme that we are using to try and keep the guys motivated, but there’s only so much you can do to keep them motivated for so long using the app,” Jean said.
“In terms of the tournament, we’re looking forward to it, but with this virus going around, we have to take the necessary precautions and we are waiting for some answers from the Ministry of Health on how we should proceed.”
With the games tentatively set for either October or November, Jean said they still have a very small window to prepare, but it won’t be sufficient, considering that they have to look at players from home and abroad.
“It’s important for us to be ready for this tournament because we have never qualified for the second round so going into these games, it’s a major boost for ourselves and the country on a whole,” he lamented.
“But with this pandemic, there’s nothing we can do at the moment. So we are waiting and watching to see what happens because if this virus doesn’t go away, they might have to cancel the tournament.”
Jean, who took over as the head coaching job two years ago, said every tournament he goes into, he wants to evaluate the current team members on their previous performances and assess the younger players who have the potential to make the team.
“We have some players in Europe whom we didn’t call the last tournament because they were too far away and there are some players who are in the United States, who couldn’t get out of school, so all of these players we will look at and see if they available so that we can start to put a squad together.”
Looking at the players available for national team duties, Jean said there’s much more than when he was an active member of the team when the numbers were much smaller for consideration.
“Now everyone knows that they have to be on top of their toes because they know there’s a lot at stake,” he stated. “It’s good competition for me as a coach, but I like it. That is what we need. We need competition in every area to get this team much better.”
After playing on the national team as a striker for more than 20 years, Jean hung up his soccer boots to roam the sidelines as the new coach, replacing Dion Godet, the last coach he played for.
“When the BFA came around and asked me if I wanted to be the new coach, I told them I would give it a shot and see how it goes,” he said.
“With my experience, I was happy to be able to give my experience to the young players. It’s not easy being a coach. You have to be up late at night, watching videos and trying to find ways that you can push the team forward.”
Last year, the Bahamas finished as group winners with 10 points, and earned a berth in both League B and the 2021 Gold Cup qualifiers.
The team, coached by Jean, began the series when they defeated Bonaire 2-1 at the Thomas A Robinson Stadium back in September, the first game of the home-and-away series.
The Bahamas topped the British Virgin Islands 4-0 on October 9 at Warner Park in Basseterre, St Kitts and Nevis.
On November 14, the team returned home with a 3-0 win over BVI. They closed out the stage with a 1-1 draw against Bonaire at the Ergilio Hato Stadium in Willemstad, Curacao, to solidify the top spot in League C, Group B.
Based on what he saw then and what he has in the pipeline, Jean said he is confident that the federation can field a solid team to make their presence felt in the region.
“The team is pretty strong. If we can get all of the players that we want, we could be very strong,” Jean said. “We want to try and get a base core of players at home that we can put in a training squad. If we can do that, it would make it a lot easier when we have to look at those players who are away and how we can insert them into the team rotation.”
The coronavirus, however, has made it difficult for Jean to accomplish that goal. Although the players are using an app that the federation can track to ensure that they are doing the right training regimen, Jean said there’s nothing like getting the players on the field to further assess their skills.