White Sands, Soft Breezes and Cosmos Confusion

After all the hoopla about the early January MLS Combine for 24 promising young CFU region players, it must have been more than a little discouraging for Union President Gordon Derrick to see absolutely no one from his group getting picked up by an MLS side. Only two players from the event got the coveted invitation to Ft Lauderdale: 21 year old Stefano Rijssel of Suriname, a forward who plays for T&T Pro League power W Connection, and 18 year old midfielder Quintón Christina of Curaçao.

Both are still available for selection during Tuesday's 3rd and 4th rounds.

At the same time, however, it should be noted that three of the first eight players - including #1 overall - chosen last Thursday are indeed natives of the Caribbean (a fourth, Rowena Bowie, is a sleeper who'll likely go early tomorrow; MLS is not exactly rife with "highly technical" midfielders who "never lose the ball").

None of them were at the Caribbean Clambake and indeed all of them are Jamaican.

Then there's the still-to-be-completely-explained André Lewis situation.

Ives Galarcep reported over the weekend that Lewis is under contract with none other than the Long Island NeoCosmos, a fact which was confirmed by team President Eric Stover (Eric Cantona was apparently not available for comment, although one suspects that "Who??" would be the sum total of his response).

The Vancouver Whitecaps, who are single handedly keeping the "off" in "offseason" with the soap opera shenanigans of their MLS scoring champion Camilo Sanvezzo scooting off to play for Querétaro in Liga MX despite not, you know, actually getting Vancouver's permission, insist that they knew about the NeoCosmos contract all along, that Lewis does in fact have a deal with MLS that amounts to a loan and that Lewis, should he make the team, will be suiting up for the 'Caps in 2014.

Apparently the kid got a deal from the New York NASL outfit which allowed him to go elsewhere if he got an offer from an actual, viable first division team as opposed to what amounts to a renegade organization in an increasingly irrelevant league. Hard to see the upside for the Islanders, but then there's not a lot about that whole deal that makes sense so who knows?

In an case, the difference between the Caribbean players who got drafted and the ones who didn't is simple to explain:

American College.

As Caribbean soccer officials readily concede, currently the best way to get off the islands and into professional soccer is the same path which we in the US decry, deride and deplore: getting into an NCAA Division 1 soccer program.

Kids who are not strong enough academically, or who aren't able to catch the eye of a college scouting system which is still pretty much hit or miss, really have few options. The local "pro" leagues are often of PDL caliber at best, and the facilities and coaching are often worse.

Some people wondered why the local MLS Combine was limited to 18-21 year olds and the reason is simple: the talent hasn't had much serious, organized work since high school and by 22 it's probably too late.

Of course one big reason why the Caribbean is so underdeveloped in a soccer sense is really quite easily explained:

It's because of Jack Warner.

FIFA has funneled untold millions of dollars into the region over the last 20 years. It was supposed to go for fields and coaches and equipment and local league support and all the other stuff which has to happen in order for talent to develop.

Instead, it lined everybody's pockets.

The direct FIFA money and occasional GOAL grants was stolen, misused and otherwise absconded with by local federation officials. Money earned or granted to CONCACAF went to Jack Warner. Everybody stole everything.

And the players got nothing. Even the $22 million Center of Excellence, which was supposed to be used by the entire region as a place to train coaches and officials and referees and players instead became a rental facility for flea markets and wedding receptions.

But there's a new wind blowing down there and his name is Jeff Webb.

Nobody should mistake this for a paean to the man's virtue; he was a loyal Jack Warner man for years and is currently among Sepp Blatter's most loyal subjects.

What we have to say, however, is that he's pushing hard to try and actually use CONCACAF's resources for soccer purposes, which by itself is a revolution.

For example, take Haiti.


Long one of the world's premier basket cases, for reasons both natural and man-caused, this nation of ten million people should by rights be one of the footballing powers of the region.

(By contrast, Jamaica has roughly 2.5 million people, T&T around 1.5 million, and both have been to the World Cup in recent memory. Haiti has twice the population of Costa Rica and is larger than Honduras.)

In a little-noticed development last week, Haiti Football Federation President Yves Jean-Bart announced the founding of a professional soccer league.

Which isn't particularly noteworthy except that the league is being largely funded by CONCACAF, FIFA, and the CFU.

Up until recently of course this would have served as nothing but another money hole for longtime Warner lackey Jean-Bart and his pal in Port of Spain. All money would have had to funnel through Jack's accounts and anything that arrived in Haiti would have gone for nepotism, cronyism, construction projects that never broke ground and "technical advisers" who never saw a field.

Webb has a different plan.

The project will have a Board of Directors made up of local businesspeople, FIFA will provide (and directly pay) administrative personnel, CONCACAF will provide training and support services as well as handle player contracts and the whole thing will be under the financial supervision of Ernst & Young, with complete transparency and accountability to the CONCACAF ExCo for every last dime.

Which in turn is encouraging local Haitian business firms to get on board as sponsors and team owners. Everybody knew that Haitian soccer was nothing but a scam and nobody wanted to get fleeced. Now they see this as a real, viable commercial opportunity and they're willing to participate.

Astonishing what a little honest leadership can accomplish. Jean-Bart is trying to make the best of things but it's clear he's a bit disappointed that the opportunities for outright theft will be so limited.

This project is symbolic of what Webb wants to try and do across the region: he doesn't need to replace the crooks, he's just taking control of the money out of their hands.

The Caribbean has a long ways to go and maybe none of this will accomplish anything, at least not for a long, long time.

But finally someone is trying.

The fact that Webb fully intends to succeed Sepp Blatter as President of FIFA is beside the point.

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