Bermuda Under-17s banking on Nolan’s goal threat
Aaliya Nolan will carry Bermuda Under-17 women's national team's goal threat when they head to Haiti for the final round of the Caribbean Football Union (CFU) World Cup qualifiers.
Star striker Nolan bagged four goals in the previous round, including a hat-trick against Bahamas, to help Bermuda finish as group runners-up behind hosts Puerto Rico.
She also struck a hat-trick for Bermuda Under-20s against Curacao in their recent CFU qualifiers, and played a pivotal role in the senior national team's NatWest Island Games triumph this summer.
Nolan's Under-17s must finish top of a tricky group including Trinidad, Dominican Republic and Grenada to advance to the Concacaf World Cup qualifiers.
National Academy director Richard Todd, however, is cautiously optimistic and believes they have a “fifty-fifty chance” of reaching the next stage.
“Looking at past rankings, I'd expect Trinidad to be a good side and Grenada and Dominican Republic to be pretty tough as well,” he said.
“We aren't expecting any easy matches and I'd say we have a fifty-fifty chance of advancing from the final stage of the Caribbean qualifiers.
“Aaliya Nolan has been a notable player for us. She has really come into her own and found some scoring form this summer.
“She was one of the seven Under-17 girls involved in the Under-20 (CFU World Cup) qualifiers in Jamaica and took that experience into Puerto Rico, where she also impressed.”
Todd is keen for the Under-17s to continue the ‘feel-good' factor engulfing the women's game since the senior side's gold medal victory at the Island Games.
And he is confident Aaron Denkins' side, who jet off to Haiti on Thursday, can build on their performances in the previous round when they beat Bahamas 4-2 before suffering a narrow 2-1 defeat against Puerto Rico.
“In the previous qualifying round we were in a group of three because one team withdrew, so essentially we only had to win one game to advance,” he said.
“But I think the girls are looking to improve on those performances, and I know the coaches certainly are.”
While admitting Bermuda has been slower than other nations in embracing women's football, Todd firmly believes the game is in the ascendancy with far more emphasis being placed on developing the Island's female players.
Highlighting the shift in attitude at the Bermuda Football Association, at least, was last year's appointment of Naquita Robinson as the first female coach of the Bermuda women's national team.
Robinson will travel with the Under-17 squad to Haiti.
“Compared to the rest of the world, Bermuda was slow in grasping and developing the women's game,” said Todd, “but we have recently had a couple of opportunities to play in qualifiers and that's certainly helped.
“I feel the appointment of Naquita Robinson as the head women's coach was also very important for the women's programme.
“We're now looking to expand that programme with an intake of under-13 girls coming into the National Academy this year.
“Certainly there is more emphasis in putting in place resources to support the development of women's football in Bermuda.
“The most important thing for us to do now is develop a sustainable women's youth football league — that's the biggest challenge we're facing right now.”