Professional development is key
Building his national team around the island's professional players is paying off for Bermuda coach Kyle Lightbourne.
In fact, Lightbourne would like to see even more local footballers playing at that level, as he believes that is what is required if Bermuda are going to be a team to reckon with in the Concacaf region.
Lightbourne was just starting life as a professional in England in 1992 when he was a part of the Bermuda team that enjoyed some early success in the early World Cup qualifying round, scoring a memorable 77th minute header against El Salvador in a 1-0 win in front of 5,000 fans at the National Stadium.
“Lightbourne Rocks El Salvador”, The Royal Gazette headline said the following day, with Lightbourne calling it “the best goal I've ever scored for my country”.
Twenty seven years on Lightbourne is in a second stint as head coach of Bermuda and overseeing a new team made up mostly of professional players as they ventured into the Concacaf Gold Cup for the first time.
They completed their three group matches on the road with a 2-0 win over Nicaragua in New Jersey on Monday night.
Yesterday a big crowd, including schoolchildren from different primary schools, was at the airport to welcome back the team after their historic win.
“First and foremost we would like to thank everyone for all the support they've shown during our Gold Cup experience,” Lightbourne told the crowd.
“I thought the trip went really well for us, we are disappointed that we didn't get through to the next stage, which shows the belief that is within the group.”
Bermuda suffered 2-1 losses to Haiti in Costa Rica and Costa Rica in Texas to miss out on advancing to the next round, but Lightbourne believes there are plenty of positives to build on.
“I thought we matched every team that we played against and it is a little bit unfortunate not to be in the next round,” the coach said.
Now the team will begin preparing for their second campaign in the Concacaf Nations League, starting on September 5, against Panama at home.
“The Nations League has really given us something to play for, Lightbourne added. “We can see that we have to try to stay in League A and that's what the fight is for now.
“Obviously there is a long way to go, but it shows that we have coaches in this country who can perform under pressure.
“I want us to take this and become a stronger unit, because we are so far behind when it comes to other countries and the things they have at their fingertips.
“We're going to have our challenging moments, it may seem like we aren't going anywhere, but we have to stick with it.”
Unavailability of some of the professional players at certain times makes Lightbourne keen to make sure that he has a good, solid pool of players to pick from.
Players on the bench like PHC trio Cecoy Robinson, Tre Ming and Marco Warren, along with Jonte Smith, Milan Butterfield, Reggie Lambe and Justin Donawa for the Nicaragua match, suggests Lightbourne has a good, strong nucleus of players to choose from. He insists the door is not closed to new faces coming in.
“We have to make sure the amateur players are up to speed, that they are at the right fitness as well as the diet, which is important,” Lightbourne added. “When we do that on a regular basis we will get better. It's about improving the youngsters so that they can hit the ground running.
“That what the Academy is about. We're hoping that all of this will transpire into better habits and better things happening in football. There is so much talent here, but it takes a lot of work and dedication from the coaches and the players.”
Lightbourne added: “The biggest thing that happened in the tournament is that Osagi Bascome and Milan Butterfield stepped their levels way up. They rose to the challenge, they put all the other midfielders under pressure and were playing on merit.
“That's what we want, we want strikers to also come through and push Nahki Wells.
“I've watched a lot of football on the island and have seen a lot of talent, but it is only eleven that can play. Along the way players are going to be upset because they aren't playing, that's the part of coaching that I really don't like, it's a difficult balancing act.”
Lightbourne admits Donte Brangman, the Southampton Rangers captain, looks to have found a spot in the team at fullback after being used at rightback in the last few games. He plays a more attacking job for his club and was one of their top scorers last season.
“I think Donte is the best fullback that we have,” Lightbourne said. “We know he plays further forward for his club, but I thought he acquitted himself really well in that position.”