Kyle Lightbourne hoping to strike right balance with Nations League squad
National coach Kyle Lightbourne says that while he will build his team around the experienced players such as captain Nahki Wells, there could be opportunities for several new faces as Bermuda prepare for the group matches in the Concacaf Nations League.
Bermuda were grouped with Haiti, Guyana and Montserrat in group B of League B, with the winners of the four groups in League B qualifying for the 2023 Gold Cup. Twelve other teams will get the chance to qualify for the tournament through the preliminaries, including the four second place finishers in League B.
Lightbourne is awaiting the release of the schedule in the next few days, but in the meantime preparations have already begun with a training squad of local-based players.
“It’s coming up in June and now we know the teams that are in our group so my full concentration goes to studying the teams we’ll play against,” Lightbourne said.
“Haiti and Guyana are two teams that we’ve played recently, so we know what we’re up against, while Montserrat is a team on the up. They have improved tremendously, have a lot of British-based players who play in lower leagues and some of our players in the UK will know some of them.
“There are no pushovers in this league whatsoever, so we have to be at our best from day one. We’ve had Zoom meetings with the players prior to the draw and have had a few sessions with the local players.”
The local season is in its last month and the break will be welcomed as players have had a long, first full season since the Covid-19 pandemic hit two years ago.
Lightbourne has taken the opportunity to watch several games and some new faces like defenders Nzari Paynter of St George’s and Daniel Cook of Robin Hood have been invited to train with the squad.
“Because of games being cancelled and rearranged, it has been difficult to work with the local players who are flat out right now,” the coach said.
“Just look at the games Dandy Town and PHC have played in the last six weeks, they’ve been playing a lot of matches, so it is difficult to get their players’ concentration. We will be training five times a week from May 2, right up to the end of that [Fifa match] window in June”.
Lightbourne added: “We’re normally in the region of 30 players and we’re in the process of bringing in some new faces as well.
“We have a nucleus of the team with Nahki being the captain, Reggie Lambe, Willie Clemons, Roger Lee, Dale Eve, Milan Butterfield, guys who are overseas. The players who are overseas, we’re hoping to get them back on the island and in training by mid-May because they need to galvanise after a long season and go again.”
Another player whose experience Lightbourne hopes to be able to call on is Dante Leverock, the former captain, who travelled to Florida to assist Concacaf officials with the draw.
“Concacaf asked if he was available to come and do the draw,” Lightbourne revealed. “Dante hasn’t officially retired and I think we’ll have to watch this space, but I will leave that up to him to see if he wants to do it.”
Leverock, the player-coach of Robin Hood, was sidelined for the last few games with an injury, but he has been influential in his first season as coach, helping the team defy the odds to avoid relegation after 13 players left the club during the off-season.
Leverock and Hood team-mate Jaylon Bather were two of the key players in defence in Bermuda’s last Concacaf matches, and now there could be another, with Cook certainly seen as one for the future.
Cook, a left back, has taken his chance at Robin Hood as a result of the departures, with the 18-year-old being one of the exciting young players to emerge this season.
“He’s done well and most people on the island are excited about how he is performing,” Lightbourne admitted. “He has been included in the training pool.
“Looking at the youngsters, we have Remy Coddington who is away, Ajani Burchall at Aston Villa and Deniche Hill, Corey Hill’s son, all included in the training pool along with a couple of others, to see if they can step up. It’s always been about competition for me.
“Jaylon is still in our plans, fitness-wise he takes care of himself and loves to go to the gym.
“We’re going to need experienced players along the way, because when you come up against a team like Haiti, the physical side of the game that they have, you have to be able to deal with it. Our boys who have played against Haiti know what Haiti brings.
“We’ve got players we can call on, we’re just hoping we get the right balance and the right chemistry within the team.”