Soccer

Professional knowhow was key to success

  • Warm welcome: Justin Donawa, who scored Bermuda’s third goal against the Dominican Republic in a Concacaf Nations League qualifier in Santiago on Sunday, receives a warm welcome on the team’s arrival at the LF Wade International Airport on Monday night

(Photograph by Akil Simmons)

Justin Donawa believes the Bermuda football team has developed a “streetwise” and intelligent edge through the amount of players they have with professional experience.

Bermuda travelled to the Dominican Republic for their Concacaf Nations League qualifier with 15 players who have featured in professional or semi-professional leagues. They won the match 3-1 to reach the Gold Cup for the first time.

The extra knowhow of the likes of Nahki Wells, Reggie Lambe and Jonté Smith, who play in the English Football League, as well as Danté Leverock, Zeiko Lewis and Roger Lee, who compete in lesser European leagues, has allowed Bermuda to adopt a tougher streak, according to midfielder Donawa.

[Those players] have experience of dealing with bigger crowds and playing against better players,” Donawa said. “They can give those guys who haven’t had that kind of exposure advice on how to deal with the bigger crowds, different surfaces and different opponents.

“They bring a lot of experience to the team. It’s crucial for us to have so many guys playing professionally and semi-professionally with different perspectives. We also have Kyle Lightbourne [the coach] who had a great career in England. It’s very important for the team.”

Donawa scored Bermuda’s third goal against the Dominican Republic after coming on as a second-half substitute and considers the strike from outside of the box as the best goal of his career.

“It was probably my second or third touch of the game, and I was able to get a good foot on it and put it past the ‘keeper,” Donawa said.

“It surprised me, honestly, but I’m glad I was able to take my chance and it gave the team a little bit of a cushion. I hadn’t scored for the national team in a couple years.”

Donawa and his team-mates now have a consistent diet of international fixtures to look forward to, with the Gold Cup to be held in the United States and Caribbean in June and July, and the Nations League to be staged in September.

Bermuda have qualified for group A of the Nations League along with regional heavyweights such as the United States, Mexico and Costa Rica.

“We now have games coming thick and fast against high quality opponents,” Donawa added. “This can only help us as a footballing nation. It’s the best thing that could have happened for us, to get in that top tier of the Nations League.

“Reaching the Gold Cup was always our goal and we can’t just go there and be like, ‘OK, we’ve made it’. You can’t be content with just doing enough.”

Donawa has not given up on realising his dream of playing professioanlly after parting ways with the Columbus Crew. He was picked up by the Ohio club in the Major League Soccer SuperDraft in January.

“It didn’t work out in terms of some logistical stuff,” Donawa added. “I’m just trying to get myself ready for my next opportunity wherever that may be. The US window looks a little closed as the season has started.

“I may look more towards the summer window in Europe. Everything is up in the air at the moment. I’m open to anything; I’m just trying to make it.”