Dominicans climb Caribbean ladder
© AFP

The Dominican Republic typically swings to the rhythms of baseball, sending their native sons en masse to the cauldron of Major League Baseball rather than Major League Soccer.

Even so, a recent run of impressive form has seen their national football team’s credibility increase. Sharing the island of Hispaniola with football-mad Haiti, the Republic has long been considered a backwater for the beautiful game, even by Caribbean standards. This makes their double-digit jump in the most recent release of the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking all the more impressive.

The Dominicans are still a long way from the top tier of football in the CONCACAF zone, and the FIFA World Cup™ is still a faraway dream for the country. However, a much-improved – though ultimately fruitless – run in Brazil 2014 qualifying had their near neighbours sitting up and taking notice.

With a side comprised of primarily semi-professional players and journeymen,they finished a distant second behind all-conquering El Salvador in the previous round of FIFA World Cup qualifying. Despite seeing them crash out of the running, it was a sound stretch for the Dominican Republic, who beat the Cayman Islands, Anguilla and Suriname by big scorelines before losing out, by only one-goal margins, to the Salvadorans on two occasions.

Those results were indicative of massive strides on the island, and sparked a 12-point jump up the world pecking order. The Dominicans are currently in 118th place, just two places off their best-ever ranking of 116th achieved way back in 1996. Their new-found status has even seen them climb ahead of neighbours Bermuda, one of the other lesser Caribbean side on the up in recent years.

Los Quisqueyanos - as the Dominicans are known - showed a good deal of speed up the flanks and impressive compactness in defence during their qualifying games. They scored 12 goals and conceded only eight in their six matches of the first group stage, and were it not for an inability to keep focused for a full 90 minutes, they could have achieved even more.

Although the World Cup remains a dream for the Dominicans, a more reasonable focus would have to be the reaching the CONCACAF Gold Cup. Played every two years, the North, Central American and Caribbean Cup of Nations might just be an attainable goal for the ambitious Dominicans. To reach this rarefied air, though, they would need to excel in the Caribbean Cup, the finals of the next installment coming later this year in Antigua and Barbuda. The Dominicans tumbled out of qualifying for the last Caribbean Cup in 2010, before the final stages. 

The nation’s top player, according to coach Clemente Domingo Hernandez, is Jonathan Fana, who plays his club football nearby for the Puerto Rico Islanders of the second tier of North America’s footballing pyramid. The fleet-footed ace with a nose for goal has been linked with a move to a number of Major League Soccer sides, most notably the New York Red Bulls.

Other players to watch in the side are Erick Ozuna, who lines up in Haiti alongside the pacey Domingo Peralta and midfield creator Inoel Navarra. Most in the team ply their trade in the Caribbean, Central America and the USA’s collegiate system. Of those called in for the Brazil 2014 qualifiers, only two are linked with clubs in Europe. Vinicio Espanal plays for Pro Vercelli in Italy’s second tier, while Cesar Ledesma plays in Switzerland and Edward Cruz in Bosnia.

The Dominicans remain a team with a dream, but their improved performances and organisation in the Caribbean sub-region make them ones to watch, and capable of springing a surprise or two.