- Montserrat to face El Salvador, Antigua and Barbuda, Grenada & US Virgin Islands
- Montserrat will come face-to-face with El Salvador for fourth time in two years
- Massiah McDonald speaks with Concacaf.com about the team's recent progress
For the fourth time since September 2018, Montserrat will come face-to-face with El Salvador, this time in Group A in the first round of Concacaf FIFA World Cup Qualifying for Qatar 2022™.
The two sides met in week one of Concacaf Nations League (CNL) qualifying in September 2018, followed by a pair of contests last autumn in Group B of League B of the 2019/20 CNL.
All three of those affairs ended with El Salvador earning a win, but by narrow margins, including a 1-0 El Salvador win in San Salvador in the CNL with the lone goal in the last minute.
However, the Emerald Boys will get another crack in 2021 at the Cuscatlecos on home soil with hopes of collecting a massive three points.
“El Salvador were the biggest test the last time we played. By the balance of play, they deserved to win, but the goal that they scored was in the 90th minute, yet again, which they seem to do all the time,” said Montserrat midfielder Massiah McDonald in an exclusive interview with Concacaf.com following the preliminary draw.
“It could have been a different story; it could have been a draw. It was a good time for the boys and a big moment because we’re small Montserrat and we took El Salvador until the 90th minute. We’re talking about full-time players who play in the US or El Salvador and we’re playing our hearts out.
"Every game is a cup final for us. It means the world. We’re going to give it our all. People might think we’re the old Montserrat, but that’s not the case. We have good players."
In addition to facing El Salvador in Group A, Montserrat, who finished 11th in CNLQ and barely missed out on the 2019 Concacaf Gold Cup, will tangle with Antigua and Barbuda, Grenada and US Virgin Islands. McDonald acknowledges that it will be difficult to top the group, but he does see Montserrat being competitive until the end.
“If I’m being honest, winning the group would be a big ask, but we seem to pull surprises out of the hat all of the time. People didn’t expect us to be where we were when we barely missed out on the Gold Cup. We came a long way in such a short time and I think some people started paying attention to us. We have a group of players who can come together in a short span of time and put it together,” said McDonald.
A driving force behind Montserrat’s emergence in recent years is a group of England-born and based players who are eligible to play for Montserrat. That core group of players, combined with the logistical challenges of opposing teams arriving to Montserrat, have turned Montserrat into one of the toughest teams to face in the Caribbean.
“It’s difficult to get to Montserrat," said McDonald. "It involves a lot of traveling, so that helps us out a lot because we are so used to the traveling anyway and we’ve already been there five days while other teams are coming up a day in advance. It’s hot as well, but we’ve acclimatised to the conditions and our game plan has always been English style and I think that’s why teams really don’t like playing against us.
"We’re quite physical, but we also have ball-playing players and have one of the best strikers in the English Championship (Lyle Taylor). There are a lot of players who are playing at high levels of English football and putting the calibers of players together, it’s a good mix."
The 29-year-old is also hopeful that as Montserrat continues to generate attention with their football, that it can provide an economic benefit to the island.
“It’s a beautiful country, it has a lot of nice beaches that aren’t really visited by tourists. The scenery is amazing, there is greenery everywhere, the views are incredible, so it’s nice to put Montserrat back out there so it gets people thinking about Montserrat. Hopefully it gives something back to the country in an economical and financial sense,” said McDonald.
Another key aspect to Montserrat’s emergence has been the steady hand of head coach Willie Donachie, a 68-year-old Scotsman who has a wealth of experience.
“He is one of the most experienced coaches we could have. He knows his stuff, he played for Scotland in the World Cup, he played for Manchester City. He knows what he’s talking about and he knows how we can win games and it works. He’s been a breath of fresh air. Everyone does their bit and plays their part. To play for Montserrat now as this is happening and where it could potentially be is going to be something that I can tell the grandkids,” said McDonald.
Yet McDonald is also quick to highlight the work put in by others, including the country’s young players who help the national team in all phases, plus the veteran players who stuck with the program even when Montserrat were suffering from lopsided losses in previous cycles.
“To be a part of what Montserrat has become after what it used to be, I came in when it was starting to transition. There are players who have been there when there was nothing, like midfielder Dean Mason. These are the players who were there when Montserrat were losing 7-1 and they’ve stuck by. Some players would have said I’m not doing it anymore, but they stuck by and I give credit to them. They stayed and we are where we are thanks to them."