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Former UHH soccer director takes on international task

  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald
    Former UH-Hilo coach Lance Thompson.

Former University of Hawaii at Hilo soccer director Lance Thompson has moved up, to the international level.

Thompson recently accepted the assistant coaching position for the Turks and Caicos men’s national team, working with longtime friend and head coach Matthew Barnes. The team has been training for 10 days in preparation for the inaugural CONCACAF Nations League qualifications.

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“The thing that makes it work so well for me,” Thompson said Tuesday in a telephone interview, “is that Matt and I have had such similar careers, both of fortunate to be challenged in programs that needed to be turned around.

“We coach alike and we think alike,” he said.

Thompson retains his position as director of soccer, club sports, for Grand Canyon University in Arizona, the school he joined after leaving UHH. The Turks and Caicos job is effectively a part time opportunity, with four Nations League matches scheduled in the 68-match qualifying phase that will take place — one each month — during the four FIFA match windows of September, October, November, and March 2019.

“Lance and I have insights on this kind of job, I think, that maybe a lot of others may not have,” Barnes said. “(Turks and Caicos) want to do this long term, they are seeing what we might be able to build, and the Nations League is the game changer. The idea was to create a structure for the smaller countries to be involved, and this is our opportunity.”

Turks and Caicos is among the smallest of nations with a population of 30,000, smaller than Hilo. It joined FIFA 20 years ago, but has competed in just 19 matches over the years, with a 3-15-1 combined record.

The Nations League includes other small island nations such as Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Guyana, Aruba, St. Kitts and Nevis, but now there is a CONCACAF — the governing body of international soccer — structure through which these nations can compete to qualify for larger tournaments.

The national team can generate good will and new soccer fans around the world, just as Iceland has done in the last decade with improvements in its own team.

In Turks and Caicos, a competitive team might bring more tourists, which is the main industry.

“It’s a big challenge,” Barnes said of forming the team. “We have some players in these islands, some pretty good ones and some who could be very good with enough work and dedication.

“The problem is, they are used to playing maybe once a week, here and there, they are all in the tourist industry, they are bartenders, waiters, they all have families and work all day, so just getting organized to practice is tough.”

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For a nation still at the stage of dipping its toe in international waters, it has become a challenge with a focus. On Sept. 8 at 4 p.m. local time, the Turks and Caicos men’s national soccer team will take the field in Havana to play the Cuban national team in a FIFA tournament.

“I know very little about them,” Barnes said, “but that’s OK, if I can learn more about us. Right now, it’s all about getting us right and developing a plan.”