By Tim Grainey
Haiti’s Women’s National Team has reached into Middle America for a head coach to replace Ronald Luxieux, today naming F.C. Indiana’s Shek Borkowski to manage their side. Borkowski signed a three year contract that will take him through the 2015 Women’s World Cup cycle. Luxieux had coached the team temporarily during the recent eight-team CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying Tournament Finals in Vancouver B.C., in which Haiti finished in fifth place (ahead of Guatemala on goal difference, -5 vs. -12). Haiti lost their first two matches, to eventual 2012 London Olympic Games qualifier Canada 6-0, and Costa Rica 2-0. In their third match, Haiti defeated Cuba 3-0. They finished the tournament with one win and two losses, with three goals for and eight against. In late 2010, Haiti also played in the eight-team final regional World Cup qualifying tournament in Mexico, losing to the United States 5-0 and Costa Rica 3-0, before beating Guatemala 1-0 in the final game, for a 1-8 goals for/goals against total.
Borkowski, a native of Poland who played at the University of Akron, started FC Indiana in Goshen, Indiana (population 30,000) in 2000. FC Indiana played their first senior game in June of 2004 when they beat the Australian National Women’s Team 1-0, which was preparing for the Athens Greece Olympic Games. They quickly became a juggernaut of American amateur leagues, winning two WPSL crowns (2005 and 2007), two U.S. Open Cup titles (2005 and 2008) and a W-League runners-up spot (2008). They continued to perform well against international teams, defeating New Zealand in 2007 just before the Kiwis went to the Women’s World Cup in China. They have also won against the Canadian and Mexican U-20 sides in a tournament that they hosted in 2008 and narrowly lost to Ireland the next season. In 2008, Women’sWorldFootball.com named F.C. Indiana the third best club side in the world. In 2009, Borkowski moved to Russia to coach two-time reigning league champions and UEFA Champions League runner-ups Zvezda-2005, based in Perm.
Borkowski’s success in the WPSL and W-League was a result of blending foreign talent with strong North American players--some of whom even had WUSA (2001-2003) experience--just as his coaching style merges his European and American soccer experience, particularly regarding the amalgamation of coaching strategies of European technique and finesse with American speed and power. F.C. Indiana alumni include current Canadian internationals Kelly Parker (midfielder) and Lauren Sesselmann (defender), Mexico’s Monica Ocampo (forward), Spain’s Laura del Rio (forward with Philadelphia Independence of WPS), Ria Percival of New Zealand (defender) who now plays in Germany, Australian international and former University of Reno midfielder Aivi Luik, Norway’s Lisa-Marie Woods (forward), Italy’s Elisabetta Tona (defender), Russian forward Elena Danilova, Japanese 2011 World Cup Winner Mizho Sakaguchi (midfielder), along with American 2004 Olympic Gold Medalist Kristen Luckenbill, current WPS midfielder Brittany Bock and former WPS players Julianne Sitch, Christie Shaner and Kerri Hanks, who twice received the Hermann Trophy as College Soccer’s best player during her career at Notre Dame. World renowned for the professional environment that he has created with F.C. Indiana, eight of Bowkowski’s former players were on five different national teams in last summer’s World Cup: Canada, Japan, Mexico, Norway and New Zealand.
Borkowski explained why he took the position with Haiti, “Obviously economically it is a struggling country but there are talented players over there. I feel that we can give them an opportunity to work in an environment where they can improve and be challenged. It’s a team that’s got potential.”
After the devastating earthquake in 2010 that ravaged the country, killing many of the Haitian Football Federation officials and destroying much of the footballing infrastructure, it seems like a situation where objectives for the team must be minimal. Borkowski dismissed that idea as he unequivocally stated his number one goal: “I want to qualify for the 2015 World Cup. Given three years, I think we can do some good things. I just don’t want to float down the river… I’m not interested in spending two or three years and being competitive in the Caribbean. I want to be the Caribbean team to beat and a team that will have a good chance of qualifying for the World Cup.”
This goal is realistic for this vastly experienced coach, given the substantial time window he has been given to develop his side, compared with other countries who put together a team within a few months of the start of a tournament (such as Guyana before last year’s CONCACAF final World Cup Qualifying tournament). Canada will host the 2015 World Cup and thus does not have to qualify. With an expanded field of 24 (up from 16 in 2011), CONCACAF will have at least the two spots that they had last time, plus a play-in with another region (referred to as one-half of a place). Assuming that the powerful U.S. side takes one spot, then for the second spot and play-in, Mexico and Costa Rica--the third and fourth placed teams in the region’s Olympic Qualifying tournament—are the favorites. Borkowski said of Haiti, “They seem like a hungry bunch. This is an opportunity, and given the right leadership and right environment, I think they can be successful. They don’t have to beat the U.S. or Canada to qualify; they just have to get by Mexico or Costa Rica. It’s a big challenge but it’s not insurmountable. It’s something that can be done.” Though FIFA has not yet announced the qualification allocation by region, if the play-in tournament is versus CONMEBOL (South America), the CONCACAF team would be favored against any nation except Brazil and Colombia, who would be expected to qualify directly for Canada 2015.
Part of Borkowski’s mission is to leverage the strong Haitian diaspora in North America, particularly in Miami, Montreal and New York, not only for players who can step in right away and contribute but also for sponsorship support. His first action step is to bring the team to Indiana at the end of March for a month of training. He wants to play a half-dozen college teams during their spring seasons, to have his players test themselves against high level sides to increase their familiarity with physical style and the speed of play of Americans.
Some of the Caribbean countries, in preparing for past CONCACAF tournaments, have put a team together for a few weeks, drawing on players who are based in North American colleges to help boost the level of play. Haiti will do the same, but with three years ahead of the next World Cup qualifying tournament, and now with an experienced coach that knows players based in the U.S. and Canada as well as internationally, the selection of Shek Borkowski looks to be an inspired choice. Other CONCACAF countries may import an experienced American coach, but Haiti started the trend at set the benchmark, with a proven winner. Haiti will be a team to watch in the region over the next few years.
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