Justin Springer could make history long before York9 FC’s inaugural match.
His St. Kitts and Nevis side is on the verge of qualifying for the 2019 Gold Cup — a feat the two-island nation of a mere 55,000 people has yet to accomplish.
A win against Suriname on March 23, the final matchday of Concacaf Nations League qualifying, will send St. Kitts to this summer’s expanded Gold Cup, which will feature 16 teams in 2019 (up from 12 in 2017).
“When you think of Caribbean football, it’s easy to only think about Trinidad or Jamaica,” Springer told CanPL.ca.
“But this is where St. Kitts and Nevis is trying to go as a football nation. We don’t want to be known as a lower-tier team. We have very good players in the nation and we’re proving it right now.”
St. Kitts is on the Gold Cup qualifying bubble with six points through three matches. A 1-0 loss to Canada last November in Basseterre stands as the only blemish on their qualifying record.
Canada is all but assured a Gold Cup berth having collected nine points from three matches. Les Rouges wrap their qualification process against French Guiana at Vancouver’s BC Place on March 24.
Springer, a native of Burlington, Ont., didn’t play against the country of his birth last November, remaining on the bench at Warner Park. He qualifies through his father, who was born and still has family in the country.
The 25-year-old was a five-time OUA all-star with the University of Guelph Gryphons, eventually leading them to a U SPORTS bronze medal as a fifth-year in 2016.
It was around then when St. Kitts “discovered” Springer.
“I don’t know what got their attention at first,” Springer said. “It might have been a random email, a clip they saw. I have no idea.”
It could have been during his time at Guelph, or when he played for Team Canada at the World University Games in South Korea in 2015.
“In between that and recommendations by (current York9 FC assistant coach) Carmine Issaco and others, I was able to get a spot with K-W United in (USL League Two),” Springer told CanPL.ca.
“They came down to see one of our PDL games in Cincinnati. Thank goodness I did well in that game.”
The towering centreback credits the national program’s work tracking “thousands” of players for bringing him into the fold.
“I’ll give St. Kitts a lot of credit,” Springer said. “The current coaches there have an extensive database. They are very active in their recruiting to find the best players to represent the country — and they are very good at it.
“They feel as though they can really help the squad this way.”
Springer has had an impressive run with The Sugar Boys since getting called up in 2016, being a part of every camp since, including Concacaf Nations League qualifiers.
St. Kitts, who are ranked 134th in the FIFA World Rankings, could use the Nations League as a springboard with a win in Suriname and a berth in the Gold Cup.
It’s a tough away trip for Springer, who expects to be in the squad for a potential history-making night.
“It will be a tough trip not just because it’s Suriname,” Springer clarified. “It’s a given. You have to expect tough travel conditions and the whole team coordination required to get everyone there and whatnot.
“I’m really looking forward to this trip. Not only because of what’s at stake, but also because it could be a historic day for St. Kitts.
“To not only do something the nation has not been able to do but to also play in such a prestigious tournament as the Gold Cup would definitely be more than a dream come true.”