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Plenty of work to do says coach as U.S. Virgin Islands prepare to face Canada

Marcelo Serrano has a job on his hands. Several, to be accurate.

The 38-year-old Brazilian doubles as coach of Austin Bold FC, a new USL franchise set to kick off in 2019, and the U.S. Virgin Islands men's team.

Serrano says it's like being a club player who gets called up by the national team. Except he is the one doing the calling up.

He's been on the job as coach and GM of the 199th-ranked USVI for only a few months, with his first match at the helm coming Sunday against No. 79 Canada in a CONCACAF Nations League qualifying match at Bradenton, Fla.

He says there is much work to do, calling it a five-year project that starts with building the proper soccer culture. Serrano says while Stage 1 is a two-year process, he is already seeing improvements in player fitness and technique.

"I am very happy with what we have accomplished in four months," said Serrano, who is encouraged by the young talent on the islands.

Everyone is pitching in. He says some of his assistant coaches are, at times, contributing their efforts for free.

Serrano's senior player pool is largely amateur although goalkeeper Erik Mozzo plays for VfL Frohnlach, a fifth-tier German team and forward Aaron Dennis suits up for Penn FC in the second-tier USL.

The others have day jobs and play in a domestic league although Serrano says a few get paid a small amount by their clubs. 

There are students, boat captains, government workers and air conditioning repairmen among others on the team known as the Dashing Eagles.

Sunday's game was originally slated for the U.S. Virgin Islands but was shifted to Florida's IMG Academy after back-to-back Category 5 hurricanes — Irma and Maria — battered the string of islands.

"We did not have (playing) fields after the hurricane," Serrano said. "Slowly we're getting the fields back ... The soccer fields were not a priority. It was (about) surviving."

Serrano commutes from Austin to the Caribbean, a 3 1/2-half hour journey with a stop in Miami.

He expects a stiff test Sunday, saying the Canadians have "all the resources and the players to win this match."

"It's just reality," he added. "People see Canada as way more advanced than us and they are in many aspects. They are the favourites to win the match but we're going to give them a hard fight."

The USVI's last World Cup qualifying campaign started well in 2015 with a 1-0 win over Barbados. But a 4-0 loss in the second leg sent the USVI to the sidelines.

In 2016, the team lost 7-0 to Curacao, 7-0 to Guyana and 2-1 to Grenada in Gold Cup Caribbean Zone qualifying play.

Serrano's coaching resume includes serving as an assistant coach with both Brazilian and U.S. national age-group teams.


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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press

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