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American Soccer Tales

The Winding Road of Antigua Barracuda FC

The struggling USL Pro Team hasn't won a game and doesn't have a home stadium, but they have some hope due to new coach Adrian Whitbread and a few beers an opposing supporters group bought them.

BY Jon Arnold Posted
July 18, 2013
1:00 PM
After watching Antigua Barracuda FC, a USL Pro team comprised largely of Antigua and Barbuda national team players, Phoenix FC supporters group La Furia Roja 1881 came to a consensus: Those guys could use a drink.

So they bought them one.

“While they were walking by, I’d give a piece of the puzzle to each,” said director Greg Spradlin. “I’d be like, 'There’s a bar across the street!' And then to the next guy, 'It’s called Devil’s Advocate.' And they all put it together.” LFR bought a handful of drinks at its home bar for a handful of the visiting players and in turn were regaled with stories from the road.

La Furia is used to throwing verbal barbs at visiting opposition, and still did so while the team was on the pitch, but Spradlin said he felt for the Antigua players. “It’s kind of hard to imagine a rougher season than what they’re having,” he said. “All on the road, no points.”

George Dublin, the national team captain and a Barracuda defender, said it was an appreciated gesture even if he didn’t partake. “Fans taking the opposition team out is something unheard of in this sport,” he said, “so that’s a really good gesture, and I know the guys really appreciated it, to take their mind off all these things that have been going on with the football club during the game.”

It’s been the kind of season you want to take your mind off. When we talked after a second defeat against Phoenix FC, played at a ‘neutral’ site in Phoenix since it was technically a Barracuda home match, Dublin corrected me after I euphemistically asked about the team being on a little bit of a rough stretch.

“I don’t know how you call it, ‘a little bit of rough.’ It’s a lot of rough. It’s very difficult to keep our heads up,” he said.

Believe it or not, though, things are indeed looking up, much to the credit of new coach Adrian Whitbread. The Englishman took over about a month ago and has agreed to come on at least until the end of the season.

Whitbread, a former Premier League defender, is no stranger to odd arrangements with island teams, having recently been in charge of the Puerto Rico Islanders. Under Whitbread, Barracuda have been edging closer and closer to getting its first points of the season.

“I knew that I could add something to the team, which we have done in recent weeks, but unfortunately carrying a squad of 16 players isn’t big enough,” an understandably frustrated Whitbread told ASN after the 1-0 loss to Phoenix. That particular match was an agonizing defeat in which Antigua had the better chances, but the club conceded from a goal kick over the top that fell to Phoenix forward Tommy Ramos who scored in stoppage time.

With a 16-man squad, a match two days later against third-place LA Blues went down as another loss, as did the one against the San Jose Earthquakes reserves two days after that. “Even the most fully fit squad in the world will struggle [with playing three matches five days]," Whitbread said.

Oh, and if match after match after match doesn’t sound bad enough, they’re also driving everywhere.

“Probably the best way that I can describe it is I’ve seen a lot of the United States of America,” Whitbread said in an interview from Dallas this week where the team mercifully has a week to rest before a game against FC Dallas’ reserves. “Not from the sky this time but on the ground. If only there was such things as “car miles”, then I’d be up there with the best of them.”

Thrust into an impossible task, you’d expect Whitbread to be a surly, brooding man, but he’s in remarkably good spirits, something I first noticed when he did the “Gangnam Style” dance before his match against Phoenix last week when the song was playing on the PA system. The coach said the loose attitude is part of his personality, but he also believes it’s important to lead by example.

“At the end of the day, I’m the man that’s in charge, I lead from the front, and I’m very conscious of that,” he said. “No matter what the situation I’m in with a football club, I’ve always tried to be that person that’s got a smiling face. If you get it turned the other way, then it’s going to take you down, it’s not going to be good, not going to be good for the health.”

Much to Whitbread’s delight, it’s shown through to his players.

“He’s really been positive,” Durban said. “I think we’ve been in more games since he gotten here, having a chance to win coming late in the games, but our mental capacity and concentration has been letting us down so far. Adrian has been fantastic since he’s been here.”

It seems to be a good partnership between manager and team. Whitbread couldn’t say enough about the spirit and effort of his team (“They’ve been a credit to themselves, I can’t speak highly enough about them.”) and said the results would be at least a bit different if the team had gone through a proper preseason. Instead, they had to wait around and see if the club would even exist.

“I wasn’t just really harping on about my record as a coach and how successful I’ve been being in Puerto Rico when I was an assistant under Colin Clarke and then obviously as the head coach,” he said. “I understand the circumstances, but I’ve always said I’d been here from day one, this team wouldn’t be bottom of the league. That’s for sure because the preseason would’ve given us the chance to be successful.”

While he’s only committed through the end of the year and hasn’t discussed taking the Barracuda job on a more permanent basis or taking the national team job at all, he hopes the club will continue to improve in USL PRO. Perhaps the next time there’s newsworthy alcohol, it isn’t a beer to chase away the sorrows, but a nice glass of victory champagne.

Jon Arnold is an ASN contributing editor. Follow him on Twitter.

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