By BRIAN CUNNIFF
If the curriculum at Lower Cape May Regional High School required students to write essays about what they did on their summer vacation, Deron Azile would have quite a story to tell.
The junior soccer player spent the second half of the summer competing for the U17 national boys soccer team of Dominica, a small island country in the Caribbean with a population of about 72,000 people.
“A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Lower Cape May boys soccer coach Dennis Elia said.
Azile was born in Dominica, located in the Windward Islands in the southeast region of the Caribbean, before moving to Cape May County with his parents at age 3. His father, Benjamin, had heard the country’s football association was seeking players for its youth teams and sent video clips of his son to a friend of his involved in the Dominica Football Association.
“It’s a small country,” Azile said with a laugh. “It’s almost like everyone knows everyone, and my dad knows one of the coaches.”
The powers that be in the football association saw enough in those video clips to offer Azile a tryout. He flew to Dominica on Aug. 1 and spent three weeks at the tryout, and was eventually selected as one of the 22 players out of 50 to compete in the CONCACAF U17 championships qualifying tournament held Aug. 30 through Sept. 8 in Dominican Republic.
“The first thing that went through my mind when I got asked to try out was that I was really nervous,” said Azile, a varsity starter since his freshman year at Lower Cape May. “But then when I got down there, I just tried to play like I usually play. I felt if I just played like myself I could have a chance to make the team.”
Not only did Azile make the team, but he also started all three tournament games at outside back. Dominica did not fare well as a whole, losing its three matches to host Dominican Republic, St. Kitts and Nevis, and Cayman Islands while conceding 12 goals against none scored.
The experience, though, was invaluable to Azile.
“It was a really fun experience,” he said. “It’s basically professional soccer, but with youth players. It showed me how the game can be played, how quick it’s played and how good everyone is out there.
“It showed me how good other countries are. The expectations are that the USA has the best soccer players (in this part of the world) but I got to see how good these players are, how good the players we played against are and even how good the players are from my country. They’re all super quick and they have so much stamina. I think it’s because they’re so used to playing in all that heat.”
Azile had some adjusting to do when he arrived in Dominica for his tryout.
“It took a week or so for me to adapt,” he said. “The soccer there, it’s one touch, boom, run. Pass, move. Pass, move. It’s much quicker than it is here in high school soccer.”
Azile held his own at the U17 qualifying tournament.
“I watched the first game live and he was one of their best defenders on the outside, no doubt,” Elia said.
Azile, who said he usually visits extended family in Dominica annually, took great pride in representing the country of his birth.
“It makes me feel good,” he said. “My whole family was excited. My family back there was excited for me, and my mom and dad were very proud of me.”
Azile, also a wrestler and track athlete for his high school, has taken what he’s learned from international soccer and has tried to apply it while playing for Lower Cape May.
He’s off to a good start.
Azile recorded a goal and an assist in a 3-0 win over Cape May Tech in Lower’s season opener last Friday against Cape May Tech while playing outside midfielder. He then scored the winning goal in the second half of the Tigers’ 2-1 win over Mainland on Tuesday after being moved up to striker. Azile also set up Taj Turner’s penalty kick goal in the first half when he was taken down in the penalty area by a Mainland defender.
“You can see there’s a little more confidence, a little more edge to him,” Elia said. “Being involved in wrestling and being in the weight room has helped that, but you can tell he picked up some things playing for Dominica. He’s definitely a changed player since going down there.”
“I feel like my stamina got up, my touch got up and my speed really got up,” he said.
Azile hopes to remain in contention for a place in Dominica’s national football setup. The next progression for him would be a chance to play for the country’s U20 team.
“I feel like I’m in the mix that if they need me again they would call me,” Azile said. “If not, that’s OK. But if they do, I’ll be excited to go.”
Azile missed much of the preseason for Lower Cape May’s program due to his service for Dominica.
“I think (that excuse) is about as good as it gets,” Elia said. “I actually had someone say to me, ‘How come Deron doesn’t have to be here?’ Well, he’s trying out for an international team. That’s a pretty good excuse not to be here, don’t you think?. That might be the top.”