🇸🇽 Meet Gerwin Lake, Sint Maarten's all-time leading scorer who also handles logistics
Smally has a big chance in the Gold Cup qualification round. Plus: Other stories to watch in GCQ.
As the job interview went on, yes, in fact Gerwin Lake did have a few questions. The most important: What exactly is the process for getting time off?
It’s not that he doesn’t want to work, but he’s needed for long stretches away every few months. There are 42,000+ people depending on him, being Sint Maarten’s all-time leading goalscorer and all that.
Lake got the job working logistics in Rotterdam, with his boss making accommodations for him to travel for matches like Saturday’s when Sint Maarten faces French Guiana in Gold Cup qualification.
“I told them sometimes I have to go away with the national team, so we made an agreement,” Lake told me last week. “He knows the days when I can leave and doesn’t make a bunch of problems about that. That’s one of the first things I said because I always want to represent my country.”
Just being in South Florida already is Sint Maarten’s biggest achievement on the soccer field. A last-day win over the U.S. Virgin Islands and a slip-up from Bonaire meant the team representing the Dutch half of the island popular with vacationers landed in the Gold Cup qualification round, two wins away from the tournament proper.
It’s a big step forward for a team that didn’t play a match for more than a decade between 2004 and 2016. A Concacaf member still trying to join FIFA, the Nations League was a chance for Sint Maarten to put a group together and play consistently.
When the team got into regular competition, Lake followed along and saw the results. He previously had turned down an opportunity to play for Anguilla because he didn’t feel a connection, but wanted to represent Sint Maarten, who he is eligible for thanks to his mother.
“Back then, it’d be 13-0,” he said. “They were losing terribly, and I was like, ‘Maybe I could give it a try and help them improve a little bit.’”
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He reached out to the team’s manager at the time and was asked to send video. After seeing his clips, coaches told him to show up for a tryout in the Netherlands and after seeing him for one session knew he’d be part of the team.
Lake said, “I didn’t know if it was going to work, but if you never try, you never know!”
It did. He was the top scorer in the 2022-23 Nations League with eight goals, including a hat trick against Bonaire, nearly doubling his all-time total to 15 international goals in 11 caps.
The 27-year-old works in his logistics role from 7 a.m.-4 p.m. every day, then rests and heads to training with his club SV Poortugaal in the fifth division of Dutch soccer for a session between 8 p.m.-10 p.m.
It leaves little time for socializing but Lake shrugged off the idea he’s trying to do too much.
“I can manage,” he said. “I’m not as fit as I want to be, but when I play for Sint Maarten, I always get that little extra from playing for my country. Even though you’re tired, you work, work, work until the game finishes.”
Even so, not everyone would make the same calculus. Lake is nicknamed “Smally” because he’s a twin, with his older brother Gershwin called “Biggie”. Biggie plays soccer too but at a lower level, and with a more demanding work schedule and a girlfriend has never been able to suit up for the national team.
For Gerwin Lake, there’s no doubt Sint Maarten will continue to be a priority, as he continues to look for more international goals to push forward a team that continues to gel and bond the more it plays - even as Lake and others have to fly over from the Netherlands for each match.
“Ever trip I can go on, I’m going to go on. The trips with the national team are always fun, which makes the travel easier,” he said. “It’s like one big family. After every game we win, it’s like a little party. We enjoy our time when we’re together.
“That’s why I think the results are getting better and better.”
The line has been trending up, but even Lake admitted he wasn’t expecting to have a June trip blocked on his work schedule. But he wouldn’t have missed it for anything and hopes to deliver a shock upset for those 42,000 people in Sint Maarten and the many more who, like him, identify with it as part of their heritage.
“We can try to get to the Gold Cup. If we win one, I think they’ll see it as a good achievement.
“If we reach the Gold Cup? I don’t even know what people would say. That’s the thing I’m dreaming about,” said the man who previously dreamed about putting on the Sint Maarten shirt, about improving the quality of the team and who now stands as the national team’s best-ever scorer.
Three quick things to watch for in Gold Cup qualification
Not only did Antigua and Barbuda have to rush to put their team together after Nicaragua’s ejection and Trinidad and Tobago’s subsequent passage to the group stage, it has to play tomorrow. In the first game of the day. And it has to do it against a pretty experienced Guadeloupe team that, as a non-FIFA member, has the Gold Cup as its top tournament.
Goalkeeper Nick Townsend could be the great equalizer for the Benna Boys, having kept them in several games during Nations League.
Will there be a dark horse?
There are favorites in the other ties too: Curacao and Suriname both should advance with relative ease. But between Guadeloupe, Guyana and Grenada there may not be much difference on the rosters.
Which individuals will make a mark?
Whether it’s Lake bagging a double, Townsend standing on his head or someone else, there will be individual players who draw the eye - and perhaps even better their current club situation with a good performance on the big stage.
St. Lucia manager Stern John has a few new additions from his undefeated Nations League roster, including former Portsmouth winger Reeco Hackett-Fairchild and Dominic Poleon, who scored a ton of goals in the English fifth tier.
And after falling just short of a spot in the group stage, French Guiana has its typical core of players, many of whom are based in France but could jump to Ligue 2 or higher.
You know I’ll be digging into those stories, plus the ones behind the scenes as the tournament progresses, plus have thoughts on the Nations League and everything else going on in the region.