🇲🇫 Stéphane Auvray has St Martin flying after Irma, Covid clipped Swallows' wings
Promotion to League B is a formality. How did the former SKC, RBNY midfielder pull off the turnaround?
Getting a job can always be tough, but Stéphane Auvray felt he had an inside track when he was contacted about becoming the Saint Martin manager.
He was born in Guadeloupe but grew up on Saint Martin. He then went on to a decorated career as a midfielder in Metropolitan France and MLS. With the familiarity and the resume, Auvray seemed like the perfect person to manage Saint Martin’s fledgling national team as the island continued to recover from Hurricane Irma.
“The situation was very difficult. I don’t think there were too many candidates, to be honest, because there were no more fields, no more league … no more players!” he remembers with a laugh.
He got the job, leading the French territory’s squad in Concacaf competitions. The mandate? Try to succeed with local-based players. As Auvray began to research, he felt that wasn’t going to be possible because of the situation on the island.
Now, years later, he has cultivated a mixture of players based abroad and some key homegrowns and has St. Martin ready for promotion to League B after three wins from its first three matches in this year’s Nations League.
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“We just started building,” said Auvray, who played with Sporting Kansas City in 2010 and 2011 before being traded to the New York Red Bulls and closing out his MLS career alongside Thierry Henry and Rafa Marquez.
After feeling like the team was working past the effects of the hurricane, Covid hit and paused all sporting activity on the island. Once again, Saint Martin struggled to overcome external challenges. Now, it feels like the right blend is in place.
“This year we added a few players and kept our strongest players,” Auvray said. “We have some good local players because I’ve been training them now since 2019 and I think we’ve found a good mix. The style of play is starting to show as well.”
Putting an identity on the field is notable at the League C level, where some teams still struggle to establish a playing style. Auvray opts for a balanced style of play and urges his players to quickly win the ball back when it’s lost, trying to set up goals with the counter-press.
It’s a style that has suited a number of players who play abroad, with Romuald Lacazette (Alexander’s cousin), Azerbaijan-based Keelan Labon and forward Stanley Segarel among players who joined in September.1
Auvray typically hears of players through his network, getting notes from friends, agents and sometimes the players themselves alerting him to a player who is eligible for the national team.
A mutual friend told him about Axel Raga, who currently leads the entire Concacaf Nations League with eight goals, two more than Dorny Romero of the Dominican Republic and Omari Glasgow of Guyana.
“Representing the national team is a huge source of pride for myself and my family, it’s a reward,” Raga said via WhatsApp. “I’m happy to be able to defend the colors of the people of St. Martin and I hope to be a model for young people in the country.”
In addition to that pride and the desire to help the next generation, Auvray noted that players also accept calls for the visibility they can get in international play. A sporting director in North America might not be watching the French fifth tier, but they’re much more likely to see a highlight of the CNL top scorer.2
Accepting call-ups is not always as easy as it should be. Raga was on Auvray’s radar for some time, but Raga was barred from reporting by his previous club, a valid move since the French lower divisions don’t observe FIFA’s international breaks. After moving to Rumilly-Vallières in the offseason, suiting up for the Saint Swallows became an option.
Now, with eight goals in three matches, Raga hopes to climb the ladder to a league in France or in the Concacaf region that would observe those breaks and provide him more opportunities.
“My first goal is to win the next match against Bonaire to finish St. Martin’s promotion to League B. The second is to score goals to remain as the top scorer in the Nations League, and I hope, thanks to that, it would attract American and other clubs,” he said.
It’s not just the players who are getting more attention as Saint Martin continues to earn results on the field.
Auvray’s success in League C already has him earning attention for jobs that have a larger candidate pool than the St. Martin role did back in 2019.
Last month, he accepted a role based in Bermuda working with FIFA’s Talent Development Scheme. The program, spearheaded by former Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, is designed to identify, train and find playing opportunities for promising young players in developing soccer nations. For now, he’s hoping to be able to balance both roles and to lead Saint Martin into League B.
There will be challenges. Saint Martin has had the benefit of playing Anguilla, the lowest-ranked team in Concacaf, twice during group play. They’ve watched as their island neighbor Sint Maarten secured their first win in League B after promotion but still look like relegation candidates in their group. Plus, once Auvray is no longer at the helm, who will steer the ship and keep this group together?
Even with those obstacles, Auvray will leave satisfied when his work with the Swallows is done. He has put down a new foundation, helped find plenty of talents on the rise and made sure a lot more people want to be involved with the growth of soccer in Saint Martin.
His son, 19-year-old Kaïlé Auvray, played for Saint Martin in a friendly against Trinidad and Tobago this January but was then recruited by the Soca Warriors and now has 11 caps for T&T.
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