Oral Tracey | The Peter-Lee Vassell example
He has quickly and almost quietly developed the reputation of being Jamaica's most promising young footballer. His journey from Cornwall College standout and 2016 daCosta Cup champion to exciting Harbour View playmaker and emerging as the best national senior midfielder seemed unusually fast by local standards, but the still- developing 19-year-old creative maestro Peter-Lee Vassell seemed always to have unusual qualities about him.
It blossomed as a consensus across the local football fraternity that based on the trajectory and pace of his development, he needed to escape the clutches of limitations imposed by local football in order to fulfil his potential.
He needed a professional contract somewhere, almost anywhere, and he needed it urgently, before it was too late.
It was in that context that the fraternity held its collective breath as Peter-Lee Vassell ventured off to the recent Major League Soccer (MLS) Superdraft in the United States. Fingers were crossed and prayers went up for Vassell, and news swept across social and traditional media that he was selected as the 40th overall draft pick by the second year franchise Los Angeles Football Club. We could almost telepathically feel Jamaica exhale with relief as our top young player got his fully deserved break.
In the wider scheme of things, a promising 19-year-old international footballer getting drafted at number 40 in MLS is hardly a big thing, but for a young Jamaican player out of schoolboy football and one season of local Premier League football, getting drafted into the improving and rapidly growing MLS is potentially quite positive and instructive in a Jamaican context. The fact of the matter is that for one reason or another, local-born Jamaican players don't go directly to the big leagues of England and wider Europe. The common path in recent years has been to get into the United Soccer League (USL) or North American Soccer League (NASL) and attempt the difficult climb up the professional ladder.
Fortunately for Vassell, he skipped the first rung of the ladder with a real opportunity of going directly into MLS. Vassell's break is not just important for him personally, but for an entire generation of young Jamaican players who were rapidly running out of real-life heroes and success stories.
Pushing beyond the limit
Many young players in the recent months and years, including Vassell himself, ventured off on one trial or another, all without success. It is therefore conceivable that young players coming through the unorthodox and unconventional ranks of local football, were beginning to lose hope.
Major credit must go to Vassell himself for showing the fortitude, focus and determination shown in keeping his eyes on the prize. He relocated from Montego Bay to Kingston and continued to work on improving his game. So many talented schoolboy football stars over many years failed to make the transition made by Peter-Lee, falling victims to a shift of, and/or a lack of focus and changing priorities, which inevitably resulted in doubts beginning to creep into their minds as to whether their lofty football dreams will ever come true.
We should all be thankful that Peter-Lee Vassell never got to that place or space, or if he got there, he never dwelled there. We also hope and pray that he will grab this opportunity with both hands and more importantly, both feet, and that he will execute in a way that will enable his inherent talent and quality to shine through, which could mean that his stint and Los Angeles FC would represent the first stop of many on what will be a long storied and successful football journey.