FIFA.com describes Tevin Slater as a big fish in a small pond. The star striker on the island cluster of St. Vincent and the Grenadines answers interviewers politely, but concisely.
His voice is soft and it takes coaxing to get more than a 'yes' or 'no' from the 21-year-old. One gets the sense that he would rather be out on the pitch, chasing long balls through the channels, or on the water with a rod and reel, melting into an endlessness of sea.
“Scoring goals and catching fish are kind of the same feeling,” Slater told FIFA.com; perking up when the conversation turns to the rocks and coves that ring his home island of St. Vincent, where he grew up on the outskirts of the capital city Kingstown. “It makes you smile,” added the youngster, a fisherman by trade.
“There are no guarantees out on the water or out on the pitch,” said Slater, who is top scorer in the CONCACAF qualifying round for the 2018 World Cup; "but when they come, the goals or the fish, it is a nice feeling.”
There are slow days for Slater on the waves, but his goal haul of late is fit for a fleet. He scored five in Vincey Heat’s four qualifiers to date, including a late equaliser against Guyana and a crucial goal, minutes from time against Aruba, to send SVG to the group stages for the fifth time in their history.
The striker does seem to have an extra gear. He lives on the shoulder of the last defender. When he talks of stalking the channels and finding holes, his voice goes up an octave. Something inside him ignites. “I love to chase the ball,” said Slater, voted St. Vincent and the Grenadines' top player for 2014; the year he debuted for the national team. His haul of eight goals in 11 caps, ranks among the best scoring returns in world football.
“I will chase a ball even if it’s going too far,” added Slater, who shuns the limelight, happier in quiet moments. “I try to break at just the right moment. If I do not have the ball, I want it and I am going to try to take it.”
St. Vincent and the Grenadines has faced modest competition so far. Up next is an away date against the USA, a side in wobbly shape but still, by any measure, a big fish. It is among the top teams in the region, and competitive worldwide. The biggest accomplishment for St. Vincent, a country with a population of barely over 100,000, is an appearance at the 1996 Gold Cup, where they lost all their games, didn’t score a goal, and finished ninth out of nine.
The stars and stripes, coached by Jurgen Klinsmann, have reached the last seven World Cups. They are five-time CONCACAF champions. The gap in funding, talent, population, professional fitness and international experience is huge. “It is a challenge for us,” admitted Slater, currently on loan in Antigua from hometown side Camdonia Chelsea SC, tucked away in the industrial port outside Kingstown. “Against the Americans we can show that we can play football down here on the islands,” he said. “We have that chance.”