The Trinidad and Tobago national under-17 football team was brimming with confidence today, despite the shortcomings of the squad’s preparation, as the young “Soca Warriors” set off for the first qualifying phase of its Chile 2015 Under-17 World Cup.
“We’re going there with every intention of topping the group and moving on to the next phase,” said head coach Shawn Cooper, via a press release. “This is a good bunch with a lot of hunger to qualify and represent their country with distinction.
“We may not have had the best line up of warm-up matches but we got in some decent sessions and a couple games against local pro teams, which I think put us in a good shape for the tournament.”
Last year, Cooper guided the previous under-17 squad to the quarterfinal round of the CONCACAF competition before the Warriors bowed out to host team, Panama.
The manner of the team’s departure today was revealing of the issues that continue to plague Trinidad and Tobago’s national squads.
The players left in two groups for St Lucia—at 7 am and 1 pm—and without national gear.
The “Soca Warriors” are sponsored by Joma but the outfits provided to the team had no logos. It is a recurring theme for Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) squads at the moment.
There are, of course, more serious issues.
An unfortunate medical emergency denied the squad of the services of assistant coach Ross Russell and whittled the already undermanned technical staff down to just five persons: Cooper (head coach), Christopher Gouveia (manager), Gilbert Bateau (trainer), Ian Dore (therapist) and Devin Elcock (equipment manager).
Bateau doubles up as assistant coach while Dore will also act as goalkeeper coach and, presumably, Elcock will assist Gouveia with managerial duties when necessary. None of the technical staff members once received the agreed upon monthly stipend of $3,000 for their time and expertise while the players practised without adequate refreshments or training kits.
This is the introduction to international football for Trinidad and Tobago’s 20 best players under the age of 17.
Regardless, this is the time when the teenaged men and their adult mentors must put the inadequacies of their preparation aside and do whatever is necessary to bring pride to the “red, black and white.”
Right back Matthaeus Granger, who is a St Ann’s Rangers player, told Wired868 that he was confident the squad will make Trinidad and Tobago proud.
“We have a good team and we are going to surprise people,” said the 16-year-old Granger. “We are going there to win.”
Trinidad and Tobago faces Grenada in its opening Caribbean Football Union (CFU) fixture on Wednesday at the Beausejour Stadium while the young Warriors will tackle Curacao on August 22 and host St Lucia on August 24.
Grenada, Curacao and St Lucia all participated in the inaugural 2013 CONCACAF Under-15 competition, which Trinidad and Tobago forfeited due to a lack of funding. Curacao eliminated the Warriors at under-20 level in 2012 and Cooper’s men have a chance for revenge.
Only the group winners are assured of advancing to the next stage while the two best runner-ups from all five Caribbean qualifying groups will join them.
The Trinidad and Tobago squad is captained by DIRECTV W Connection midfielder Kareem Riley who is one of nine Connection players in the national youth team.
San Juan Jabloteh and St Ann’s Rangers are also very well represented with five and four players respectively within Cooper’s ranks while FC Santa Rosa and Point Fortin Civic contributed one pick each.
Connection might have easily had 10 players in the travelling squad. Cooper explained that teenaged attacker Isaiah Hudson was declared unavailable and there was the suggestion that the left-sided attacker was about to go on trial.
Connection president David John Williams confirmed that he asked for Hudson to be excused from the international tournament but declined to give a reason.
“We asked for Isaiah to be excused from this round of the tournament,” said Williams. “I would rather not say why right now. But he is not on trial or going on any trial.”
Trinidad and Tobago Under-17 squad:
Goalkeepers: Enrique Changiah (W Connection), Levi Fernandez (Point Fortin Civic);
Defenders: Isaiah Garcia, Kierron Mason, Shirwin Noel, Keston Julien (all W Connection), Matthaeus Granger, Tekay Hoyce, Travell Edwards (all St Ann’s Rangers), Kendell Charles (San Juan Jabloteh);
Midfielders: Kareem Riley, Nate Brooks, Shobal Celestine (all W Connection), John-Paul Rochford (FC Santa Rosa), Shakhun Hanley, Jesse Joseph (both San Juan Jabloteh), Shakeem Patrick (St Ann’s Rangers);
Forwards: Dereem Daniel, Jeankeon Alexander (both San Juan Jabloteh), Anthony Herbert (W Connection).
Shawn Cooper (head coach), Christopher Gouveia (manager), Gilbert Bateau (trainer), Ian Dore (therapist), Devin Elcock (equipment manager).
CFU Group 2 Fixtures
(Beausejour Stadium, St Lucia)
Trinidad and Tobago vs Grenada, 6 pm;
St. Lucia vs Curacao, 8 pm;
Curacao vs Trinidad and Tobago, 6 pm;
St. Lucia vs Grenada, 8 pm;
Grenada vs Curacao, 6 pm;
St. Lucia vs Trinidad & Tobago, 8 pm.