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U-23s opener with St Vincent set for Saturday.
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For the third time in less than 24 hours, the scheduled day for the T&T Olympic (Under-23) men’s football team kick off to their 2016 Olympic qualifying campaign has been re-scheduled.

Originally, the Zoran Vranes-coached Soca Warriors were carded to meet Suriname at the Estadio Juan Ramon Loubriel, San Juan, Puerto Rico, at 5.30 pm in their opening Group Four series. But after arriving in Puerto Rico with only 11 players on the weekend, the T&T squad faced the reality of going into the encounter short-handed as the remaining members of the squad awaited their US Visas from the US Embassy here in T&T.

However, the T&T Football Association was then notified on Monday night, by the Caribbean Football Union, that Suriname was also faced with US Visas issues and had decided to pull out of the competition which also involved the host Puerto Rico and St Vincent and The Grenadines.

But on Tuesday, less than a day after the CFU advised about Suriname’s withdrawn, T&T was re-scheduled to play its first match on Friday against St Vincent. However, Suriname has since said it was rejoining the tournament and T&T will open its campaign against them today. Team manager David Muhammad was informed by the CFU that Suriname will face off with T&T at 10.30 pm on Wednesday which meant T&T was again looking at the prospect of going into the match with eleven players as the remaining nine players are expected to arrive there until noon today (Thursday) while St Vincent & The Grenadines was scheduled to take on Puerto Rico in yesterday evening’s other match.

But speaking from Puerto Rico yesterday, Muhammad sounded much more positive about the whole situation and was quick to point out that of all three teams that had to travel overseas, T&T was the only team, or part their off, present and ready to play.

He added, “Interestingly when we arrived or just before we arrived we were given the impression that we (T&T) was the only team that had these kind of travel issues and challenges, but it just so turns out that T&T is the only travelling team here that has a team of players ready and prepared and available to play for the original scheduled beginning of the tournament. “But our competition will not be here (Suriname) nor will the other team in the group St Vincent and The Grenadines, which is travelling as well, so we are just awaiting official word that the group will kick off tomorrow (Thursday) instead.”

Official word has now been given from CFU. Suriname are officially out of the tournament and T&T will now play it’s first match against St Vincent and The Grenadines on Saturday from 8 pm. The Soca Warriors will then face Puerto Rico on Monday from 8 pm.

Yesterday, Alvin Jones, Jomal Williams, Kadeem Corbin all of whom have senior team experience left among a group of nine players and one official in Nigel Neverson to join up with the team but will not arrive until noon tomorrow.

The quartet along with Aaron Enil, Josiah Trimingham, Jesus Perez, Aikim Andrews, Shackiel Henry and Akeem Roach, who was drafted into the team for striker Nathaniel Garcia, who had to return home due to problems with his travel documents left on a flight yesterday bound for Puerto Rico after they were granted their US visas on Tuesday by the US Embassy.

Already in Puerto Rico, since on the weekend are Montell Joseph, Leland Archer, Martieon Watson, Neveal Hackshaw, Jelani Felix, Duane Muckette, Jabari Mitchell, Xavier Rajpaul, Rundell Winchester, Ricardo John and Adrian Welch along with coach Vranes, Muhammad (manager), Gilbert Bateau (assistant coach/trainer), Michael Taylor (physiotherapist) and Esmond O’ Brien (equipment manager). Group One to be contested at Stade Sylvio Cator, Haiti, involves the host country, Cayman Islands, St Kitts/Nevis and Barbados; Group Two which kicked off at the Antigua Recreation Ground, St John’s Antigua, features Cuba, Guyana, Aruba and the host while Group Three which is being staged at the Estadio Felix Sanchez, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic sees the host up against St Lucia and Jamaica in the lone three-team group.

Among the other players named in the original squad by Vranes last week, who had to withdraw due to injury or visa issues were Javon Sample, Shannon Gomez, Dwight Quintero and Neil Benjamin Jr Reached for comment, Peter Rampersad and administrative official and assistant manager to the men’s senior team said the remaining nine players and technical staff member Nigel Neverson will leave later today (yesterday).

Rampersad added, “In fact he (Neverson) is expected at the T&T Football Association’s office within the hour to collect some documents and he will meet up with the nine players who are still in T&T at the airport for their 5.30 pm flight aboard Copa Airlines.

“The flight should get into Panama City around 8 pm and the group will overnight there before heading to Puerto Rico early tomorrow (today) and they should get there by noon for the latest,” ended Rampersad. The T&TFA official also praised the efforts of the officials at the US Embassy whom he said were very accommodating and helpful in the players getting their travelling Visas for Puerto Rico.

The fixtures are now as follows:-

Thursday 25th June

Puerto Rico vs St Vincent- 8:00PM
 
Saturday 27th June

St. Vincent v Trinidad & Tobago -8:00PM
 
Monday 29th June

Puerto Rico vs Trinidad & Tobago- 8:00PM

The T&T Team returns home on Tuesday, June 30th

RELATED NEWS

Visa delay rocks Warriors; U-23s travel with 12 players for Olympic opener
By Lasana Liburd (Wired868.com)

Two days away from the opening qualifier for their 2016 Olympic Games campaign, the Trinidad and Tobago National Under-23 Team is expected to have just 12 players in Puerto Rico, as visa complications have ravaged the “Soca Warriors” outfit.

And, farcically, only five footballers due to land in Puerto Rico today were on coach Zoran Vranes’ initial 20-man team. Among the high profile absentees are St Ann’s Rangers attacker Kadeem Corbin and the DIRECTV W Connection trio of Shannon Gomez, Jomal Williams and Alvin Jones who all have limited senior team experience.

Team manager David Muhammed said the Warriors applied for visas just before they went into camp on June 16, only to be told that no applications could be processed that week.

“We had applied within the regular timeframes,” said Muhammad. “These (Olympic qualifiers) were scheduled for August and our first order of business was the Pan Am Games, which starts in July.

“Then, they rescheduled the Olympic qualifying phase and put it before the Pan Am Games and this reoriented our whole plan… The mad scramble started from there.”

The Olympic qualifying schedule was adjusted on 21 April 2015. It left Under-23 officials with eight weeks, before they entered a live-in camp, to select the squad and sort out passports and visas.

Wired868 did not get an official response from the United States Embassy on the National Under-23 Team’s predicament. However, a consular message on the embassy’s website stated that they experienced “technical problems” since May 26, which are not restricted to Trinidad and Tobago.

“The Department of State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs is currently experiencing technical problems with our overseas passport and visa systems,” stated the US Embassy. “This issue is not specific to any particular country, citizenship document, or visa category. We apologize for the inconvenience and are working urgently to correct the problem and restore full operability.

“Passport applications accepted overseas or after May 26, 2015 are affected by this delay.  If you applied for a U.S. passport overseas during this time frame and have travel plans within the next 10 business days, please consider requesting an emergency passport…”

As reality sunk in that the selected 20-man team could not travel to Puerto Rico to represent their country, Vranes and Muhammed were forced to look through their initial training squad for players who already had visas.

Arguably, it rendered their live-in camp at Normandie Hotel and much of last week’s final tournament preparation as useless.

From Vranes’ final squad, only midfielders Neveal Hackshaw, Jelani Felix and Nathaniel Garcia, unattached goalkeeper Montell Joseph and United States-based forward Rundell Winchester had visas. They were expected to landed in Puerto Rico today where Muhammad was waiting for them.

United States-based university players Adrian Welch, Xavier Rajpaul, Ricardo John and Leland Archer as well as the W Connection and Naparima College duo of Martieon Watson and Jabari Mitchell were recalled solely because they already had visas.

And former National Under-20 midfielder Duane Muckette, who is on trial with New York Cosmos and was initially due to miss the preliminary round, was persuaded to return to help the squad.

Almost certainly, they will be the only players that Vranes will have available to face Suriname on Wednesday afternoon. It means the Serbia-born coach must select his starting team from one goalkeeper, two central defenders, four central midfielders, two wingers and three strikers.

Goalkeeper coach Nigel Neverson also had his visa appointment today and will not get to Puerto Rico until later this week.

“Hopefully, the rest of the team will get here on Wednesday,” said Muhammad.

The remaining eight players who will complete the improvised 20-man squad are: goalkeeper Aaron Enill, defender Jesus Perez, utility players Josiah Trimmingham, Aikim Andrews and Jones, midfielders Williams and Corbin and forward Dwight Quintero.

Trimmingham is the only player in that bunch who was not in the initial Olympic squad for the preliminary round.

Attacker Neil Benjamin Jr was ruled out with an injury. The remaining players who will miss the chance to represent their country due to the Trinidad and Tobago Football Association’s inability to acquire visas in time are: defenders Jibiri McDavid, Maurice Ford, Dario Holmes, Triston Hodge and Gomez, forward Shackiel Henry and goalkeeper Javon Sample.

Holmes, McDavid and Hodge were pushing to make their international debuts.

Gomez, who captained Trinidad and Tobago at the 2015 Under-20 CONCACAF Championship and made his senior debut against Panama in March, was a strange case.

Muhammad said Gomez, who applied for his green card last year, was ruled out, as he was not expected to get his travel documents due to complications related to his previous application.

But this was news to the talented 18-year-old full back who showed up at the US Embassy this morning, only to be told that his name was not on the list of interviewees.

“An appointment was supposed to be made for me to see the immigration section,” Gomez told Wired868, “but when I went there they said I was not on the list. So I had to (apply myself) for another appointment (and) they said they would call to see if I can get one by tomorrow morning.

“But right now, it is not looking as if I will be going to Puerto Rico.”

Apparently, Gomez was not informed by Under-23 officials that he was removed from their 20-man squad.

Ironically, the teenaged defender, who has represented his country at every level, was in consideration for the July 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup squad. Senior Warriors coach Stephen Hart said he left Gomez out of his Gold Cup squad because he felt he would be a fringe player with the adults and might benefit more from playing games with the youth team.

“He would have been a strong consideration,” said Hart.

Gomez said he was disappointed but looked forward to rejoining the Under-23 Team for the July Pan American Games and the next Olympic qualifying round in August.

“It is a disappointing feeling,” said Gomez. “I just have to keep my head up and be strong about it… At least for the Pan Am Games and the next (Olympic qualifying) rounds, I will be there.”

Only the group winner will advance to the final Caribbean qualifying rounds in August. Trinidad and Tobago face Suriname on June 24, St Vincent and the Grenadines on June 26 and hosts Puerto Rico on June 28.

Muhammad said the Warriors are in great spirits, despite the issues, and anxious for success. On Saturday, they played their first warm-up match in a closed doors scrimmage with Nicaragua, which they lost 1-0.

“There is a lot of excitement and anxiety (to do well) in the camp,” Muhammad told Wired868. “The spirit in this team is one of the most enthusiastic I’ve encountered in any team.”

Wired868 could not reach TTFA general secretary Sheldon Phillips for comment.

(Trinidad and Tobago Under-23 Team due to arrive in Puerto Rico today)

Goalkeeper: Montell Joseph (Unattached);

Defenders: Leland Archer (College of Charleston—USA), Martieon Watson (W Connection);

Midfielders: Neveal Hackshaw (North East Stars), Jelani Felix (Defence Force), Nathaniel Garcia (Central FC), Duane Muckette (North East Stars), Jabari Mitchell (W Connection), Xavier Rajpaul (College of Charleston—USA);

Forwards: Rundell Winchester (Portland Timbers 2—USA), Ricardo John (Virginia Tech—USA), Adrian Welch (St John’s University—USA).

Staff: Zoran Vranes (coach), David Muhammad (manager), Gilbert Bateau (assistant coach/trainer), Michael Taylor (physio), Esmond O’ Brien (equipment manager).

(Remaining squad members still in Trinidad)

Goalkeeper: Aaron Enill (San Juan Jabloteh),

Defenders: Alvin Jones (W Connection), Jesus Perez (North East Stars), Josiah Trimmingham (San Juan Jabloteh);

Midfielders: Jomal Williams, Aikim Andrews (both W Connection), Kadeem Corbin (St Ann’s Rangers);

Forward: Dwight Quintero (Central FC).

Staff: Nigel Neverson (goalkeeper coach).