There is a fresh mood within the Trinidad and Tobago national senior football team as it prepares for this week’s 2012 Caribbean Cup qualifying round at the Dwight Yorke Stadium in Bacolet, Tobago.
The “Soca Warriors” open their campaign from 8 pm tomorrow against St Vincent and the Grenadines in the second game of a double header. Cuba plays Suriname from 6 pm. Tickets are $40 for covered stands and $20 for uncovered.
The national team has still not been paid outstanding fees and stipends from its last qualifying round in St Kitts and Nevis. But, according to one senior staff member, the tension between the Sport Ministry and the Trinidad and Tobago Football Federation (TTFF) has already been lifted since Raymond Tim Kee took over the role of president on Sunday.
“I have been told the Sport Ministry has okayed our outstanding payments as well as our budget for the Tobago leg,” said the TTFF insider. “It is just up to their accounts department now and it should be ready within the next couple days.
“The Sport Ministry is very much friendlier this time. I am certain about everything working out this time around.”
Time will tell if the satisfaction of Sport Minister Anil Roberts is a good or bad omen for local football. But there should at least be a feeling of tranquillity in the team camp if the players accept that the government is now ready to pay them due to a change in the TTFF executive, which arguably means, conversely, that they suffered hardships for months only because Roberts could not have his way with a supposedly autonomous body.
Sport teams are not at their best without some level of creative tension, though. And money only brings a different set of problems.
The Warriors played for pride and personal ambition in St Kitts. But, in Tobago, they might be playing for their international careers.
One of Tim Kee’s most important decisions will be his choice for general secretary and there is already speculation that incumbent, Richard Groden—who recently crossed swords with former TTFF special advisor Jack Warner and Roberts—is already rumoured to be a “dead man walking.” But a decision regarding the senior team coaching position should follow soon after.
Present interim coach Hutson “Barber” Charles, a former national standout, has done a solid job at surface level thus far. But Charles’ coaching CV bears little to recommend him if the post is put to tender.
Top coaches invariably have a balance of three abilities: team preparation, tactical cunning and motivational prowess.
A financially solvent TTFF executive would be negligent in its duties if it did not ascertain just how Charles measures up against those yardsticks. The upcoming Caribbean tournament can offer a valuable gauge and Charles, a Warrant Officer One with the local Defence Force, cannot be guaranteed another chance to prove himself.
He can be partially consoled by the fact that the core of his team should feel the same way.
Team captain and 28-year-old DirecTV W Connection goalkeeper Jan-Michael Williams does not need to look far for motivation. His deputy is the very capable Central FC custodian Marvin Phillip and the pair has fought over the starting jersey since they were under-17 teammates, some 13 years ago.
Williams knows that, if Phillip gets the number one spot, it might be another two years before he can regain it.
A glut of central defenders should offer similar stimulus for Seon Power (North East Stars) and Carlyle Mitchell (Vancouver Whitecaps) as Trinidad and Tobago continues it search to replace the once formidable twin towers of Marvin Andrews and Dennis Lawrence. While right back Kern Cupid, a late call-up after his Connection teammate Daneil Cyrus became unavailable, would be anxious to reproduce his club form on the national stage and finally banish memories of an awful performance in a friendly against England, four years ago.
Guyana-born Neal & Massy Caledonia AIA defender Aubrey David is favoured to edge Defence Force utility player Curtis Gonzales to the left back spot. The 22-year-old David represented Trinidad and Tobago at two World Youth Cups before switching allegiance to Guyana at senior level and then, after yet another change of heart, returning to the “red, white and black.”
A solid and versatile player who can play anywhere in the back four, David should show Tobago why he was worth the international tug-of-war.
Upfront, Caledonia’s Jamal Gay has held the “number nine” post in recent times and his battling performances plus returns of seven goals from 13 outings suggests the 23-year-old is rising to the challenge of the international level.
A tall battering ram in the mould of compatriot and Stoke City striker Kenwyne Jones, Gay got his first senior goal as a 19-year-old in a 3-0 win over Barbados at the Macoya Centre of Excellence. His remaining six items were scored abroad.
It is vital that Gay shows his ability to handle the mental challenge of playing at home, particularly in a country that generally prefers technique and tricks over power and workrate.
If Gay fails to recover from a knock suffered on club duty, Charles must choose between the quick and aggressive Richard Roy, who has four senior caps with no goals, or the slow but polished Devorn Jorsling, who has recently been used as Roy’s reserve at Defence Force but boasts a far more impressive international tally of 16 goals from 20 starts and 10 substitute appearances.
Charles opted to ignore the maverick North East Stars striker Cornell Glen after concerns about his nagging groin strain. But the former 2006 World Cup attacker is joint top of the Digicel Pro League scoring charts this season, despite his fitness issues, and his pace, power and trickery alone would surely have been worth the price of admission.
Glen’s non-selection can be an important decision by an interim coach who needs to fashion a team capable of exciting the public as well as winning games.
But the immediate future of this national team relies on the combination play of Charles’ five-man midfield and the sacrifices the players used are willing to make for each other.
World Cup 2006 player Densill Theobald and Clyde Leon are rarely allowed to express themselves at international level as they do with Caledonia and Connection respectively and the chemistry between the pair has underwhelmed in the past. But, at their best, either midfielder can ensure that the Warriors enjoy a generous slice of possession.
Swashbuckling 21-year-old Connection utility player Joevin Jones, the son of Charles’ “Strike Squad” teammate Kelvin Jones, is at his best playing box-to-box in central midfield. And that trio could be flanked by clever Vietnam-based midfielder Hughton Hector and bustling Thailand-based left flanker Kendall Jagdeosingh.
It is, perhaps, the most practical available line-up. But Charles, who failed to convince playmakers Kevin Molino or the Tobago-born Keon Daniel to join his squad, is feeling adventurous and making eyes at enigmatic 24-year-old Caledonia attacking midfielder Ataullah Guerra.
“I think (Guerra) is one of the better midfielders we have in Trinidad and Tobago,” Charles told Wired868. “I expect great things from him.”
Many coaches expressed similar sentiments about Guerra. Few, if any, felt satisfied at the close of their relationship.
Gifted but moody, Guerra can flit between imperious and disinterested in a heartbeat. He has quick feet, a booming shot off either boot and can spot a pass. But his decision-making can be dodgy and his tricks sometimes seem self-indulgent.
If Guerra lets Charles down, though, how many other coaches would take a chance on him? He is not alone in that regard.
When the Warriors look around the dressing room on Wednesday evening, they must ask each other and themselves who is really desperate to be a part of the rebuilding of Trinidad and Tobago’s football fortunes.
And then, starting with St Vincent and the Grenadines, they must prove it.
For most of the players and technical staff members that comprise the present national senior team, there will be no second chance.
Trinidad and Tobago Team
Goalkeepers: Jan Michael Williams (W Connection), Marvin Phillip (Central FC);
Defenders: Kern Cupid (W Connection), Seon Power, Kareem Moses (both North East Stars), Curtis Gonzales (Defence Force), Carlyle Mitchell (Vancouver whitecaps—Canada), Aubrey David (Caledonia AIA);
Midfielders: Kevon Carter (Defence Force), Hughtun Hector (Song Lam Nghe—Vietnam), Clyde Leon, Joevin Jones (both W Connection), Keyon Edwards, Densill Theobald, Ataullah Guerra (all Caledonia AIA), Kendall Jagdeosingh (Chainat FC—Thailand);
Forwards: Devorn Jorsling, Richard Roy (both Defence Force), Jamal Gay (Caledonia AIA), Hashim Arcia (W Connection).
Technical staff: Hutson Charles (Coach), Derek King (Assistant Coach), William Wallace (Manager), Michael Williams (Equipment Manager), Dave Isaacs (Physiotherapist), Jefferson George (Goalkeeping Coach), Shaun Fuentes (Media Officer).
By: Shaun Fuentes (TTFF).
Newly installed Trinidad and Tobago Football Federation President Raymond Tim Kee will witness his first international match involving the National Team since taking up his new position from 8pm on Wednesday night when the “Soca Warriors’ face off with St Vincent/Grenadines at the Dwight Yorke Stadium, Bacolet.
Tim Kee will arrive in the sister-isle on Wednesday ahead of the Caribbean Cup semi-final qualifying round which will see Cuba taking on Suriname in the opening clash from 6pm.
No stranger to these kinds of events, having held the Vice President portfolio in the past, Tim Kee is urging skipper Jan Michael Williams and his teammates to simply continue their valiant efforts of recent past which saw them come away with maximum nine points from their three previous Caribbean Cup matches in St Kitts/Nevis.
“As far as the future goes, it starts now and now meaning that road to the 2013 Concacaf Gold Cup,” Tim Kee said.
“This is the first international game I will witness as President and having not performed as well as would have liked in recent times following our 2006 World Cup appearance, I am looking forward the team performing in a way that will demonstrate their capabilities and our drive as a Federation to move our country’s football upwards to greater heights.
I truly believe that though we have been facing some challenges, we can now face up and overcome these from here on. We must do it collectively and with the right approach and succeed in our efforts in pursuing a spot in the Gold Cup, something which we have not accomplished since 2007,” Tim Kee added.
“I am definitely looking forward to these upcoming matches. I believe in the team’s ability and once we progress out of this stage then of course we will take steps to ensure that the team is sufficiently prepared to take on the more difficult challenges that lie ahead.”
Tim Kee also indicated that his meeting with Ministry of Sports Permanent Secretary Ashwin Creed on Monday was a cordial one.
“We had a very cordial meeting which lasted for two and half hours and I feel very comfortable with the exchanges that we had. This is hopefully the first of several good exchanges that will benefit our country’s football from here onwards,” Tim Kee stated
On the field of play, head coach Hutson Charles is scheduled to conduct his final session at the match venue from 8:45pm on Tuesday as he puts the final touches on his team’s approach for Wednesday’s affair. The conditions were pretty hot on Sunday and the field is in crisp condition ahead of Wednesday’s matches.
There is some uncertainty over the readiness of Caledonia AIA Striker Jamal Gay who received a blow to his knee in a recent Pro League clash with T&TEC FC. The rest of the team appears to be in good shape and skipper Williams is optimistic of a good start.
“We are as ready as can be,” Williams told TTFF Media.
“We came out of the last group with full points because we executed well and we carried that belief and desire on the pitch. This time it will be no different. We know that the teams here will pose a stronger challenge but that means that we will have to lift our game to suit this.
I am hoping our fans can come out and offer that support because we are in home territory now and it will be a great feeling to know that we have our people behind us in each of the these three matches,” Williams said.
St Vincent, coached by Cornelius Huggins, includes striker Shandel Samuel and is captained by former Irish-based defender Wesley Charles who is expecting his team to pose a stiff challenge for T&T.
“We did pretty well in the last tournament in St Lucia to get to this stage and we know we had to work harder and up our game in order to complete against Trinidad and Tobago, Cuba and Suriname. I think we’ve done that and now we are ready to give it our best shot and hopefully come away with the win tomorrow,” Charles said on Tuesday.
“It’s going to be great achievement for us if we can get to the Finals next month in Antigua.”
Two uncapped players in T&T squad for Caribbean Cup semi finals
National Senior team head coach Hutson Charles has included two uncapped home-based players in his final 20-man squad to contest the upcoming Caribbean Cup semi-final round which starts on Wednesday with T&T facing St Vincent/Grenadines from 8pm at the Dwight Yorke Stadium, Bacolet.
Charles has called up W Connection forward Hashim Arcia and Caledonia AIA midfielder Keyon Edwards. There are also recalls for W Connection defender Kern Cupid, Caledonia midfielder Ataullah Guerra while Caledonia defender Aubrey David, who was once in the Guyana national team has also earned a place in the T&T squad.
David has one cap for T&T in a friendly against Antigua/Barbuda earlier this year.
Also coming back into the T&T team is Thailand-based forward Kendall Jagdeosingh who is coming off a solid season for Chainat FC in the Thai Premier League.
Charles has to do without Ipswich Town captain Carlos Edwards as well as Turkish-based forward Darryl Roberts, Philiadelphia Union midfielder Keon Daniel and midfielder Kevin Molino who requested that he not be included as he is awaiting a visa before returning to Belgium to sign a new contract.
Kazakhstan-based defender Robert Primus, after arriving in T&T on the weekend, pulled out after complaining of discomfort in his knee. Added to that, Willis Plaza left on Monday to return to Vietnam while W Connection defender Daneil Cyrus is also off to Vietnam to pen a new contract.
While it appears to be a depleted T&T squad, Charles maintains that his squad has what it takes to pull off the required results to advance to the Caribbean Cup Finals in Antigua next month.
“It’s not ideal at the moment but this group of players are very hungry to achieve something,” Charles told TTFF Media on Monday prior to a training session at the Dwight Yorke Stadium training field. Charles’ squad is based at the Mt Irvine Bay Hotel.
“The situation hasn’t changed much since the previous round and I think the guys are aware of what is taking place and they know that winning results is possibly the only way out of some of the problems we are facing. We have some experienced players as well as some in form ones here with us and I believe once we execute our plan well on the day then we should be alright,” Charles added.
Looking at his opening opponents on Wednesday, Charles was already guarding against any form of complacency.
“We have seen that there is no way that we can take any of these teams for granted. St Vincent, Cuba and Suriname are all in this to try and achieve success. We have to go out there and show that we want it more than them,” said the former Defence Force player.
Jan Michael Williams is the team captain while Densill Theobald, Devorn Jorsling, Hughtun Hector, Clyde Leon and Vancouver Whitecaps defender Carlyle Mitchell are some of the faces Charles will be hoping can bring their A-game on matchday.
In Wednesday’s opening match Cuba takes on Suriname from 6pm .The top two teams will advance to next month’s finals. Tickets will be sold at the venue on matchday at $40 (covered) and $20 (uncovered).