2016 has been a very trying year for T&T senior team head coach Stephen Hart and his Soca Warriors team, but with little over two months left until 2017, T&T still has all to play for; including a place at the 2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup and a chance to kick-off their 2018 FIFA World Cup campaign with a bang.
The year started off rough for T&T who were inactive for about two months and were coming off their Christmas and New Year celebrations only to be shell-shocked by a better prepared Haitian unit. In January they were knocked out by their Northern neighbors for an historic place at the 2016 Copa América Centenario. The French-Creole speaking islanders got the better of them with a slim 1-0 victory.
Two months later a makeshift T&T side drew 2-2 with Grenada before entering its 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifying matches against so-called Caribbean minnows St Vincent & the Grenadines, walking away with 3-2 and 6-0 victories. Hart used the Grenada affair to search for hidden gems, however no players impressed and quickly made way for the regulars.
In May and early June, T&T had the pleasure of playing away to top quality opposition- Peru, Uruguay and China and lost all three battles (4-0, 3-1, 4-2). The results were expected as coach Hart left out many of his regulars and fielded a team made up of many locally based players with the exception of Radanfah Abu Bakr, Khaleem Hyland and Andre Boucaud.
T&T had a long break and were inactive for the entire months of July and August before regrouping to face Guatemala and USA in September. Despite the stopgap preparations they did enough to pull of a result against the Central Americans (2-2) in Port of Spain to see them through to the Hexagonal series, before falling heavily to the Americans (4-0) and claimed second place in Group C.
October was another interesting affair. As expected, T&T again blew past it's weaker opposition Dominican Republic (4-0) in its opening Caribbean Cup match at the Ato Boldon Stadium; but then surrendered to another French-speaking Caribbean island Martinique 2-0. The result was devastating as T&T blew its chance to compete for Caribbean supremacy and to make matters worse, they now have to take the long road to get to the 2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup.
T&T will enter a group playoff with the two other best second placed teams from the four Caribbean groups. The group winner will then face a playoff with the fifth placed team from Central America for the fifth Gold Cup spot. Those matches are carded for November, but the dates will be finalized and disclosed shortly with T&T already set to play Costa Rica at home on November 11th and Honduras, away on November 15th in important 2018 World Cup qualifying matches.
Things got more unwelcoming for Stephen Hart as he was forced to drop one of his star players, Kevin Molino for indiscipline problems. Molino, coming off a hat-trick against Dominican Republic decided (for the second time in a month) to break curfew the night before T&T faced Martinique. A month earlier Molino, Joevin Jones and Mekeil Williams, were reprimanded and fined by the T&T management before the September 2 World Cup qualifier at home to Guatemala, for breaking curfew to attend a boat ride on August 30.
There is also a question mark over Soca Warriors captain Kenwyne Jones’ availability for the November qualifiers, as the big striker limped off the field in crutches after just 15 minutes of play against Martinique. Jones suffered a lower right leg injury following a tackle from a Martinique player. It was reported that he will start training again soon ,but it is left to be seen if his fitness will be up to par.
Minus the regulars, it must be mentioned that Hart did have the luxury to see just over 20 new players for the year and will now have a fair idea who he thinks can make the grade going forward for the mouthwatering matches in November, and hopefully this time around it would be a November to remember.
No doubt a place at the 2018 FIFA World Cup would be priority and given the fact that the 2017 Gold Cup playoff matches are set for dates around the same time as T&T's World Cup qualifiers it would be interesting to see how Hart would swing this. The 20 plus players may come in very handy as we could very well see two teams representing T&T, unless the fixtures do not get in each others way.
Hart was quizzed by Soca Warriors Online (SWO) about the set of important matches in November and how he would plan for them, possibly forming A and B teams, the recent decline in the team/players, recruiting new players to beef up the squad and his team formation.
Hart replied: "My focus is the Hex, I have had no official word as to Gold Cup qualifiers (GCQ), once we receive that I will plan accordingly. My presumption is that it will not be on a FIFA date and I will have to have a different make up to the squad. For the Hex, win our home games, aim to at least draw the away ones. If I don't believe that, who will!!! We have beaten two of the teams in the Hex and tied arguably the best team twice, so the capability is possible."
"Obviously we will need games to prepare for the GCQ and I am sure we will get them."
"Drop in form is normal, what is not acceptable is a lack of effort. This is tournament qualification and you must sacrifice every fiber for success. You can only do that if you are at your best mentally and physically. I ask no more of my players. You need aggression in football, if you are pressing, challenging, beating your man, joining the attack, tracking back etc., everyone contributes in an aggressive manner. If that is absent, you are lacking a key component in the modern game."
"We have scored goals regularly and yes we have struggled to score goals at times. That is the nature of football! I have seen the best teams in the world, with the world’s best goal scorers at their disposal fail to score goals. These teams like Holland, Argentina and Brazil lose one key player and they struggle and look ordinary. We at times are missing two and three and people give the impression it should not make a difference. This is a National team you cannot go out and buy players, you make do with what you have, play to strengths and cover weaknesses."
"We are not a nation of millions of footballers, subtle changes may occur. The John Bostock saga is in FIFA hands and I really cannot answer, but I simply do not know what exactly is the keep back. I know TTFA has done everything asked of them by FIFA, ended Hart."
TTFA President David John-Williams also got in the mix, he told Soca Warriors Online (SWO) that: "Flex, qualifying for a World Cup will be every Association’s dream and as President of the TTFA it is very important to me.”
"I have had meetings with coach Hart and about what help he needs to get to Russia 2018. And that's the truth. The Association continues to do its part and we support the coach and his players."
"When last you have heard negative reports of last minute arrangement for the National Teams, no money to travel with no payments etc. You be the judge."
The most the Association could do in preparation for the upcoming games in November is a live-in-camp, a bit warlike than the stipulated 5 days before and that depends on the availability of the players from the various leagues."
"For now it only looks like some MLS players and some lower U.S. league players will be available early. Outside of that our hands are tied, ended Williams."
Players to watch.
Kenwyne's presence on the field is much needed, he draw defenders and as a result it leaves gaps in opposition defences for others to strive on. Players like Keron Cummings, Levi Garcia, Crodell Cato and Joevin Jones comes to mind.
Of-course there are many little diamond specs always waiting to be discovered and though experience senior players like Kevin Molino, Lester Peltier, Jomal Williams and Sean De Silva performs creditably well for their respected clubs, they have recently struggle to bring anything consistent to the T&T team or hold down a starting role.
SWO would like to mention that these 4-players (below) could be the keys to unlock any team's defences in CONCACAF and the reason T&T might have a high chance to get into Russia if Hart could find a way to bring back the magic we saw from them in 2015.
Starting with Mau Pau Stars midfield general Keron Cummings, if he could regain his wizardry we saw once, T&T could transform into a very lethal attacking team. Apart from his deadly left-foot, Cummings brings almost everything to the table, he's quick, capable of threading intelligent passes, he can shoot and he makes the players around him play better especially in the attacking third, he brings balance to T&T attack and can play the triangle effectively. His dead-ball plays are also welcoming and he gives coach Hart the option to attack down the center.
Still very green in his career, Levi "deadly-lefty" Garcia is growing at a rapid rate and could very well be one of T&T's next biggest stars after Dwight Yorke at the international stage. Though, he sometimes tries too hard and gets carried away with the ball at his feet. The deadly lefty is a sight to see, simply breathtaking to watch and I am sure he doesn't only gives me goosebumps, but almost everyone that sees him play. The flamboyant winger is super fast, he can dribble, he is full of confidence in his ability and most of all, he can score goals effortlessly.
Up next, we have Cordell Cato and when he's up for it you can bet your last dollar he is untameable. He constantly moves even without the ball making markers confused. The speedy midfielder can play almost any position and when he gets a chance to run free, he cannot be contained easily, his final decision-making still leave something to talk about, but other than that he is certainly a menace on his day.
And finally, I'll save the best for last, the man who has made leaps and bounds since moving to the MLS. He is no stranger to any T&T fans, but I'll still introduce him, please give the man a round of applause, here's Mr. Joevin Jones. He is a class act, he can dribble through 3 players with ease, capable of making darting runs out of defence and right into attack in a blink of an eye. He can pass long and short balls intelligently, cross and shoot with accuracy, he's also good with free-kicks and are versatile enough to play anywhere. He's like a Carlos Edwards reborn.
Notice from the four players mentioned above, 3 are natural left-footed players, something T&T has lacked a while now and as the rate grows, T&T is starting to see a brand that has been missing in the game. When you have 4 players that can score goals consistently from midfield and turn up defenders then something good is happening.
Coach Hart will surely have to pick his brain especially if John Bostock finally gets his clearance (due Monday) to join the ranks on how he'll decide to unleash his secret weapons on teams, these players could very well be the key components to T&T's 2018 FIFA World Cup campaign.
SWO and it's supporters would like to wish the T&T national senior men's team coaches and players all the best in it's endeavors to reach to Russia. You are not just our team; but our heroes. Make us proud.
T&T Squad for November qualifiers.
Jan-Michael Williams (Central FC), Marvin Phillip (Morvant Caledonia United), Adrian Foncette (Police FC).
Jelani Peters (W Connection), Aubrey David (FC Dallas), Daneil Cyrus (W Connection), Carlyle Mitchell (Seoul E-Land), Radanfah Abu Bakr (FK Kruoja Pakruojis), Sheldon Bateau (FC Krylia Sovetov Samara), Yohance Marshall (Murciélagos FC).
Khaleem Hyland (KVC Westerlo), Andre Boucaud (Dagenham & Redbridge), Kevan George (Jacksonville Armada), Neveal Hackshaw (Charleston Battery), Joevin Jones (Seattle Sounders), Cordell Cato (San Jose Earthquakes), Levi Garcia (AZ Alkmaar), Marcus Joseph (Central FC), Jomal Williams (Murciélagos FC), John Bostock (RC Lens).
Kenwyne Jones (Central FC), Trevin Caesar (Orange County Blues), Willis Plaza (San Juan Jabloteh).
Coach - Stephen Hart.
Upcoming WC Fixtures
Nov-11, T&T vs Costa Rica, Hasely Crawford Stadium, 7pm
Nov-15, Honduras vs T&T, Estadio Olímpico Metropolitano, 4:05pm
Video - T&T 23-man Squad Announcement - Press Conference with Stephen Hart
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