Wed, Jul


PuzzleLike chess, football is a game of strategy. Get the right pieces in the right places and you have the makings of a good team.

Going into the 2010 Digicel Caribbean Cup qualifying series from November 2-6 in Trinidad and Tobago, national coach Russell Latapy has gotten mediocre results, which have seen the Soca Warriors lose 3-1 and 3-0 to Jamaica and Panama, respectively, and more recently beaten Antigua & Barbuda 1-0 and drew 1-1 with Guyana.

These are hardly performances of a country looking to qualify for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

Great teams, though, are built in steps. However, while Latapy has put faith in locally-based players as he struggles to build a squad capable of regaining the Caribbean Cup, he has consistently left out 26-year-old Chris Birchall (LA Galaxy), 27-year-old Darryl Roberts (Denzilpour), 26-year-old Osei Telesford (Puerto Rico Islanders) and 29-year-old San Jose Earthquakes striker Scott Sealy--all players with Caribbean Cup and World Cup qualifying experience.

And, more importantly, available to play in the Caribbean Cup finals to be contested in Martinique from November 26-December 6.

Who knows, even 21-year-old Khaleem Hyland, who plays his football in Belgium, might be available if called up.

Looking at another national team, there have also been many rumours about why T&T women's coach Jamaal Shabazz goes into war in the upcoming CONCACAF final round of Women's World Cup qualifying in Mexico without Ahkeela "Darcel" Mollon, his most penetrative player.

Mollon, 25, is Trinidad and Tobago's only professional woman footballer and the first to play with a team in Europe after signing for Sweden's Kvarnsvedens two years ago. She now plays for Djurgården, where she started for 53 minutes last month (September 26) in a 2-1 loss to Sunnanå.

Mollon has been on the national team since a teenager and was a member of the team who finished second to Venezuela at the CAC Games in July.

A University of South Carolina graduate, Mollon excelled in the Caribbean leg of the CONCACAF qualifiers in Trinidad earlier this year when Trinidad and Tobago topped their group, beating a North-American-based Guyana team into second.

What Mollon has most of all is speed, a quality that kills many North American teams. Strange that she is now not being considered.

In the case of the senior men's team, one wonders whether it's a case of Latapy not appreciating the contribution of a player like Birchall, who may not have the silky touches, but has his own gifts.

Great players sometimes fail to appreciate the contribution of lesser lights than themselves. Headlines are seldon written about the player who consistently and quietly wins the ball back, or the defender who stops the goal, but they are no less important.

One thing that Dutchman Leo Beenhakker preached when coaching T&T to the 2006 World Cup is that good teams need players who can put the ball in the net, and those who can win back the ball.

Birchall is all heart. He runs all day, tackles all day, and also has a wicked shot which led to the equaliser in the home leg of the 2006 World Cup playoff with Bahrain.

Birchall is young, has played in England and at the World Cup, and is currently playing regularly for the best team in Major League Soccer (MLS) in the USA, the LA Galaxy, where he plays alongside stars such as David Bechkam (when fit) and Landon Donovan.

What makes players in our mediocre Pro League any better than this guy?

And Darryl Roberts has played at the top level in Holland, scoring great goals against PSV Eindhoven and Ajax, and also in Turkey.

Roberts emerged at the 2007 Caribbean Cup and the 2008 CONCACAF Gold Cup under then-T&T coach Wim Rijsbergen, who, despite the Trinidad and Tobago Football Federation's (TTFF) foolhardiness in firing the Dutchman, was a very good coach.

Remember, it was the likes of the hard-working Roberts and Petrotrin player Jerrol Forbes who turned around the 2010 World Cup campaign with a victory in Bermuda, when the European-based pros Stern John and Jason Scotland lost the opening match at home to the same opposition.

Like Roberts, Osei Telesford came to prominence under Rijsbergen at the '07 Caribbean Cup and the Gold Cup the following year. A player who has played in both defence and midfield for Trinidad and Tobago, Telesford has appeared regularly for the Puerto Rico Islanders, including when keeping Donovan quiet when the Islanders upset the Galaxy 4-1 in a CONCACAF Champions League match last July.

Sealy has played in the USA and Israel and was a fringe player in Beenhakker's squad for much of the 2006 World Cup qualifying campaign.

Compared to the national players struggling to make an impact against Guyana, Sealy and company are far more experienced.

The question remains–have coaches Latapy and Shabazz gotten all their pieces right?

It could be that none of the above-mentioned players are good enough, or maybe they don't even fit in the coaches plans, but, in a fair world, should they not at least be given a chance to either succeed or fail?

One thing much-maligned former T&T coach, Colombian Francisco Maturana, did was look at players.

Unlike the current national men's coach, both Rijsbergen and Maturana and his staff were ever-present at Pro League games, where they would have seen emerging talent, or big names who were fading and no longer deserved a pick.

Maturana, especially, got a lot of licks–from people who don't go to local matches–for selecting players who were looking good in local football.

And despite failing to inspire the best out of Trinidad and Tobago, Maturana at least made a habit of getting the better of Caribbean teams, including Guyana, who they beat at least four times in 2008.

Latapy has only been able to get a 1-1 draw with the Guyanese.

"Latas" was a great player and everyone in Trinidad and Tobago hopes he turns out to be a genius coach as well. But, if things don't turn around soon, signals coming from the TTFF's advisers, and even Sports Minister Anil Roberts, indicate that Latapy may not be in charge after the Caribbean Cup finals in December.

Let's hope that he does not make the same mistakes of past coaches, who did not immediately see the worth of a David Nakhid. Let's hope he put all the pieces together correctly.