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Tue, Jun

‘Don’t treat us like a scrape-up side’; Joevin and Hyland discuss wish-list for W/Cup campaign, a tough 2020, and USA challenge.
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Trinidad and Tobago Men’s National Senior Team head coach Terry Fenwick is expected to name his squad tomorrow to face the United States in a friendly match on 31 January in Orlando.

Two names that are sure to be absent from his list are Fenwick’s most high-profiled players at present: the US Major League Soccer (MLS) duo of 30-year-old attacking midfielder Kevin Molino and 29-year-old winger Joevin Jones.

Jones, who finished the 2020 season as MLS Cup runner-up and Western Conference champion, said he and Molino were initially allowed a vacation by Fenwick, only to be belatedly invited to join the Soca Warriors training squad for the game.

The two players are well into their off-season and preparing to swap clubs. Jones said the timing did not feel right.

“Before we came home, Fenwick said he would give us some time to spend with our families,” Jones told Wired868. “He then asked us to join the team for the game; but right now I am waiting to hear where I may need to go [to sign my next professional contract].

“I told him I would sit out this one but I will be ready for the World Cup qualifiers.”

The upcoming friendly falls outside the Fifa international match window and, as such, clubs are not obligated to release players to be involved.

Molino recently agreed a move from Minnesota United to MLS Cup winners, Columbus Crew, while Jones’ future is also in flux, as he weighs up a new offer from Sounders and proposals from other teams.

Jones hinted that an intense outing against the United States offered more cons than pros. But he remains committed to the Warriors.

“My brother (Alvin Jones) says everything is running smooth in training and it’s going nice for now,” said Jones. “So after the trip, I will ask how things went.”

Jones admitted that he felt the Warriors’ choice of sparring partner is, to be diplomatic, a brave one. Although US coach Gregg Berhalter could not select his full squad, he still has a fully professional roster with experienced players like forward Jozy Altidore, winger Paul Arriola and defenders Aaron Long and Walker Zimmerman.

In contrast, at least half of Fenwick’s training team have little to no experience of top flight senior football—whether for club or country.

“My opinion is that it is a death trap,” said Jones. “We don’t have our full squad and America is in camp training with guys who are MLS players that play week in and week out. When last did some of our players have a good 90 minutes?

“Those practice matches [that the team played over the last two months] are not intense or physical or challenging. So they can’t prepare you for this. For me, I think that was a bad game to choose.

“[…] I know football is funny and you never, never know; because it is played on the day. But on paper, we are not ready for this game as yet.”

It is not a case of ‘us’ and ‘them’, though. Jones sees himself as an elder statesman of the national team now. He will be 30 on 3 August and gave the impression of a man who is considering his legacy.

For players within solid football programmes, the dream is about winning trophies and starring on the big stage. It says something that in Trinidad and Tobago—a country that played in one senior Fifa World Cup and five World Youth Cups (four boys and one girls competition)—the players aim significantly lower.

Jones, who made his first international outing in 2010, just wants to join a national team camp that looks and feels as though it is about serious business.

“We want better uniforms to train in, we want to feel like we are a part of a national team and not a ‘scrape-up side’ with players training in different pants and socks,” he said. “We want togetherness and a professional approach with things running smooth off and on the field, so we don’t have to worry about payments and stuff. We want to be able to go into games worry free.

“This [dream] isn’t for us—Kevin [Molino] and I maybe have three or four years left—but this is for the future. This is for the younger guys. We want them to feel that this is a national team and [it is something special]; and have that motivation to train harder to keep their spot.”

National players have often been provided with a single kit as hotel wear for team camps. It means that they were asked to wear the same jersey and pants at every meal and team meeting for four or five days straight.

It is unsanitary at best.

Jones also knows the benefit of efficient travel arrangements. In the MLS, teams often fly commercial over long distances and management does everything possible to lessen the ‘wear and tear’.

“Sometimes there are direct flights available and the TTFA will book a cheaper flight with two or three stops,” said Jones. “And even then, they wouldn’t do the little things that can make it more comfortable for you. Even if they can’t do first class, at least get you a window or aisle seat, or try for less time at the airport.

“Sometimes guys have to spend 13 or 14 hours at the airport and they don’t even give you money to spend the night in a hotel. We want our management to be more respectful to the players than that, and more professional.”

Team captain Khaleem Hyland, 31, agrees with Jones. At present, Hyland plays professionally in Saudi Arabia and it takes him at least 24 hours to get to Trinidad via London.

“The length of time you stay in the airport is very important when you are competing at international level,” said Hyland. “We are one of the few teams who still have these long [stop-overs] when travelling to games.”

Hyland also hopes for better team camps for the squad, as he noted the lack of amenities at the Home of Football in Couva.

“As a national team, we have a so-called Home of Football but no gym or gym instructor, and things like a hot tub and ice bath—which are very important for recovery and strength training,” said Hyland. “Things like a table tennis board and video games help in team bonding and give you something to do on camp and most teams outside know this.

“[…] Still, I am in contact with [normalisation committee chairman Robert] Hadad and he has the same ideas. I know we need to give him time. Rome cannot be built in one day, but I hope for the future generation all of these things are installed.”

Jones secured another Western Conference honour in 2020, as Sounders edged Molino’s employers in the conference final. But they were routed 3-0 in the MLS Cup final on 12 December. (Jones, Molino and Hyland grew up in Carenage and are all former Mucurapo Senior Comprehensives students.)

It means Jones, a gifted, versatile left footed player, has two MLS Cup titles and two runners-up medals to go with four Western Conference trophies.

He admits though that it was hardest season; and his worst. His daughter, Joneeka, was born on 7 July 2019; but she and his live-in girlfriend, Tamika, were denied a visa to join him in the United States.

The Covid-19 pandemic meant he was stuck at home in Seattle without his loved ones, who remained in Trinidad.

“The club’s Covid protocols were really serious, and we couldn’t even go to eating places—we were only allowed to go to the grocery,” said Jones. “Then we would be testing every other day and we were training without even knowing for sure when the league was going to restart.

“It was a challenging, roller-coaster year, especially in terms of my personal life. Most of the Trinidad and Tobago players don’t have their family with them and at times like that, with the Covid, you want your family nearby and they are far away. My daughter was a year and some months old and I couldn’t see her.”

Jones then had a ligament injury followed by an ankle injury, which robbed him of over two months of playing time in total. On his return to the first team, coach Brian Schmetzer assigned him to the right flank, as opposed to his usual spot on the left. The results were not spectacular.

“It is the poorest season I ever had in my career,” said Jones. “First, I was picking up injuries. Then when I was playing, I just wasn’t clicking and I wasn’t consistent.

“[…] The team was winning when I came back and I think the coach didn’t really want to change things, so he put me on the right and asked me to tuck in more and give them an extra man in the midfield.

“I tried to do it but I didn’t think it was playing to my strengths, which is running at people and bringing in crosses.”

Jones is weighing up his next professional move at present.

“You never know what the future holds but God is working,” he said. “For me, I am willing to go where ever I would be comfortable playing and where my family would be safe.

“I have now won two MLS Cup finals and lost two, and won four Western cups. There are guys playing their whole lives here who never won as much.

“I can look back and say I won titles in Finland [with HJK Helsinki], Trinidad and Tobago [with W Connection], and America. That is a plus for me.”

He wants to succeed in the red, black and white gear too. But he is just as anxious to make a difference by pushing for improvements for players.

Hyland feels the same way. He just signed a two-year deal in Saudi Arabia, where he has played professionally since 2017—after nine years in Belgium. But health concerns for his father-in-law separated him from his wife, Cherise Baird-Hyland, and daughter, Kaylee Grace Hyland, for much of 2020.

“My father-in-law had a stroke and my wife is the one who helps take care of him,” said Hyland. “So it would be difficult for her to stay here and do that because he needs assistance. My daughter also moved from school in Belgium to Trinidad, and we don’t want to keep moving her from school to school to follow me.

“I don’t have so many years left in my career, so hopefully I will reunite with them sooner rather than later.”

Hyland also had his injury problems last year. A scan after a knock in training with Al-Batin revealed that he had been playing with a broken bone in his right instep for years.

“Apparently it first happened while I was at [Belgian top flight club] Genk [between 2011 to 2015],” he said. “[…] The doctor said it should be one month before I restart training, but I was playing games again within three weeks. I don’t think it was a risk.

“The doctor said I would get slight discomfort for months but it is not enough of a problem for me to stop. The problem is already removed.”

Discomfort and arduous flight notwithstanding, Hyland looks forward to rejoining the Warriors for the Qatar campaign. He is one of several players in the current national pool who represented Trinidad and Tobago at the Egypt 2009 Under-20 World Cup, along with: Sheldon Bateau, Daneil Cyrus, Curtis Gonzales, Leston Paul, Mekeil Williams, Aubrey David, Marcus Joseph, Sean De Silva, Glenroy Samuel, Robert Primus, Jean-Luc Rochford, and Molino.

It remains uncertain how many of them will get a chance under Fenwick.

“My goal is to help as much as I can, give back to the national team with my experience and also lead from in front,” said Hyland. “I think we have a good group of players, who know and love and respect each other. And hopefully that can take us to where we want to be.”

Hyland is involved in negotiations with the normalisation committee, on behalf of the current players, for match fees and per diem for their trip to Orlando. They hope to reach an understanding before the boys step on to the plane.

Again, he complimented Hadad and the normalisation committee for their approach to talks so far.

“I wish the team best of luck against the USA,” said Hyland. “It will not be an easy game, [as] the team is now forming and it is Terry’s first game. They just have to work hard, give their best and enjoy it. At the end of the day, everything is in God’s hands.”

(Career by numbers)

Khaleem Hyland

Caps: 78 starts, 9 substitute appearances, 4 goals. (Ejected once as substitute against Cuba, so not given a cap.)

Last goal: Scored with a shot from outside the box in a 2-1 World Cup qualifying win away to Guatemala on 13 November 2015.

Highlights: Helped Trinidad and Tobago to the Concacaf Gold Cup quarterfinal round in 2013 and 2015, and played in the Egypt 2009 Under-20 World Cup. His two World Cup qualifying goals puts him level with Andy Aleong, Leo ‘Twinkle Toes’ Brewster, Philbert Jones and ‘Marvellous’ Marvin Faustin.

Joevin Jones

Caps: 67 starts, 10 substitute appearances, 8 goals.

Last goal: Scored from the penalty spot away to Martinique, as T&T fought back to pull off a 1-1 tie on 6 September 2019.

Highlights: Helped Trinidad and Tobago to the Concacaf Gold Cup quarterfinal round in 2013 and 2015. Has three World Cup qualifying goals, which is as many as Everald ‘Gally’ Cummings, Cornell Glen, Leonson Lewis, and Kerry Jamerson.

Kevin Molino

Caps: 41 starts, 9 substitute appearances, 21 goals.

Last goal: Scored the opener in 2-2 Concacaf Nations League draw with Martinique at the Hasely Crawford Stadium on 10 September 2019.

Highlights: Helped Trinidad and Tobago to the Concacaf Gold Cup quarterfinal round in 2013 and played in the Korea Republic 2007 Under-17 World Cup and Egypt 2009 Under-20 World Cup tournaments. His four World Cup qualifying goals put him level with Hutson ‘Barber’ Charles and Lester Peltier.

Editor’s Note: Trinidad and Tobago’s record scorer in World Cup qualifying competitions is Stern John with 20 goals.