The Trinidad and Tobago senior national football team hopes to see tangible evidence of the nation it is representing tonight when the “Soca Warriors” tackle Peru from 8 pm in a friendly international at the Ato Boldon Stadium, Couva.
In July, Trinidad and Tobago will compete at the CONCACAF Gold Cup finals in the United States for the first time in six years. There will be probably be a reception in the Piarco Airport attended by hundreds of adoring supporters if the boys in “red, white and black” make a successful return from the Confederation’s showpiece competition.
But the Warriors are hoping for something different in this campaign. They would like to feel the public’s support during the building stages when it is most needed.
Tonight, against Peru, is as good a time as any to get started.
“We would love to see the fans become more passionate about the team,” joint head coach Jamaal Shabazz told Wired868. “They have got to see that their participation in the process should not just be when we are two or three points away from the World Cup. We want them with us along the way, experiencing the joy and the pain that we feel in representing them.”
Hutson Charles, the joint head coach and a former national stand-out with the “Strike Squad”, tried to explain the importance of a cheering crowd on the psyche of players.
“It makes our jobs easier when the players feel they have their country behind them,” said Charles. “It gives everyone a lift and it makes them dig deeper.”
Undoubtedly, the Warriors will need the help tomorrow.
Peru is ranked 43rd in the world by FIFA, which is 28 places higher than Trinidad and Tobago, and is in the middle of its 2014 World Cup campaign. The South American outfit travelled to Trinidad with a full strength team that includes veteran Bayern Munich striker Claudio Pizarro, Corinthians forward Paolo Guerrero and Schalke midfielder Jefferson Farfan.
In contrast, the Warriors will be making their first step towards constructing a team that is ready to compete in six months’ time. Seven members of the present 18-man squad have never played under this coaching staff before.
It would be unrealistic, Shabazz, Charles and assistant coach Derek King explained, for supporters to expect to see a well-oiled outfit. Instead, they should come out to witness the building process first-hand as Trinidad and Tobago’s top Europe-based players return to fight for a place in a squad that defied the odds last year.
“This game gives us an opportunity to get some questions answered in terms of what our European players, in particular, have to offer the team,” said Shabazz. “It will show us who we can work with going forward.”
The Warriors trained for roughly two hours yesterday at the match venue where the players did some possession exercises as well as defensive and offensive drills with tomorrow’s possible starting team.
Ipswich Town’s Carlos Edwards and KV Mechelen’s Sheldon Bateau were used at right and left back respectively while Racing Genk’s Khaleem Hyland anchored the midfield. Stoke City’s Kenwyne Jones played upfront and was closely supported by attack-minded Neal & Massy Caledonia AIA midfielder Ataullah Guerra while Defence Force’s Kevon Carter and Samsunspor’s Darryl Roberts played as inverted wingers.
Caledonia midfielder Densill Theobald captained the team while Vancouver Whitecaps’ Carlyle Mitchell and DIRECTV W Connection’s Daneil Cyrus formed a central defensive partnership.
Central FC’s Marvin Phillip and North East Stars’ Cleon John took turns between the goal posts.
The session was upbeat and competitive and players firmly but respectfully demanded better from each other when a pass went astray or cross was overhit.
“I can see a difference in the attitude of the players who had not been here since the (2014) World Cup qualifiers,” said King. “Some of these players have been criticised for not delivering for their country and you can see that they want to do better.”
The coaches were not spared from public criticism either despite overcoming serious financial shortcomings to finish second in the 2012 Caribbean Cup.
They conceded that the Warriors were forced to focus solely on results in Antigua. Now, they must experiment to find a strategy that best suits the varying styles of the players at their disposal.
“Coaches work with what they have,” said Charles. “We have to try to make the most out of what this bunch of players can do. And there are times that we will have to adjust depending on the opponent.”
Tonight, Shabazz expects that Peru will give the Warriors a tough time. He does not plan to counter with a high press but, instead, will ask his charges to respond with patience and tactical discipline and awareness. They hope to get the same from local fans.
“I want fans to be patient because we are trying to build a good product here,” said Charles. “Come the Gold Cup, we have to get it right.”
King suggested too that the squad should have earned some leeway from critics.
“Which national coach has gone through the difficulties we faced?” King asked, rhetorically.
As the Trinidad and Tobago headed for the team bus after yesterday’s session, the Peru players walked past them towards the field. About half a dozen Peruvian supporters went crazy in the covered stands with noise makers and whistles.
“You see what we’re talking about?” asked King. “Fans like that let the players know who they are representing and what their responsibilities are. That is what we need to give us a home advantage.”
From 8 pm tonight, the Trinidad and Tobago football team will attempt to start this calendar year in progressive fashion against a capable foe at Couva. The Warriors hope their positivity will be at least matched in the stands.
Trinidad and Tobago 18-man squad
Goalkeepers: Marvin Phillip (Central FC), Cleon John (North East Stars);
Defenders: Carlos Edwards (Ipswich Town—England), Sheldon Bateau (KV Mechelen—Belgium), Daneil Cyrus (DIRECTV W Connection), Carlyle Mitchell (Vancouver Whitecaps—Canada), Kareem Moses (North East Stars), Aubrey David (Neal & Massy Caledonia AIA);
Midfielders: Curtis Gonzales (Defence Force), Khaleem Hyland (Racing Genk—Belgium), Densill Theobald, Keyon Edwards, Ataullah Guerra (all Neal & Massy Caledonia AIA);
Wingers: Jemel Sebro (Defence Force), Darryl Roberts (Samsunspor—Turkey), Kevon Carter (Defence Force);
Forwards: Kenwyne Jones (Stoke City—England), Devorn Jorsling (Defence Force).