Trinidad and Tobago’s top football talent under the age of 23 were denied the chance to showcase their talents before United States Major League Soccer (MLS) scouts due to an administrative bungle by the Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA).
Twenty-four young men from 16 different Caribbean nations will meet in Antigua next year from January 2 to 4 where they will train in front of MLS officials in the inaugural Caribbean Combine. Players who catch the eye will then be invited to Fort Lauderdale, Florida to participate in the MLS Player Combine.
But there were no Trinidad and Tobago players on the shortlist and Caribbean Football Union (CFU) general secretary Damien Hughes said this was solely down to the failure of the TTFA to seize the opportunity on behalf of its young footballers.
“Nominations to the MLS were copied to the CFU,” Hughes told Wired868, “(and) as far as I am aware, the TTFA never made any submissions of players to the MLS for consideration.”
Hughes explained that the CFU merely facilitated the Caribbean Combine and had nothing to do with the selection of players.
The CFU informed its 31 member associations of the steps necessary to participate and more than half the nations responded appropriately.
“The process by which players were to be selected was outlined to Member Associations in a correspondence to them,” said Hughes, “where they were invited to submit names to (the) MLS along with player profiles.
“The correspondence clearly outlined that a panel absent of the CFU would be responsible for the selection of the players invited to the MLS Combine. The MLS Technical Staff was solely responsible for the selection of players invited to the MLS Combine.”
At present, “Soca Warriors” Carlyle Mitchell, Kevan George, Keon Daniel and Cordell Cato all ply their trade in the MLS; but they will not be joined by any compatriots courtesy of the 2014 Caribbean Combine.
TTFA general secretary Sheldon Phillips confirmed that he did receive the correspondence from the CFU, on behalf of the MLS, but said he passed the responsibility on to the local football clubs through their representative bodies.
“We knew about it when the original request for players came out,” Phillips told Wired868. “The notice was sent out to the Pro League and Super League. They were then given the option to submit players to participate in the event.
“It was up to the clubs to do that; all we did was facilitate the information.”
Phillips, who replaced Richard Groden as the frontman for the local football body in May, said the clubs were the ones to answer for the absence of Trinidad and Tobago players from the Combine.
“The (local) clubs probably have their reasons,” said Phillips. “The players play for the clubs; we can only urge that the clubs allow their players to participate.”
However, news that the MLS had sought information on Trinidad and Tobago’s top young talent stunned not only local clubs but also the Pro League and Super League administrative bodies.
Pro League CEO Dexter Skeene and executive secretary Julia Baptiste said they could not recall receiving any request for information for the Caribbean Combine by email or telephone.
“This is the first time I’m hearing about it,” said Baptiste. “I really don’t know anything about it. The last thing I got from the CFU was a timetable for the (Caribbean Club Championships).”
All Sport director Anthony Harford, whose company runs the Super League, was also surprised and echoed the Pro League’s sentiments.
“I have spoken with Richard Piper who manages the Super League desk and he received no invitation for clubs to submit names,” said Harford. “I have checked my files and saw no correspondence which came to me. They may have forgotten to send it to the Super League.”
Local football clubs contacted by Wired868 were even more dismayed.
DIRECTV W Connection owner David John Williams said he was confused when he received a request for Surinamese attacker Stefano Rijssel to participate in the Caribbean Combine but none for his top local talent like Neil Benjamin, Jomal Williams and Alvin Jones.
Unlike the TTFA, the Surinamese Football Association contacted Connection and asked that its star player be allowed to link up with the MLS scouts.
“I was a bit concerned when I saw Stefano (Rijssel) selected and people from other parts of the Caribbean but nobody from Trinidad,” said Williams. “I was surprised and disappointed by that. The Surinamese Football Association contacted me and I responded appropriately but I was never informed about anything else to do with the Combine.”
Central FC managing director Brent Sancho said he was stunned and disappointed to know that local clubs had missed an opportunity to showcase its players.
Sancho revealed that the respective Pro League representatives had discussed Trinidad and Tobago’s absence from the Caribbean Combine before a recent board meeting and could not understand what had happened.
“We were saying that maybe the MLS teams didn’t want to invite players from Trinidad and Tobago because they were afraid they would have to pay a transfer fee,” said Sancho. “I am very disappointed… We have a lot of talented young players we would have liked to give the opportunity to be seen in something like that.
“Or at least we would have liked the opportunity to think about it.”
Phillips retorted to the denials from the Pro League, Super League and W Connection with an email that purported to prove that he had reached out to all three parties.
In the correspondence, the TTFA general secretary forwarded Harford the CFU email that requested information on the country’s elite players. The email mentioned the Caribbean Combine but not the responsibilities of anyone football body apart from the TTFA. Phillips’ only instruction in the body of the message was “FYI.”
Harford denied that he received the email.
The general secretary also showed correspondence between the Surinamese Football Association and W Connection regarding Rijssel’s availability for the trial. There was no sign of Skeene’s email address, request for information on Trinidad and Tobago players or the hint of a follow-up by the TTFA to fulfill its own quota of players.
The original CFU correspondence suggested that each member association was asked to submit only two names for the entire country. As such, the remaining eight Pro League clubs might find it odd that Phillips only pointed to an email to one club, W Connection.
Here are some of Trinidad and Tobago’s top club and national youth players who are 22 years and younger but will not get the chance to show what they can do at the Caribbean Combine:
Goalkeeper: Kevin Dodds (San Juan Jabloteh);
Defenders: Alvin Jones (W Connection), Wesley John (Point Fortin Civic), Dwight Pope (Central FC);
Midfielders: Joevin Jones, Jomal Williams (both W Connection), Duane Muckette (FC Santa Rosa), Ryan Fredericks (Club Sando);
Attackers: Rundell Winchester, Dwight Quintero (both Central FC), Neil Benjamin (W Connection).
Other options include: Jerrel Britto, Jem Gordon (both W Connection), Kerron Bethelmy (Caledonia AIA), Kevon Goddard, Javon Sample (both Central FC), Marcus Gomez (North East Stars), Shackiel Henry (Presentation College, San Fernando), Marcus Joseph, Glen Sutton (both Point Fortin Civic), Keane McIvor (St Anthony’s College), Shaquille Bertrand (San Juan Jabloteh), Earlon Thomas (Guaya United).
Editor’s Note: Trinidad and Tobago has exported a stream of players to the MLS over the years including Stern John, Chris Birchall, Shaka Hislop, Ansil Elcock, Avery John, David Nakhid, Evans Wise, Scott Sealy, Cornell Glen, Darin Lewis, Brian Haynes, Travis Mulraine, Craig Demming, Leslie Fitzpatrick, Julius James, Collin Samuel, Keyeno Thomas, Osei Telesford and the late Mickey Trotman.
Birchall won the MLS Cup with LA Galaxy in 2011 while John held a MLS scoring record after tallying 26 goals in the 1998 season.