Seventeen-year-old Trinidad and Tobago defender Maurice Ford hopes to see his Nelson Street friends at the Hasely Crawford Stadium on Friday evening when the national under-20 team kicks off its Caribbean Under-20 Championship campaign against Curacao from 7.15 pm.
The CFU competition is the first step on the road to the New Zealand 2015 Under-20 World Cup and national under-20 head coach Derek King and senior team boss and technical advisor Stephen Hart think this group of teenagers has the potential to do the entire nation proud.
But for Ford, a former St Augustine Secondary student, there is extra motivation in proving his worth to his fellow residents in the oft-maligned east Port of Spain “hotspot.”
“It’s a big honour for me to be playing for the national team,” Ford told the TTFA Media. “From growing up, football was my passion and it was the easiest way to go forward and come out of Nelson Street and do something that is positive.
“I am proud of where I come from and I want to go onto do bigger things.”
Ford was one of a core group of players who advanced to the under-20 team after taking the national under-17 outfit to the quarterfinal round of the 2013 CONCACAF Under-17 Championship. He hopes to go a step further this time.
“Playing football and helping the team do well is my biggest goal right now,” said Ford. “Our goal is to go on to qualify for the Youth World Cup next year.”
A well-timed injection of television rights revenue from FIFA allowed the cash-strapped Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) to put the under-20 team into a live-in camp from today.
King has already hammered home the responsibility that his teenagers have for the beleaguered sport.
“There is a good mixture of players who are eager and the vibes in the camp is nice,” said King. “We are stressing on them that this is the future of Trinidad football. They have to perform and qualify for us to help get sponsors on board for not just the under-20s but also the seniors.
“Personally, I feel it is a good bunch. There are some mature players for their age and they are picking up quickly and are willing to work.”
Ford, who performed competently on Saturday as a youthful Trinidad and Tobago XI held Guadeloupe 1-1 in Tobago, fits the bill. And former Germany 2006 World Cup player Densill Theobald said he will be rooting for him.
While Ford, who just signed a professional contract with DIRECTV W Connection, is seeking to kickstart his career; Theobald, who played professionally in Canada, Scotland, Hungary and India, is nearing the end of his own time as a player.
Both are Nelson Street products though and Theobald is well aware of the obstacles from that environment.
“These youth need all the support they can get right now,” said Theobald. “I came from Nelson Street; so I know how easy it is to get dragged into something that will bring problems. But fortunately I made the right choice and I stuck with football and I’ve been able to make a decent living.”
Theobald pointed to local football icons and his 2006 World Cup teammates Russell Latapy and Dennis Lawrence who grew up in Laventille and Morvant respectively. Latapy, one of Trinidad and Tobago’s greatest ever players, is now a coach at Scotland Premier League team Inverness while Lawrence is assistant coach at England Premier League outfit, Everton.
Ford, according to Theobald, does not need to curb his ambition because of his residence. He just needs guidance.
“Players like Maurice need support and proper guidance,” said Theobald, “because he could follow persons like myself, Dennis and Russell who are like game changers in the community.
“Maurice is part of the new generation and his future is the future of Trinidad and Tobago.”
The future of Trinidad and Tobago’s football will be show over the next week and a half as the young “Soca Warriors” face Curacao on Friday and then Suriname from 6.15 pm on Sunday and Cuba from 7.15 pm on Tuesday. All games are at the Hasely Crawford Stadium and will be the closing fixture of double headers.
Admission is $40 while children under-12 are free.
The top four Caribbean teams advance to next January’s CONCACAF Finals in Montego Bay, Jamaica where they will compete against the United States, Mexico, Costa Rica and others for four 2015 Under-20 World Cup places.
Ford and his teenaged colleagues can start earning their trip there against Curacao this Friday.