Recent Trinidad and Tobago National Senior Team call-ups Shannon Gomez, Neveal Hackshaw, Jomal Williams and Akeem Garcia were all included in a 39-player shortlist for the National Olympic team, which began training yesterday morning at the Hasely Crawford Stadium, Port of Spain.
The team will be coached by Yugoslavia-born Zoran Vranes, who recently led Central FC’s Pro League squad and helped Trinidad and Tobago to its last FIFA appearance at the Egypt 2009 Under-20 World Cup.
Trinidad and Tobago starts its Olympic campaign against Suriname on June 24 and there is a possibility that the young “Soca Warriors” could face a squad packed with Netherlands-based professionals. The Suriname Football Association is attempting to get its Parliament to allow dual citizenship for its Dutch expats in time for the senior Russia 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign.
Puerto Rico will not be an easy opponent either on its own turf. And only one team will advance from the group.
Vranes told Wired868, on Tuesday, that he was misinformed about the Olympic team’s fixtures and might have declined the offer to coach if he was properly advised. However, he is optimistic about the challenge ahead.
“It’s not going to be an easy ride at all,” Vranes told the TTFA Media. “Only one team will come out of our group and we are playing away from home. Okay, we know all of these teams from the past but football is always played on the day.
“Our players have the experience and the capability to beat these teams. They will have to focus from the start and take that through to the entire campaign.
“Qualifying for the Olympic Games is a great achievement and every country wants to be there. This is like a World Cup because the football tournament at the Olympics has a lot of significance as well.”
Shiva Boys Hindu College winger Levi Garcia, who is due to sign for Netherlands top flight club AZ in November, is also on the Olympic shortlist, which is comprised mostly of Pro League talent and also features six overseas-based players.
Apart from Garcia—who is attached to Central FC but has opted to train alone until he heads for Europe—St Anthony’s College playmaker Matthew Woo Ling and former Club Sando winger Keeshun Seecharan are the only local-based recruits who do not currently play in the Pro League.
Ten of the selected Under-23 players are attached to defending champions DIRECTV W Connection including speedy winged attacker Neil Benjamin Jr, utility player Alvin Jones and the Naparima College duo of Martieon Watson and Jabari Mitchell.
Four notable omissions were Club Sando midfielder Akeem Humphrey, Dallas FC youth goalkeeper Johan Welch, Defence Force winger Akeem Roach, St Ann’s Rangers forward Nicholas Dillon and United States-based midfielder Andre Fortune Jr. However, there is believed to be some flexibility towards squad additions in the next few weeks.
Welch was the undisputed first choice custodian for the Trinidad and Tobago National Under-20 and Under-17 Teams although his performances were far from spotless. Dillon and Fortune both played at the Caribbean stage of the Under-20s ultimately unsuccessful World Cup campaign while Roach is considered one of the Pro League’s more promising young players.
Humphrey, whose rugged, athletic performances were key assets for the last National Under-20 Team, is either a baffling omission or an oversight.
The Olympic squad trialists are as follows:
Goalkeepers: Greg Ranjitsingh (Mercer University—US), Montell Joseph (Unattached—England), Javon Sample (Central FC), Christopher Biggette (St Ann’s Rangers), Aaron Enill (San Juan Jabloteh);
Defenders: Dario Holmes, Josiah Trimmingham, Caleb Sturge (all San Juan Jabloteh), Alvin Jones, Shannon Gomez, Maurice Ford, Martieon Watson, Triston Hodge (all W Connection), Leland Archer (University of Charleston—US), Jesus Perez (North East Stars), Glen Sutton (Point Fortin Civic), Jelani Peters (St Ann’s Rangers);
Midfielders: Brendon Creed (Temple University—US), Kion Joseph, Neveal Hackshaw (both North East Stars), Kevon Goddard (St Ann’s Rangers), Keane McIvor (Robert Morris University—US), Akeem Redhead (Point Fortin Civic);
Attacking midfielders: Jabari Mitchell, Jomal Williams, Akeem Garcia, Aikim Andrews (all W Connection), Levi Garcia (Shiva Boys HC), Kishun Seecharan (Unattached), Jelani Felix (Defence Force), Duane Muckette (North East Stars), Matthew Woo Ling (St Anthony’s College), Nathaniel Garcia (Central FC);
Forwards: Ricardo John (Virginia Tech—US), Brent Sam (San Juan Jabloteh), Kadeem Corbin (St Ann’s Rangers), Neil Benjamin Jr (W Connection), Shackiel Henry (Point Fortin Civic), Dwight Quintero (Central FC).
2016 Olympic Games preliminary qualifying group
Trinidad and Tobago v Suriname in Puerto Rico;
Puerto Rico v Dominica/St Vincent and the Grenadines in Puerto Rico;
Trinidad and Tobago v Dominica/St Vincent and the Grenadines in Puerto Rico;
Puerto Rico v Suriname in Puerto Rico;
Suriname v Dominica/St Vincent and the Grenadines in Puerto Rico;
Puerto Rico v Trinidad and Tobago in Puerto Rico.