“We are playing at home and we are Trinidad and Tobago, considered one of the giants in the English-speaking Caribbean. We are going to try and get back to the football we know we can play here which is offensive football.”
Music to the ears of Trinbagonian football fans… Not so?
Those were the words of Russell “The Little Magician” Latapy as he prepares his Men’s National Under-17 football squad for the final leg of Caribbean Football Union (CFU) qualifiers next week.
The young Soca Warriors will begin their quest for a berth at the 2017 FIFA Under-17 World Cup in India when they square off against current CFU Under-17 holders, Haiti, at the Ato Boldon Stadium from 7:30pm on 16 September.
Trinidad and Tobago will then take on Bermuda two days later, before finishing their Group A schedule against 2014 runners-up Jamaica on 20 September. And despite being in a challenging group, Latapy is confident that his young charges will defend their territory.
“With all respect to other teams we are playing at home and we are going to go forward, try to win the game and entertain the fans and get the crowds back filling our stadiums,” Latapy told TTFA Media.
Trinidad and Tobago football fans don’t have to go down memory lane to recollect the last time a national team tried to play “open” football, as Stephen Hart’s Senior Men’s squad were humbled by a clinical Cristian Pulisic-inspired United States team in Jacksonville on Tuesday night.
The Warriors opted for a more attacking style in the virtual dead-rubber, and the end result was a constantly exposed backline and a 4-nil whooping.
Latapy is trying to work on those defensive frailties with his youngsters as well.
“There is a lot of work to do in terms of our organisational aspect of the game—set pieces for and against—our positional sense and game awareness… One of the other principle areas I have been working on is game awareness and where they play in relation to the ball…
“We have seven or eight that are mature beyond their age but then you have another twelve or thirteen players who are getting there slowly but surely but tend to chase the ball about a bit. [They tend to be] ball watching [or just] not seeing what is happening with the player they are marking in a defensive role and the ball.”
The Warriors will have to be on their Ps and Qs too, as Haiti and Jamaica racked up 33 goals between them in the preliminary phase. A keen eye may have to be kept on Haitian forward, Steve Selso Saint-Duc, who scored seven of his team’s goals in the first phase.
But this National Under-17 team should have grown accustomed to adversity by now, as they went just over a month without the services of a head coach, after the Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) parted ways with former coach Ken Elie over a contractual issue.
The latest of the Under-17s worries was the shifting of yesterday’s evening session from the Mannie Ramjohn Stadium in Marabella to the UWI Campus in St Augustine.
Unfortunately, Latapy’s team—like Stephen Hart’s National Senior Team squad, prior to their crucial 2 September World Cup qualifier against Guatemala—have also been denied exclusive access to the Hasely Crawford Stadium main field.
Team Manager Alexandrine Elliott-Procope told Wired868 the Mannie Ramjohn Stadium’s main field has become unavailable, while the training field was not in a suitable condition. Latapy was not too thrilled about the uncertainty regarding potential training venues.
“I’m happy with the way preparations have been going. But like every other coach I would say to you that I would like to have more time, you know, more preparation,” Latapy told Wired868. “We have our challenges here in local football. Tonight we are training here [at UWI’s Campus], tomorrow we aren’t sure where we are training yet and that sorta stuff.
“But I’m putting these challenges away.”
The Under-17s finished their session at UWI with some dead ball practice, and the outfield players buzzed around with confidence as they tried to find the ‘jep nest’. The presence of former Aston Villa and Manchester United striker, Dwight Yorke, at Monday’s session could not have hurt the team’s confidence either.
“[Yorke] emphasised on how hard they need to keep working, and hopefully him being in will give the whole team a lift and that was the whole idea behind it,” Latapy told TTFA Media. “He was still able to show them which runs to make and how to put the ball into the net.
“Dwight is a very positive influence on our football and a lot of young lives. Just having him in there […] gives them a lift before we go into this tournament and shows them what is possible for them to achieve with hard work.”
One of the glaring absentees from yesterday’s session was Shiva Boys Hindu College playmaker Judah Garcia, who is the younger brother of Central FC midfielder Nathaniel Garcia and AZ Alkmaar winger Levi Garcia. Latapy explained that Judah’s absence was due to a recent injury problem.
The diminutive Judah, said Latapy, may still have a big role to play in the Under-17 Team’s World Cup quest, once the team advances.
For now, Latapy is ready to guide skipper John-Paul Rochford and the National Under-17 team through the final CFU leg.
“I’m working with a group of players who are very dedicated and very talented and I enjoy working with them,” Latapy told Wired868. “Hopefully with hard work and a bit of luck they will make the country proud.”
Although qualification is the aim, Latapy vowed that his players will try to entertain as well.
“This is a qualification tournament so first and foremost we need to play football to win games,” said the Under-17 coach. “I have my ideas and my philosophies on how the game should be played and that is with the football on the foot. And that is how we are going try to and play.
“The squad is a talented one and a balanced one where we tried to select players in the different departments that we think can fulfil their roles and responsibilities.”
All Group A games will be played at the Ato Boldon Stadium, while Group B, which consists of Cuba, Suriname, Guadeloupe and Curacao will be contested at the Hasely Crawford Stadium.
Jamaica and Bermuda will get the ball rolling from 5pm at the Ato Boldon Stadium on 16 September while the hosts tackle Haiti in the subsequent fixture at 7:30pm.
Trinidad and Tobago National Under-17 Team
Goalkeepers: Emmanuel John (San Juan Jabloteh/Trinity East), Elijah Shade (San Juan Jabloteh/St Anthony’s);
Defenders: Jessie Williams (St Ann’s Rangers/East Mucurapo), Tyrique Andrews (W Connection/Naparima), Jerren Jackie (Point Fortin Civic/Presentation San F’do), Kerdell Sween, Brandon Semper (both San Juan Jabloteh/San Juan North);
Midfielders: John-Paul Rochford (FC Santa Rosa/QRC), Jodel Brown (San Juan Jabloteh/St Anthony’s College), Keon Boney (North East Stars/North Eastern), Luke Singh (Vaughn Azzuri—Canada/St Edmund Campion), Omar Da Naia (Vaughn Azzuri—Canada/Bill Brothers Secondary), Nickel Orr (San Juan Jabloteh/Trinity East), Che Benny (St Ann’s Rangers/St Anthony’s), Mark Ramdeen, Isaiah Hudson, Andre Raymond (W Connection/Naparima);
Forwards: Jaydon Prowell (Central FC/St Anthony’s), Nion Lammy (Point Fortin Civic/Presentation San F’do), Jonathan Godette (DC United—USA/Maryland), Kishon Hackshaw (North East Stars/Trinity East), Tyrese Bailey (San Juan Jabloteh/St Anthony’s).
CFU Under-17 Schedule
Group A [All matches at Ato Boldon Stadium in Couva]
Bermuda vs Jamaica, 5pm;
T&T vs Haiti, 7:30pm;
Jamaica vs Haiti, 4pm;
T&T vs Bermuda, 6:30pm;
Haiti vs Bermuda, 5pm;
T&T vs Jamaica, 7:30pm;
Group B [All matches at Hasely Crawford Stadium]
Suriname vs Guadeloupe, 4pm;
Cuba vs Curacao, 6:30pm;
Guadeloupe vs Cuba, 5pm;
Suriname vs Curacao, 7:30pm;
Curacao vs Guadeloupe, 5pm;
Cuba vs Suriname, 7:30pm.
Knock Out Round
Group A Winner vs Group B Runner Up, 5pm;
Group B Winner vs Group A Runner Up, 7:30pm;
Third place – Semi Finals losers, 4pm;
Final – Winners of Semi-Final matches, 6:30pm.