Trinidad and Tobago National Senior Team coach Stephen Hart confirmed today that three key Soca Warriors were fined for breaking team camp, just two days before their crucial Russia 2018 World Cup qualifier against Guatemala at the Hasely Crawford Stadium on 2 September.
The breach of discipline was made public, on Sunday 11 September, by I95.5fm radio show host Andre Baptiste, although the players were not named.
Hart also declined to name the misbehaving Warriors. However, Wired868 understands that the trio were United States-based professionals Kevin Molino, Joevin Jones and Mekeil Williams, who represent MLS clubs Orlando City, Seattle Sounders and Colorado Rapids respectively.
Contrary to the I95.5FM report, the three players were sanctioned for their behaviour in front of their teammates on 31 August. And the incident in question—the players snuck out to attend a boat party—actually happened three days before the Guatemala game and not 48 hours before.
Hart said he considered it to be an internal matter, which the technical staff dealt with immediately and firmly.
“Usually we deal with these sort of matters internally and we dealt with it as soon as we found out what happened,” Hart told Wired868, “and we dealt with it with a fairly hefty fine.”
The Warriors coach did not give the figure of the fine but it was substantial enough to have been in excess of the players’ bonus for advancing to the CONCACAF hex.
“In all honesty, we haven’t had to deal with a situation like this before,” said Hart. “We have had minor stuff with players breaking in-house rules. But not to the extent that they were out of the hotel.”
Hart pointed to Chile midfield star Arturo Vidal, who crashed his car while driving drunk just before the 2015 Copa America tournament. The Chilean FA allowed Vidal to remain with the team for the competition, which Chile won for the first time in their history.
“It is not something that is unique to Trinidad and Tobago,” said Hart. “Usually these things are dealt with in-house whenever possible.”
Ironically, Vidal was allegedly kicked out of the Chile squad on 5 September 2016, after he was again caught breaking camp.
Did Hart feel that the technical staff dealt with the infraction seriously enough? Did he consider more drastic action, just two days before a decisive World Cup qualifier?
The Warriors coach said his technical staff weighed up the nature of the incident, the fact that it was a first-time discrepancy and the possible effect of withdrawing the players’ services from the team, which may have put their teammates in a disadvantageous situation.
“It was a first time situation as far as I know,” said the Warriors coach, “and you have to ask yourself: Do you punish the whole team for a situation of three players?
“You are going into a crucial game and the players have broken team rules. We thought we dealt with it sufficiently in terms of it being a fine and [handling] it in-house.
“If this was habitual, they would probably have been sent home.”
Wired868 understands that Molino apologised to the coach personally for his behaviour. All three players started both games and Jones scored a double against Guatemala.
However, the Warriors were well below par in the two qualifiers. They played to a scrappy 2-2 draw with Guatemala on 2 September and then suffered a record defeat against the United States with a 4-0 loss in Jacksonville, Florida.
Did the breach of discipline—and possibly the technical staff’s response to it—affect team chemistry?
Hart claimed that, far from being divided or further demonstrating slipping standards, the squad pushed the three players incident and, at least off the field, have reiterated their commitment to qualifying for the Russia World Cup.
“I think the pressure placed on those three players by the rest of the squad, after it happened, sort of addressed the issue,” said Hart. “I don’t think it caused a division. The squad pulled up on them and put them under pressure and put things back to where it should be.
“I think that these young players have to understand it is about more than themselves. It is about their teammates, of course, but also about their country.”
Trinidad and Tobago’s next fixtures are in the Caribbean Cup, as they host the Dominican Republic on 5 October before travelling to face Martinique on 11 October.
They will then reconvene for CONCACAF qualifying action on 11 November when they tackle Costa Rica in Port of Spain for their first outing of the hex. The Warriors are the only Caribbean representatives left in the World Cup race.
Molino, Jones and Williams should be key members of Trinidad and Tobago’s upcoming fixtures. But Hart has warned that they face more drastic penalties if they violate team rules again.