The Trinidad and Tobago National Senior Team, according to head coach Stephen Hart, will be facing the best team in the confederation when the Soca Warriors open their CONCACAF Hexagonal campaign against Costa Rica on 11 November.
“Los Ticos” did not lose from open play at the Brazil 2014 World Cup—where they downed Uruguay and Italy before losing on penalties to the Netherlands in the quarterfinal. And they were one of just two unbeaten CONCACAF teams in the current World Cup qualifying campaign along with Mexico.
Hart offered high praise of the Warriors’ next opponent at today’s press conference in the Hasely Crawford Stadium, Port of Spain.
“I’ve watched that [Costa Rican] team play so many times. In my humble opinion, they are the best, most balanced team in the Hex. They have good firepower. They have five players who played this week in the Champions League.
“They look very organised and of course they have a top level goalkeeper [in Real Madrid’s Keylor Navas]. It’s a team you not only have to concentrate against for the entire game but your attitude and commitment must be one where you cannot be afraid to put your own game on top of them and see how they handle it. Because you’re at home.”
Trinidad and Tobago have never bettered Costa Rica in a senior World Cup qualifier and have just one WCQ win at any level, which came in 2013 when Shawn Cooper’s Under-17 team defeated the Central Americans 2-0.
As luck may have it, Dutch-based winger, Levi Garcia, was a member of that Under-17 outfit. And Garcia, who turns 19 on November 20, echoed his coach’s sentiments in a recent chat with the TTFA Media.
“I believe that this game is very important and it will take a big effort from every player from the entire squad,” said Garcia “Not just for this game but all of our matches in this round. I am confident that we can do it but we have to be smart and disciplined and of course ruthless when we are out there.
“Nothing must go past us easily and we have to make use of our chances on goal in the games.”
Hart, whose team travels to face Honduras four days after hosting Costa Rica, acknowledged that the Warriors have been making far too many mistakes of late.
“We must eliminate potential errors because if you look at the games we have lost as a team, there has not really been a game—except maybe the Argentina game—where the team completely picks us apart and scores.
“It always seems to be a lapse in concentration. So I think I calculated where over 60 or 70 percent of our goals have come from individual errors. So if we cut down on that, then we should be in good shape.”
Individual errors apart, history is also against Hart and his troops. The senior Warriors have only managed one point in their last four games against Costa Rica in the Hexagonal stage, which came in a goalless stalemate at home on 30 March 2005. Current team captain Kenwyne Jones was an unused substitute that day.
Hart will hope that his giant leader, who is on loan at two-time Pro League Champions Central FC, is ready for serious battle next Friday. Jones has not played a competitive fixture since he limped off the field in a Caribbean Cup defeat against Martinique on 11 October.
But Hart is optimistic that his ‘flipping’ striker will be ready to lead the line.
“Kenwyne should play tonight [in Pro League action],” said Hart. “I don’t know how long. He has been in full training and I have been in contact with the training staff [at Central FC], so I expect him to be okay to go for the [Costa Rica game].”
Hart conceded that he was taking a gamble on Jones’ condition.
“It’s always a chance when a player is coming back from injury but we still have another week to go,” said Hart, “and hopefully he can get in a good minutes or 60 minutes tonight. It would be helpful.”
He would be encouraged then that Jones got 37 minutes against Police FC and scored once, as Central overturned a one goal deficit to win 2-1.
Jones’ inclusion was not Hart’s only roll of the dice, as RC Lens midfielder John Bostock was also selected although, yet again, he remains ineligible to represent Trinidad and Tobago.
Bostock was named in Hart’s roster for World Cup qualifiers in March and September but was unable to feature due to delays in sorting out his switch of allegiance, which remains before FIFA.
“FIFA has met and they expect by Tuesday to get the official stamp, signed letter on John,” said Hart.
The Warriors’ training camp begins on Monday but, due to Lens’ Ligue 2 clash with AJ Ajaccio on the same day, the England-born Bostock will get to Trinidad a day late.
Bostock aside, the biggest revelation was the omission of star midfielder Kevin Molino, who netted a hat-trick in his last international appearance against the Dominican Republic in Caribbean Cup qualifying action last month. Molino was axed on the eve of the Warriors’ clash with Martinique for violating team rules to attend a party and Hart revealed that his stylish midfielder will face a further two-game ban.
The Orlando City player initially responded to the ban by threatening to take a year off from international football, although he subsequently apologised.
“Molino sent a letter to management [and] he apologised,” said Hart. “I spoke to him and I told him that he’s under suspension and that he is free to be called [up] after the two games.
“It will be up to him to decide whether he wants to come or not. I cannot answer questions for Molino.”
Hart had vowed to make changes following the 2-0 defeat to Martinique last month and he was true to his word with recalls for attacking duo of Willis Plaza and Marcus “Lobo” Joseph.
Both players were part of the Warriors’ tour to Peru, Uruguay and China earlier this year and have made promising starts to the 2016/17 Pro League season.
Hart expects Plaza to bring his passion and feisty nature to the squad while he is still hoping for Joseph to adapt to different roles.
“[Joseph has] looked good, he has looked sharp. I will keep [persisting] with Marcus. I have always sort of been pushing Marcus to go beyond his comfort zone because talent is not the problem.”
Meanwhile at the back, versatile Colorado Rapids defender Mekeil Williams gave way for another versatile defender, Jelani “Brain” Peters, who transferred from St Ann’s Rangers to DIRECTV W Connection in the Pro League’s offseason.
“I’ve actually been watching him for quite a while,” said Hart. “The last set of games which I watched he showed good composure and he’s [a] naturally left-footed, balanced player. So I thought it would be a good opportunity since [it gives us] some sort of variation on the left side of the field we can have some sort of variation.”
Peters only started playing the beautiful game at age 12. Ten years later, he is on the cusp of debuting for his national team in a World Cup qualifier.
(Trinidad and Tobago team)
Goalkeepers: Jan-Michael Williams (Central FC), Marvin Phillip (Morvant Caledonia United), Adrian Foncette (Police);
Defenders: Aubrey David (FC Dallas—US), Daneil Cyrus (W Connection), Radanfah Abu Bakr (JK Silame Kalev—Estonia), Sheldon Bateau (KC Krylia Sovetov—Russia), Yohance Marshall (Murcielagos FC—Mexico), Jelani Peters (W Connection), Carlyle Mitchell (Seoul E Land—Korea Republic);
Midfielders: Andre Boucaud (Dagenham & Redbridge—England), Khaleem Hyland (KV Westerlo—Belgium), Neveal Hackshaw (Charleston Battery—USA), Kevan George (Jackson Armada FC—US), John Bostock (RC Lens—France);
Attacking Midfielders: Levi Garcia (AZ Alkmaar—Netherlands), Jomal Williams (Murcielagos FC—Mexico), Cordell Cato (San Jose Earthquakes—US), Joevin Jones (Seattle Sounders—US), Marcus Joseph (Central FC);
Forwards: Kenwyne Jones (Central FC), Trevin Caesar (Orange County Blues—US), Willis Plaza (San Juan Jabloteh).