The Trinidad and Tobago National Senior Team will go into crucial 2018 World Cup qualifying away fixtures against the United States and Costa Rica with just two recognised wingers, after coach Dennis Lawrence axed San Jose Earthquakes flanker Cordell Cato for indiscipline and released Levi Garcia, Jomal Williams and Akeem Roach due to injury.
India-based forward Willis Plaza also left the team camp in Colorado due to an injury, which left the Soca Warriors with a 24-man squad of nine defenders, five holding midfielders and three forwards but just four attacking midfielders.
Lawrence, like his predecessor Stephen Hart, has generally favoured a 4-2-3-1 formation with three attacking midfielders behind a lone striker.
On this occasion, he has only Seattle Sounders’ Joevin Jones and San Juan Jabloteh’s Nathan Lewis as specialist wingers while Minnesota United’s Kevin Molino should start in the ‘number 10’ role with Defence Force’s Hashim Arcia as back-up.
W Connection’s 32-year-old deep-lying playmaker Hughtun Hector and 38-year-old Central FC full back Carlos Edwards both played as wingers earlier in their careers and might be asked to deputise if necessary.
While the absence of Garcia, Williams and Roach were unavoidable, Lawrence might feel especially let down by Cato who was released shortly after showing up for camp.
Wired868 understands that Cato allegedly showed up at the team’s residential camp with his wife Jonelle Warrick and child, despite being advised against it. The speedy winger then asked for them to spend the night with him and, failing that, for him to be allowed to spend the night at a hotel with the pair and report for training in the morning.
Lawrence dropped him instead.
Neither player nor coach have spoken about the incident on the record as yet and the TTFA said only that Cato “was released due to disciplinary reasons.”
It is worth noting that the entire squad is not yet in camp as Kevin Molino only joined the team today while Kenwyne Jones and Kevan George are expected later today and Joevin Jones reports for duty tomorrow, as he represents Seattle Sounders tonight in MLS action.
As such, Cato felt he deserved some flexibility. Lawrence clearly disagreed.
The head scratching confrontation follows on a tetchy exchange between the David John-Williams-led Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) and the United States Soccer Federation (USSF) president Sunil Gulati and Major League Soccer League (MLS) commissioner Dan Garber.
The TTFA wrote to Gulati and Garber, on 27 May, to point out that the MLS clubs released their players early to the United States national team but not to the Soca Warriors. The TTFA president asked Gulati and Garber for reciprocity.
In response, according to John-Williams, the United States football officials claimed that “the MLS and USSF entered into an agreement before the beginning of the MLS season in January 2017 to release their players early for the June qualifiers.”
This pact between the MLS and the USSF had not previously been made public.
There was no legal grounds under which the TTFA could take action against the MLS in any case. FIFA rules state that clubs are not obliged to release players earlier than three days before match day for games on the same continent and four days for games on separate continents. Otherwise, the respective clubs can use their own prerogative in deciding when to release their employees.
Indeed, John-Williams himself—along with Pro League CEO Dexter Skeene and chairman Larry Romany—could not compel Central FC to release players for international duty outside the FIFA guidelines when ex-Warriors coach Tom Saintfiet demanded them for a Nicaragua tour last December.
United States drew 1-1 with Venezuela in a friendly international encounter last night in Utah, after a second half equaliser by teenaged midfield star Christian Pulisic. In contrast, the Warriors’ only outing in Colorado thus far was a 1-0 win over a FC Boulder team which competes in the largely amateur Premier Development League (PDL).
However, Lawrence said their camp has served its objective of allowing the players to acclimatise to the high altitude. Assistant coach Sol Campbell also joined the squad in Colorado last week.
“We were able to get in some proper training which allowed me and the coaching staff to get a good impression of how the players would react under the conditions here,” said Lawrence. “The players have responded positively with a good attitude and the spirit in the camp has been good with everyone having a proper understanding as to why we are here.
“Now we are under a week away from the match and we should have the full squad together from later this evening and tomorrow we will begin the final leg of preparations. We are heading into it in a positive frame of mind and ready to focus all our energies into ensuring we prepare as best as possible for what is ahead of us.”
Trinidad and Tobago have never won away to the United States while their only point there in World Cup qualifying action came almost 30 years ago—on 13 May 1989—when Strike Squad midfielder Hutson “Barber” Charles tucked away a last gasp equaliser in a 1-1 result.
Lawrence will try to emulate then coach Everald “Gally” Cummings, despite the absences of Cato, Garcia and Plaza, who all featured under the current boss in World Cup qualifying action.
Trinidad and Tobago have one defeat in four matches under Lawrence so far with wins over Panama and Barbados, a draw with Grenada and a loss to Mexico. USA are unbeaten after five games under coach Bruce Arena with wins over Jamaica and Honduras and draws against Serbia, Panama and Venezuela.
(Trinidad and Tobago team)
Goalkeepers: Jan Michael Williams, Marvin Phillip, Adrian Foncette;
Defenders: Radanfah Abu Bakr, Sheldon Bateau, Curtis Gonzales, Daneil Cyrus, Mekeil Williams, Triston Hodge, Alvin Jones, Carlos Edwards, Aubrey David;
Midfielders: Andre Boucaud, Kevan George, Khaleem Hyland, Leston Paul, Hughtun Hector;
Attacking midfielders: Joevin Jones, Kevin Molino, Hashim Arcia, Nathan Lewis,
Forwards: Shahdon Winchester, Jamille Boatswain, Kenwyne Jones.