Unattached maverick playmaker Keon Daniel, FC Santa Rosa forward Keron Clarke and teenaged W Connection attacker Isaiah Hudson were three surprise call-ups today as Trinidad and Tobago National Senior Team head coach Dennis Lawrence selected a 26-man provisional squad to play Ecuador in Guayaquil on 26 July.
The friendly international is likely to be the first of three warm-up matches before the Soca Warriors tackle Honduras on 1 September and Panama on September 5 in two decisive World Cup qualifying contests.
In his short stint as head coach so far, Lawrence has already shown that he is unafraid of making bold decisions and his latest squad certainly fits the bill.
The 30-year-old Daniel, who is a free agent, has not represented Trinidad and Tobago since 15 July 2013 when he played the full 90 minutes in a 1-0 Gold Cup quarterfinal loss to Mexico. By then, he was already a controversial selection by then newly appointed coach Stephen Hart.
In November 2012, Warriors head coach and former Strike Squad stand-out Hutson “Barber” Charles tried to have Daniel join his team for the Caribbean Cup qualifying round; he subsequently admitted to the media that the Tobagonian was not taking his calls—although he had played for Charles in an earlier round.
Ataullah Guerra took over the play-making mantle in Daniel’s absence and helped Trinidad and Tobago qualify for the Caribbean Cup where they booked their first Gold Cup berth in seven years.
By then, Jamaal Shabazz had been added to the Warriors’ technical staff and, as co-head coach, he talked Daniel into rejoining the team for a two-game exhibition tour to Belize and Peru in March 2013.
Daniel played against Belize and even wore the captain’s armband for part of the second half. But he surprised the staff by insisting that he be released for personal reasons before they headed to Peru—the TTFA initially claimed he had to renew his visa in Trinidad but subsequently confessed that was untrue.
As a result of Daniel’s about-turn, Trinidad and Tobago did not have a full complement of substitutes in Lima where they lost 3-0 to the hosts.
Hart gave Daniel another chance at the July 2013 Gold Cup and the player was one of the country’s best performers in the group stage. But Daniel, who was then attached to MLS team Philadelphia Union, asked to be excused from Hart’s first post-Gold Cup squad that September.
Hart responded by leaving Daniel out of his next squad before, in November 2013, he again extended an olive branch to the left-footed play-maker. Daniel agreed to play and the Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) sent him a plane ticket to join the squad but the player simply never showed up.
Hart never selected Daniel again and it was the last time the player was in the international frame. Until now.
Clarke, who is the Trinidad and Tobago Super League’s (TTSL) joint leading scorer with seven goals from four matches, is a surprise selection for an altogether different reason. It is the first time in four years that a lower league player has been called up to the National Senior Team.
Attacker Marcus Joseph was the last player to have that honour as he was representing Point Fortin Civic in the Southern Football Association (SFA) in 2013 when he earned two caps under Shabazz and Charles.
Joseph was 22 years old at the time with two World Youth Cup appearances in the Korean Republic and Egypt under his belt. In contrast, Clarke is aiming to make his international debut at 31—after a journeyman lower league career that included stops at Maloney FC and WASA FC. This is his second season at Santa Rosa.
Santa Rosa coach Keith Look Loy, a former TTFA technical director and national youth team coach, commended Lawrence for his brave decision and suggested that Clarke still has plenty to offer.
“He is the Trini [James] Vardy,” Look Loy told Wired868, as he referenced the Leicester City and England striker. “[He is ageing like] fine wine. I will get another four good years from him [and] they will be his best!”
A strong forward with a clean right-foot shot, Clarke scored a brilliant scissors-kick goal against Club Sando Moruga—it marked his hattrick in a 7-0 rout—which has been the best moment of the fledgling TTSL career so far and an online hit. (Click HERE and check 0.48 seconds in).
Look Loy said ability and not age should be the most important factor in national selection so long as the Warriors still have a mathematical shot at the Russia 2018 World Cup.
“We need goals now,” said Look Loy, who noted that Portugal and Real Madrid star Cristiano Ronaldo is enjoying a tremendous scoring run for club and country at 33. “To flip the old adage: if you’re good enough, you’re young enough.”
Lawrence did offer a chance to young talent too as there were three teenagers in his squad: Taryk Sampson (Central FC), Shane Sandy (MIC IT St Ann’s Rangers) and W Connection’s Hudson).
It is Hudson’s first involvement with a national team since his father, Brent Hudson, surprised National Under-20 coach Brian Williams by demanding his son be released in the middle of the Caribbean Cup tournament last October.
Hudson said his son was injured but Williams disagreed and the player was dropped for the January CONCACAF Under-20 Championship.
Strangely, Hudson’s call-up also ignores the fact that he does not hold down a starting berth at Connection. Earlier this year, Lawrence selected Keron Cummings in similar circumstances despite the play-maker being a substitute at Central FC. At present, Cummings effectively plays in the local third tier after he swapped Central for Petit Valley/Diego Martin United in the second rung of the TTSL.
If Hudson, a Naparima College student, gets on the field, he will become one of the youngest players ever to represent Trinidad and Tobago—if not the youngest. His 17th birthday is on 27 July.
His progress through the ranks has been anything but smooth though. Hudson failed to shine at the Under-17 Caribbean Championship last year when the young Warriors were eliminated in the group stage, despite playing at home. And he failed to hold down a starting berth at National Under-20 level before walking out of the team.
Lawrence appears ready to give Hudson, a versatile two-footed attacker, another chance to deliver on his promise.
Carlyle Mitchell, who recently signed for India club East Bengal, returns to the team after a five-month lay-off due to injury while there were also recalls for Nathaniel Garcia, Akeem Benjamin, Sean De Silva, Tyrone Charles and Rundell Winchester. North East Stars defender Kevon Villaroel was a late addition to the original squad, which took the number of players to 26.
However, there was no place for Police FC goalkeeper Adrian Foncette and forward Jameel Perry, North East Stars defenders Yohance Marshall, W Connection attackers Neil Benjamin Jr and Marcus Joseph and veteran striker Cornell Glen.
Mexico-based forward Shahdon Winchester was also not included although his Murcielagos FC teammate Jomal Williams was selected.
The Ecuador friendly does not fall within the FIFA international calendar and, as such, most of Lawrence’s overseas-based players are unavailable.
“We’ve invited twenty-five players to be part of the training squad and we’ll work with them from this coming Monday before finalising the team to travel to Ecuador,” Lawrence told the TTFA Media. “[…] We have available to us some of the players who were involved for the two previous games against the US and Costa Rica and we’ve invited a few others to have a look at and see how they respond to what we’re requiring of them.”
(Trinidad and Tobago squad 26-man squad)
Goalkeepers: Marvin Phillip (Point Fortin Civic), Andre Marchan (Defence Force);
Defenders: Carlos Edwards (Central FC), Alvin Jones (W Connection), Curtis Gonzales (Defence Force), Taryk Sampson (Central FC), Shane Sandy (MIC IT St Ann’s Rangers), Maurice Ford (W Connection), Carlyle Mitchell (East Bengal FC—India), Akeem Benjamin (San Juan Jabloteh), Triston Hodge (W Connection), Kevon Villaroel (North East Stars);
Midfielders: Nathaniel Garcia (Central FC), Leston Paul (North East Stars), Hughtun Hector (W Connection), Jared London (Club Sando);
Attacking midfielders: Nathan Lewis (San Juan Jabloteh), Tyrone Charles (Club Sando), Hashim Arcia (Defence Force), Keon Daniel (Unattached), Sean De Silva (Central FC), Isaiah Hudson (W Connection), Jomal Williams (Murcielagos FC—Mexico);
Forwards: Keron Clarke (FC Santa Rosa), Rundell Winchester (North East Stars), Willis Plaza (East Bengal FC—India).
Editor’s Note: North East Stars defender Kevon Villaroel was invited to join the National Senior Team in training, after his team’s 2-2 draw with W Connection on Friday 14 July.