There is a fresh mood within the Trinidad and Tobago national senior football team as it prepares for this week’s 2012 Caribbean Cup qualifiers at the Dwight Yorke Stadium in Bacolet, Tobago.
The “Soca Warriors” open their campaign from 8 pm tomorrow against St Vincent and the Grenadines in the second game of a double header. Cuba plays Suriname from 6 pm. Tickets are $40 for covered stands and $20 for uncovered.
The national team has still not been paid outstanding match fees and stipends from its last qualifying round in St Kitts and Nevis. But, according to one senior staff member, the tension between the Sport Ministry and the Trinidad and Tobago Football Federation (TTFF) has already lifted since Raymond Tim Kee took over the role of president on Sunday.
“I have been told the Sport Ministry has okayed our outstanding payments as well as our budget for the Tobago leg,” said the TTFF insider. “It is just up to their accounts department now and it should be ready within the next couple days.
“The Sport Ministry is very much friendlier this time. I am certain about everything working out this time around.”
Time will tell if the satisfaction of Sport Minister Anil Roberts is a good or bad omen for local football. But there should at least be more tranquillity within the team camp if the players accept that the government is now ready to pay due to a change in the TTFF executive, which arguably means, conversely, that their recent hardships were solely because Roberts could not have his way with a supposedly autonomous body.
At present, the team still travels without a doctor or assistant manager. Presumably, that will change soon.
Sport teams are not at their best without some level of creative tension, though. And money only brings a different set of problems.
The Warriors played for pride and personal ambition in St Kitts. But, in Tobago, they might be playing for their international careers.
One of Tim Kee’s most important decisions will be his choice for general secretary and there is already speculation that incumbent, Richard Groden—who recently crossed swords with former TTFF special advisor Jack Warner and Roberts—is a “dead man walking.” But a decision regarding the senior team technical staff should follow soon after.
On the surface, present interim coach Hutson “Barber” Charles, a former national standout, has done a solid job thus far. But Charles’ coaching CV bears little to recommend him if the post is immediately put to tender.
Top coaches invariably have a balance of three abilities: team preparation, tactical cunning and motivational prowess.
A financially solvent TTFF executive would be negligent in its duties if it did not ascertain just how Charles measures up against those yardsticks. The upcoming Caribbean tournament can offer a valuable gauge and Charles, a Warrant Officer One with the local Defence Force, cannot be guaranteed another chance to prove himself.
He can be partially consoled by the fact that the core of his team should feel the same way.
Team captain and 28-year-old DirecTV W Connection goalkeeper Jan-Michael Williams does not need to look far for motivation. His deputy is the very capable Central FC custodian Marvin Phillip and the pair has fought over the starting jersey since they were under-17 teammates, some 13 years ago.
Williams knows that, if Phillip gets the number one spot, it might be another two years before he can regain it.
A glut of central defenders should offer similar stimulus for Seon Power (North East Stars) and Carlyle Mitchell (Vancouver Whitecaps) as Trinidad and Tobago continues it search to replace the once formidable twin towers of Marvin Andrews and Dennis Lawrence. While right back Kern Cupid, a late call-up after his Connection teammate Daneil Cyrus became unavailable, would be anxious to reproduce his club form on the national stage and finally banish memories of an awful performance in a friendly against England, four years ago.
Guyana-born Neal & Massy Caledonia AIA defender Aubrey David is favoured to edge Defence Force utility player Curtis Gonzales to the left back spot. The 22-year-old David represented Trinidad and Tobago at two World Youth Cups before switching allegiance to Guyana at senior level and then, after yet another change of heart, returning to the “red, white and black.”
A solid and versatile player who can play anywhere in the back four, David should show Tobago why he was worth the international tug-of-war.
Upfront, Caledonia’s Jamal Gay has held the “number nine” post in recent times and his battling performances plus returns of seven goals from 13 outings suggests the 23-year-old is rising to the challenge of the international level.
A tall battering ram in the mould of compatriot and Stoke City striker Kenwyne Jones, Gay got his first senior goal as a 19-year-old in a 3-0 win over Barbados at the Macoya Centre of Excellence. His remaining six items were scored abroad.
It is vital that Gay shows his ability to handle the mental challenge of playing at home, particularly in a country that generally prefers technique and tricks over power and workrate.
If Gay fails to recover from a knock suffered on club duty, Charles must choose between the quick and aggressive Richard Roy, who has four senior caps with no goals, or the slow but polished Devorn Jorsling, who has recently been used as Roy’s reserve at Defence Force but boasts a far more impressive international tally of 16 goals from 20 starts and 10 substitute appearances.
Charles opted to ignore the maverick North East Stars striker Cornell Glen after concerns about his nagging groin strain. But the former 2006 World Cup attacker is joint top of the Digicel Pro League scoring charts this season, despite his fitness issues, and his pace, power and trickery alone would surely have been worth the price of admission.
Glen’s non-selection can be an important decision by an interim coach who needs to fashion a team capable of exciting the public as well as winning games.
But the immediate future of this national team relies on the combination play of Charles’ five-man midfield and the sacrifices the players used are willing to make for each other.
World Cup 2006 player Densill Theobald and Clyde Leon are rarely allowed to express themselves at international level as they do with Caledonia and Connection respectively and the chemistry between the pair has underwhelmed in the past. But, at their best, either midfielder can ensure that the Warriors enjoy a generous slice of possession.
Swashbuckling 21-year-old Connection utility player Joevin Jones, the son of Charles’ “Strike Squad” teammate Kelvin Jones, is at his best playing box-to-box in central midfield. And that trio could be flanked by clever Vietnam-based midfielder Hughtun Hector and bustling Thailand-based left flanker Kendall Jagdeosingh.
It is, perhaps, the most practical available line-up. But Charles, who failed to convince playmakers Kevin Molino or the Tobago-born Keon Daniel to join his squad, is feeling adventurous and making eyes at enigmatic 24-year-old Caledonia attacking midfielder Ataullah Guerra.
“I think (Guerra) is one of the better midfielders we have in Trinidad and Tobago,” Charles told Wired868. “I expect great things from him.”
Many coaches expressed similar sentiments about Guerra. Few, if any, felt satisfied at the close of their relationship.
Gifted but moody, Guerra can flit between imperious and disinterested in a heartbeat. He has quick feet, a booming shot off either boot and can spot a pass. But his decision-making can be dodgy and his tricks sometimes seem self-indulgent.
If Guerra lets Charles down, though, how many other coaches would take a chance on him? He is not alone in that regard.
When the Warriors look around the dressing room on Wednesday evening, they must ask each other and themselves who is really desperate to be a part of the rebuilding of Trinidad and Tobago’s football fortunes.
And then, starting with St Vincent and the Grenadines, they must prove it.
For most of the players and technical staff members that comprise the present national senior team, there will be no second chance.
Trinidad and Tobago team
Goalkeepers: Jan Michael Williams (W Connection), Marvin Phillip (Central FC);
Defenders: Kern Cupid (W Connection), Seon Power, Kareem Moses (both North East Stars), Curtis Gonzales (Defence Force), Carlyle Mitchell (Vancouver whitecaps—Canada), Aubrey David (Caledonia AIA);
Midfielders: Kevon Carter (Defence Force), Hughtun Hector (Song Lam Nghe—Vietnam), Clyde Leon, Joevin Jones (both W Connection), Keyon Edwards, Densill Theobald, Ataullah Guerra (all Caledonia AIA), Kendall Jagdeosingh (Chainat FC—Thailand);
Forwards: Devorn Jorsling, Richard Roy (both Defence Force), Jamal Gay (Caledonia AIA), Hashim Arcia (W Connection).
Technical staff: Hutson Charles (Coach), Derek King (Assistant Coach), William Wallace (Manager), Michael Williams (Equipment Manager), Dave Isaac (Physiotherapist), Jefferson George (Goalkeeping Coach), Shaun Fuentes (Media Officer).
Editor’s Note: Wired868’s 2012 Caribbean Cup semi-final coverage is sponsored by DirecTV