The Trinidad and Tobago national football team is as much about the players who are left out as it is about those that get in.
And “Soca Warriors” coach Stephen Hart gave a further hint about the character of the squad he wants when he failed to invite Philadephia Union midfielder Keon Daniel and DIRECTV W Connection players Joevin Jones and Daneil Cyrus to his 22-man squad, which will face New Zealand on Tuesday October 15 from 7.15 pm at the Hasely Crawford Stadium, Port of Spain.
Instead, San Jose Earthquakes (US) winger and speed merchant Cordell Cato, clever Song Lam Nghe (Vietnam) midfielder Hughton Hector and lively Central FC attacker Rundell Winchester all received their first call-ups from Hart.
“I think Cato, Winchester, Hector they can all bring something different offensively and it will be interesting to work into the training and see exactly how they fit in,” said Hart. “They are three different type of players; so it’s a matter of how quickly they could develop the relationship with the midfield and other attackers and to see how they carry themselves off the field and in game situations.”
The 19-year-old Winchester has never represented Trinidad and Tobago at any level but caught the eye since his January move from Stokely Vale with his pace and enthusiasm. Cato, 21, is also uncapped at senior international level while the 28-year-old Hector’s international career has suffered from his posting in Vietnam and the subsequent difficulties in being released for Warrior duty.
Hector has not played competitive football since the V-League ended on August 31. But Hart decided to call the playmaker up anyway and use a rare opportunity to have a close look at him.
“(Hector) being here offered a good opportunity for me to have a look at him and talk at length about his plans for the future,” Hart told Wired868.
But there was no room for the talented Daniel, Jones and Cyrus.
Hart explained that Daniel, who ignored several international call-ups under the previous coaching regime of Hutson Charles and Jamaal Shabazz, has not appeared as enthusiastic as he would like about representing his country. And Cyrus and Jones have not convinced him that they are eager to regain their national places after missing out on the September OSN Cup for various reasons.
The 22-year-old Cyrus was one of the stand-outs at the July CONCACAF Gold Cup but he missed two opportunities to join the team in Saudi Arabia and has not contacted the national management since then. Cyrus and Jones were recently sanctioned by W Connection for playing minor league football.
“Cyrus has never contacted me since the whole fiasco,” said Hart. “He called me when he was in Tobago and said he had a problem (catching the first flight to Saudi Arabia). We sent a second ticket (but) he never contacted me after that.
“I think the onus is on him now. I am a very open person.”
Otherwise, Hart kept faith with the squad that managed a 3-3 regulation time draw with United Arab Emirates and 3-1 win over Saudi Arabia. Seventeen of the 19 players who travelled to the Middle East are in his 22-man squad to face New Zealand.
Trinidad and Tobago captain and Stoke City striker Kenwyne Jones will lead the forward line and he is enjoying an unprecedented run of form after managing five goals in six matches for Hart.
Jones has only played in front of his home crowd once in the last two years and that matched ended in a 3-0 loss to Peru at the Ato Boldon Stadium in Couva. His last goal in Trinidad and Tobago was the opening item in a 2-0 World Cup qualifying win over Guyana on 11 November 2011 at the Hasely Crawford Stadium.
England-born Middlesbrough defender Justin Hoyte and Columbus Crew midfield hardman Kevan George are both in line to make their first international caps in Trinidad and Tobago.
The remainder of Hart’s 13 foreign-based invitees includes Carlyle Mitchell (Vancouver Whitecaps—Canada), Radanfah Abu Bakr (FC Vostok—Kazakhastan), Sheldon Bateau (KV Mechelen—Belgium), Andre Boucaud (Notts County—England), Khaleem Hyland (Racing Genk—Belgium), Kevin Molino (Orlando City—US), Ataullah Guerra (RoPS—Finland) and Lester Peltier (Slovan Bratislava—Slovakia).
Versatile attacker Willis Plaza, who was also selected, is awaiting international clearance at present to complete a move from Song Lam Nghe (Vietnam) to Central, where he rejoins his former San Juan Jabloteh coach Terry Fenwick.
The Pro League players selected, apart from Winchester, are goalkeepers Jan-Michael Williams (Central FC) and Marvin Phillips (Point Fortin Civic), defenders Aubrey David (Caledonia AIA), Curtis Gonzales (Defence Force), Mekeil Williams (W Connection) and midfielders Densill Theobald (Caledonia AIA) and Marcus Joseph (Point Fortin Civic).
They face a New Zealand team that is renowned for being defensively well organised and was unbeaten in three World Cup group stage matches in 2010 against Italy, Paraguay and Slovakia.
“We are playing against a New Zealand team that has been in preparation continually,” said Hart. “Most of their players play in New Zealand and they spend a lot of time together. It should prove a big test for us to solve them and break them down.”
New Zealand has already topped the Oceania group and faces a play-off with CONCACAF’s fourth placed team to qualify for the Brazil 2014 World Cup. Coach Ricki Herbert hopes to use their trip to the western hemisphere to prepare for that qualifying test in November.
“The tour gives us a real chance to work through options for November, try a few things away from the spotlight then ramp things up for the match against Trinidad and Tobago,” said Herbert. “We’re missing a number of players but the upside is that we bring in a group of players desperate to pull on the shirt and help New Zealand get to a World Cup. They now have that chance.”
Hart hopes the Warriors get the chance to play in front of a large home crowd in Port of Spain. The game will also serve as homecoming for the coach who migrated to Canada as a student and went on to coach Canada in Gold Cup and World Cup qualifying tournaments.
“I don’t know if the whole Hart clan would be there but I hope that the whole Trinidad public will come out,” said Hart, with a chuckle. “Playing at home is an exciting prospect for all the players (and) a number of them have recounted to me when last they played at home, so you can feel that sense of excitement.
“To be honest, I am just trying to stay focused on building a balanced team and creating a competition for places based on form and what (the player) can bring to the table.”
(Trinidad and Tobago team)
Goalkeepers: Jan-Michael Williams (Central FC), Marvin Phillips (Point Fortin Civic);
Defenders: Justin Hoyte (Middlesbrough—England), Aubrey David (Caledonia AIA)
Mekeil Williams (W Connection), Curtis Gonzales (Defence Force), Carlyle Mitchell (Vancouver Whitecaps—Canada), Radanfah Abu Bakr (FC Vostok—Kazakhastan), Sheldon Bateau (KV Mechelen—Belgium);
Midfielders: Andre Boucaud (Notts County—England), Kevan George (Columbus Crew—United States), Khaleem Hyland (Racing Genk—Belgium), Densill Theobald (Caledonia AIA),
Ataullah Guerra (RoPS—Finland), Hughtun Hector (Song Lam Nghe—Vietnam),
Wingers: Lester Peltier (Slovan Bratislava—Slovakia), Cordell Cato (San Jose Earthquakes—US), Kevin Molino (Orlando City—US), Marcus Joseph (Point Fortin Civic);
Forwards: Kenwyne Jones (Stoke City—England), Willis Plaza (Unattached), Rundell Winchester (Central FC).