Predictably, Trinidad and Tobago coach Stephen Hart leaned towards experience in his 22-man squad for highly touted international friendlies against World Cup-bound nations, Argentina and Iran, in South America next month.
Cardiff City forward Kenwyne Jones will captain the “Soca Warriors” for the tour and there are 10 foreign-based players on the travelling party. Only Gavin Hoyte, the younger brother of right back Justin Hoyte and a former England youth international, has not been capped under the present coach.
Trinidad and Tobago plays Argentina on June 4 at the Estadio Monumental in Buenos Aires before facing Iran in Sao Paolo, Brazil on June. The trip is being supported by the Ministry of Sport and the Ministry of Tourism.
Hart explained that the Warriors are realistic about their chances against such highly ranked opposition and suggested that local football fans should be too.
“You cannot run 10.3 in a hundred metres on one occasion and then expect on race day to suddenly run 9.6,” Hart told the TTFA Media. “… We are going to play two teams that will be thoroughly prepared for a World Cup, one of them arguably being a favourite to win it. Playing Argentina in Argentina is going to be a PhD in the approach to the game at that level.
“If the scoreline is not anything we’d want to see, I still don’t think it’s a setback. Any realistic football fan will like to see a spirited performance from our team and that’s what will be pleasing for us.”
Hart, who has lost just twice since taking over the Warriors, suggested that the South American tour would aid the team’s development.
“This is a wonderful opportunity for us to test our level of readiness against two great opponents,” he said. “Regarding the squad, I tried to come up with the best possible names considering that the games are being played outside of a FIFA date and clubs are not obliged to release the players.
“But we’ve come up with a pretty decent list and I’m sure everyone will be very eager to do their best in the matches.”
Although Hart put up a brave face, the task facing his squad is as monumental as the Buenos Aires venue as the Trinidad and Tobago team travels to hostile territory with a considerable amount of rust among the coach’s more trusted soldiers.
Central defender Carlyle Mitchell has not represented Vancouver Whitecaps yet this season in the United States Major Soccer League while defender Radanfah Abu Bakr (FK Kruoja Pakruojis—Lithuania) and right back Justin Hoyte (Millwall—England) have played eight games combined this year.
Gavin Hoyte, the England-born younger brother of Justin Hoyte, has never played at senior international level while Curtis Gonzales spent the season in midfield for Defence Force.
Athletic full back Aubrey David is unavailable, along with forward Shahdon Winchester, as FF Jaro is still active in the Finland Premier League. Hart also lost Daneil Cyrus after selecting his initial 22-man squad as the DIRECTV W Connection travelled to Vietnam on May 16 to sign with Hanoi T&T.
It leaves Belgium-based Sheldon Bateau (KV Mechelen) as his only two regular match-fit defender. Hart must whip the others into shape in just 10 days while also preparing the squad tactically for the challenge ahead.
It is likely that Joevin Jones, the Connection playmaker and the Pro League’s second highest scorer, may again have to deputise at left back as the Warriors are no closer to finding a regular heir to the post vacated six years ago by World Cup 2006 defender Avery John.
Further upfield, the steady midfield pair of Khaleem Hyland and Andre Boucaud saw plenty of domestic action in the Belgium top flight and England League One respectively while Caledonia AIA veteran Densill Theobald retained his place after a high scoring season. But Hart would also have his fingers crossed on ball-winner Kevan George, who was recalled by MLS team Columbus Crew after a loan stint with USL team Dayton Dutch Lions.
Crew coach Gregg Berhalter is considering keeping George as cover for two World Cup-bound defenders.
Thus far, there are no concerns about Hart’s attacking cast. Lester Peltier, who helped Slovan Bratislava retain the Slovakia league trophy, and USL-based playmaker Kevin Molino should both be in good shape and might start in wide areas with Central FC employees Ataullah Guerra and Rundell Winchester as supporting cast.
Willis Plaza (Central), Trevin Caesar (North East Stars) and Marcus Joseph (Point Fortin Civic) will compete for the right to play alongside Jones upfront.
Jones, who was relegated to the England Championship Division with Cardiff last month, managed one goal from 18 Premiership appearances this season with Stoke City and Cardiff combined. However, Jones has scored six times in nine appearances under Hart and will be handed the lead role once more.
Plaza, Caesar and Joseph have all been prolific this season and offer differing threats to compliment Jones’ brawn. Caesar’s pace would trouble most defenders while Plaza is an intelligent mover off the ball and Joseph possesses a tremendous left foot shot.
In goal, Central’s Jan Michael Williams and Point Fortin’s Marvin Phillip both performed creditably this season although the former, who was voted among CONCACAF’s best custodians last year, is likely to keep his place as first choice.
Hart must concoct a strategy that, at best, makes the Warriors competitive; or, at the least, avoids a cricket score.
“We haven’t played an international game in eight months but matches like these you cannot stay away from,” said Hart. “I prefer to look at the positive side of this. We have nothing to lose and everything to gain.”
It will be a fierce examination for Hart and the Warriors in less than ideal conditions.
Goalkeepers: Jan Michael Williams (Central FC), Marvin Phillip (Point Fortin Civic);
Defenders: Justin Hoyte (Millwall—England), Sheldon Bateau (KV Mechelen—Belgium), Gavin Hoyte (Dagenham & Redbridge—England), Radanfah Abu Bakr (FK Kruoja Pakruojis—Lithuania), Curtis Gonzales (Defence Force), Carlyle Mitchell (Vancouver Whitecaps—Canada), Yohance Marshall (Central FC);
Midfielders: Khaleem Hyland (Racing Genk—Belgium), Ataullah Guerra (Central FC), Andre Boucaud (unattached), Kevan George (Dayton Dutch Lions—US), Lester Peltier (Slovan Bratislava—Slovakia), Joevin Jones (W Connection), Densill Theobald (Caledonia AIA), Kevin Molino (Orlando City—US);
Forwards: Marcus Joseph (Point Fortin Civic), Rundell Winchester, Willis Plaza (both Central FC), Trevin Caesar (North East Stars), Kenwyne Jones (Cardiff City).
Editor’s Note: Trinidad and Tobago’s last international fixture was a 2-0 friendly win over Jamaica at the Hasely Crawford Stadium in Port of Spain on 19 November 2013.
DIRECTV W Connection defender Daneil Cyrus pulled out of the team after the initial 22-man squad was selected to sign for Vietnamese club, Hanoi T&T.