Twenty-nine-year-old Cardiff City forward Kenwyne Jones will make his regional debut for Trinidad and Tobago next month when he leads the “Soca Warriors” into the Caribbean Cup qualifying series in Couva.
Trinidad and Tobago opens its Caribbean Cup tournament against the Dominican Republic from 8.15 pm on Wednesday October 8 in the second game of a double header at the Ato Boldon Stadium.
Tickets are available at $100 for covered stands and $60 for uncovered stands while fans can purchase a special ticket to see all three games for $260.
The Caribbean Football Union’s decision to align its competitive matches with the FIFA international calendar means that, for the first time, national associations can select squads without conflict with foreign-based teams.
And Trinidad and Tobago head coach Stephen Hart will utilise that option as he confirmed, at a press conference today, that he is already assured of eight overseas players in his 20-man squad.
Apart from Jones, Belgium-based midfielder Khaleem Hyland (Racing Genk), England-based midfielder Andre Boucaud (Dagenham & Redbridge), Finland-based utility player Joevin Jones (HJK), the North American-based duo of Kevin Molino (Orlando City) and Carlyle Mitchell (Vancouver Whitecaps) and the Vietnam-based pair of Hughtun Hector and Daneil Cyrus (both Hanoi T&T) will all represent the Warriors in the qualifying stage.
Jones (J), Mitchell, Hector, Molino and Cyrus all participated in the 2012 Caribbean Cup in which the Warriors finished second to Cuba.
Hart explained that the remainder of his squad will be released next week as the TTFA has appealed to the CFU for permission to change its initial shortlist due to injuries.
The head coach suggested that an inability to work with more local-based players, due to a lack of funding for camps or their unavailability through trials, prompted him to stick with his core group of players.
“It is no secret that we wanted to have a local group of players in camp and playing international games because that is the only way you can evaluate them,” said Hart. “… In terms of preparation, I have decided to go with a squad that is familiar with what I have been doing since I took over…
“It is either you go in those games blind not knowing how the players would respond internationally or you go with what is familiar. I chose the latter.”
Hart revealed that he included several national under-20 players in his initial CFU shortlist. However, he might be having second thoughts after he watched the likes of Levi Garcia, Jabari Mitchell, Martieon Watson, Nicholas Dillon and Matthew Woo Ling return to secondary schools football rather than seek out more competitive arenas. Garcia and Dillon are both attached to Central FC’s Pro League first teams.
“There are a few (under-20 players) that were on the 30-man (CFU) roster,” said Hart, “I do have some concerns though because some of them have chosen to play school football…
“Both myself and (national under-20 head coach) Derek King mentioned to them that, if you do have aspirations, you should play at the highest level possible. But I cannot make decisions for them; I can only advise.”
For those who do make the final 20-man squad, Hart suggested a rotation policy might mean playing time for his entire squad as a way of dealing with the CFU’s customary scheduling of three matches in five days. Although it is the same format followed by the national under-17, under-20 and senior women’s teams, the Warriors coach might be unwilling to cross swords with professional clubs on the matter.
“You have to play three games in the FIFA window with a day off in between each game,” said Hart, “and that in itself—I might stand to be corrected here—doesn’t exactly fall in line with FIFA’s medical guidelines.
“We have to be calculating in how we approach these games and our recovery between games.”
Hart pointed to internal problems as well.
Sixteen months into the job, the former Canada head coach admitted he has not been able to put a program in place to widen his player pool due to the TTFA’s financial shortcomings.
“We have not been in a position to run a consistent program to generate any sort of continuity,” he said. “I can only play the hand that was dealt and I think this is the best approach for this qualification round.
“I have submitted that I would like to play on FIFA dates and if the Pro League has a break… But I have no operating budget.”
At present, the Warriors players and staff are still owed match fees from their exhibition match against Iran in June while even bonuses due from the 2012 Caribbean Cup have not been paid. But Hart declined comment on any TTFA’s debts.
“Please take that up with (general secretary Sheldon) Phillips and (president Raymond) Tim Kee,” said Hart.
Hart is only the second coach to take Trinidad and Tobago into the knockout stage of the CONCACAF Gold Cup while the Warriors’ only defeats in 11 international outings came against 2014 World Cup finalists Argentina, Iran and Mexico and on penalties to the United Arab Emirates in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
He admitted the job was a tough one, particularly due to off the field issues, but suggested that he is committed to the team’s 2018 World Cup campaign.
“I came in here knowing the circumstances (and) it is probably worse than I thought,” said Hart. “But you cannot build anything from the outside… Players and staff have worked very hard to show we can get our part right and we will try to rectify the other parts as soon as possible.
“Yes (the debt to the players and staff) is an issue. But from a technical standpoint the players have responded on the field and taken their issues off the field with the management.”
Hart called on the media to play its part as well in promoting the local game. He suggested that television crews should stop filming games from the covered stands and shoot from the opposite end, so as to show the spectators who generally flock to the covered areas.
And he urged supporters to support their local players too.
“When you look at the (Caribbean Cup) Under-20 tournament that just finished, the quality of the football was not bad at all,” said Hart. “Personally I was a little disappointed in the (size of the) crowd… But it is just a matter of us continuing to do what we can do and try to get it right on the field. And hopefully if we get it right, the people would return to football.
“But if you look at all (levels) of football right now: colleges, Pro League (and) national team and you look in the stands you have to (tell) yourself there is a problem. And football without spectators is a sweat.”
For the first time since 1996, Trinidad and Tobago will be near full strength at the Caribbean Cup and there is a special incentive for the overall tournament winner who will participate at the 2016 Copa America champions alongside South American giants like Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Colombia.
Jones and company will start their journey against the Dominican Republic on October 8.