Wired868 travels to Jamaica today to follow Trinidad and Tobago’s efforts to qualify for the New Zealand 2015 Under-20 World Cup:
The Trinidad and Tobago National Under-20 football team, arguably the country’s most naturally gifted youth squad in this millennium, will kick off the final stage of their New Zealand 2015 FIFA Under-20 World Cup qualifying campaign from 9 pm (TT time) today at the National Stadium in Kingston, Jamaica.
At the other side of the field will be a familiar foe in the host nation, Jamaica.
A loss, under normal circumstances, would be virtually fatal to Trinidad and Tobago’s qualification chances with United States and Panama heavily favoured to take two of three knockout berths from this six team group.
But it is important to understand that this competition is only part-football tournament. The rest is a battle of endurance and sanity.
The four World Cup qualifiers from the 12 participating nations would have played six games in the space of 15 days on venue each in Kingston and Montego Bay.
To put that into context, Germany played seven matches in 27 days to win the Brazil 2014 World Cup; and, on top of an extra two weeks of recovery time, the German national team had a 23 player roster available for every match. Even then, coach Joachim Loew had lost two players to injury by game seven while a third, Christoph Kramer, limped off after half hour in the World Cup final.
Trinidad and Tobago coach Derek King has just 20 players to select from in a more physically, challenging tournament and, unlike Loew, his team has just three players, Kadeem Corbin, Jesus Perez and Neveal Hackshaw, with a season of professional football under their belts.
King told Wired868 that he tried Trinidad and Tobago an edge by selecting multi-functional players so as to permit frequent rotation of his playing staff.
“We need players who can play in more than one position,” said King. “The 20 we select will more or less be players who can play in more than one position so it gives us an opportunity to rotate.”
If it is disconcerting to think about handing 17-year-old Naparima College schoolboy Jabari Mitchell a more rigorous physical challenge than Ivory Coast’s Yaya Toure will face at the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations—Toure will feasibly play six games in 22 days as opposed to the CONCACAF’s schedule of six in 15 days for largely amateur teenagers—then try not to think about the test for Jamaica’s two football venues.
The Brazil 1970 World Cup comprised of 16 teams and 32 matches, which were split over 22 days in five venues.
CONCACAF, with just 12 teams, has contrived to play 33 games at two venues over just 15 days to decide on its four Under-20 World Cup qualifiers.
The busiest surfaces at the 2014 World Cup were the Estádio Nacional Mané Garrincha, Brasilia and the Estádio do Maracanã in Rio de Janeiro, which staged seven matches each over 27 and 28 days respectively.
The Jamaica National Stadium, which organisers suggested was not in good shape even before the tournament kicked off, will host nine games in the first five days of the competition with three games per match day. And the Catherine Hall Stadium in Montego Bay will host 24 matches in two weeks.
Thus far, CONCACAF officials have not availed themselves for interviews with Wired868 on the format of the competition. It would be tempting to imagine that they are having their heads examined.
By January 24, there is unlikely to be a blade of grass or smooth bit of ground to be found in Montego Bay. But King hopes that his team will still be standing.
It will not be easy. The nucleus of the current Under-20 team was good enough to book a quarterfinal berth at the 2013 CONCACAF Under-17 Championship when they fell 4-2 to an exceptional Panama outfit that finished second to Mexico.
Panama would be expected to top Group A on the evidence of those performances two years ago. But United States coach Tab Ramos has been thorough in his preparation as his team played roughly a dozen internationals all over Europe and North America.
Jamaica, led by coach Theodore Whitmore, also put in its groundwork in. Fresh after a four-nation tournament in Venezuela last month, the teenaged “Reggae Boyz” recently hosted Cuba for two international warm-up games.
The Warriors have not played a single international warm-up match.
Not surprisingly, King spoke about starting their CONCACAF campaign with some degree of caution despite his ambition to advance.
“We will be compact and tight in the opening stages but we will not be playing defensively because we want to get three points to start this tournament,” King told TTFA Media. “Our approach will be very serious with the mindset of taking three points. Jamaica at home will always be solid and their coach likes to play attacking football.”
National Under-20 captain Shannon Gomez said his troops are ready for a ‘dogfight.’
“We will treat every team with the same respect but on the field of play it’s a dog fight out there and we are going after every point,” said Gomez. “We will go for a win in every game and try to qualify straight to the World Cup.”
Jamaica will be led by thrilling attacker Michael Seaton, who excelled at the CONCACAF Under-17 tournament two years ago and already has 11 senior team caps under his belt. Seaton played last month when the Boyz edged the senior Trinidad and Tobago team to the 2014 Caribbean Cup title and, over the next two years, the DC United player and former Inter Milan trialist will have also played in a CONCACAF Gold Cup tournament and two Copa America tournaments.
He will be a handful tomorrow and, more than likely, might be troubling T&T defences for quite some time too.
In response, King, who has spent the last three years as understudy to Hutson “Barber” Charles, Jamaal Shabazz and Stephen Hart at National Senior Team level, will rely heavily on the 2013 tournament experience his players gained while under the tutelage of National Under-17 coach Shawn Cooper and technical director Anton Corneal.
Penetrative 17-year-old winger Levi Garcia, who is tipped to move to Europe before the end of the year, will get an early opportunity to demonstrate his menace tomorrow and should lead the Warriors’ charge. However, King is spoiled for choice on the flanks as Akeem Garcia, Aikim Andrews and Kishun Seecharan also acquitted themselves well in the earlier rounds.
Corbin, the 2014 Caribbean Cup MVP, offers guile upfront while schoolboys Mitchell and Matthew Woo Ling will face a fierce test of their mettle as they share playmaking duties against more battle-hardened opposition.
Duane Muckette, who is strong and clever, will play as one of two holding midfielders ahead of a back four comprised of Gomez, the team’s only genuine right back, and any three from the physical, versatile quartet of Maurice Ford, Brendon Creed, Leland Archer and Perez plus ball-playing central defender Martieon Watson.
United States-based goalkeeper Johan Welch has not sparkled thus far but is expected to retain his spot between the uprights for the CONCACAF competition.
Despite the shortcomings of their preparation, Gomez insisted that the Warriors do not consider themselves underdogs.
“One of the goals for this tournament (…) is qualifying for the youth World Cup and letting the others know we are not the underdogs in this tournament and that we are one of the big dogs,” said Gomez. “We didn’t come here to lie down to any team…
“The football style of Jamaica is rugged and they run for the entire game. We will go out and treat this game against one of our biggest rivals as a final just like we’ll do for every other game.”
It should be a fiery start for the Warriors. But the race, as the saying goes, is not given to the swift, but those who endure to the end.
Hopefully CONCACAF president Jeffrey Webb has spared no expense for medical care for the 240 teenagers who will take part in this abnormal competition.
(Trinidad and Tobago team)
Goalkeepers: Johan Welch (Houston Dynamo Juniors), Javon Sample (Central FC);
Defenders: Shannon Gomez, Martieon Watson, Maurice Ford (all W Connection), Brendon Creed (Temple University), Leland Archer (College of Charleston), Jesus Perez (North East Stars);
Holding midfielders: Neveal Hackshaw (North East Stars), Kevon Goddard (Central FC), Akeem Humphrey (Club Sando), Duane Muckette (University of South Florida);
Attacking Midfielders: Aikim Andrews, Akeem Garcia, Jabari Mitchell (all W Connection), Matthew Woo Ling (St Anthony’s College), Levi Garcia (Shiva Boys HC), Kishun Seecharan (Club Sando);
Forwards: Kadeem Corbin (St Ann’s Rangers), Ricardo John (Virginia Tech).
2015 CONCACAF Under-20 Championship
(Friday January 9)
*All kick offs are given in TT time.
Aruba vs Panama, 4 pm, National Stadium, Kingston;
USA vs Guatemala, 6.30 pm, National Stadium, Kingston;
Jamaica vs Trinidad & Tobago, 9 pm, National Stadium, Kingston;
(Sunday January 11)
Trinidad & Tobago vs Aruba, 4 pm, National Stadium, Kingston;
Panama vs USA, 6.30 pm, National Stadium, Kingston;
Jamaica vs Guatemala, 9 pm, National Stadium, Kingston;
(Wednesday January 14)
Guatemala vs Trinidad & Tobago, 4 pm, National Stadium, Kingston;
Aruba vs USA, 6.30 pm, National Stadium, Kingston;
Jamaica vs Panama, 9 pm, National Stadium, Kingston;
(Sunday January 18)
Panama vs Trinidad & Tobago, 4 pm, Catherine Hall Stadium, Montego Bay;
Guatemala vs Aruba, 6.30 pm, Catherine Hall Stadium, Montego Bay;
Jamaica vs USA, 9 pm, Catherine Hall Stadium, Montego Bay;
(Wednesday January 21)
Panama vs Guatemala, 4 pm, Catherine Hall Stadium, Montego Bay;
USA vs Trinidad & Tobago, 6.30 pm, Catherine Hall Stadium, Montego Bay;
Jamaica vs Aruba, 9 pm, Catherine Hall Stadium, Montego Bay;
(Saturday January 10)
Mexico vs Cuba, 4 pm, Catherine Hall Stadium, Montego Bay;
Honduras vs El Salvador, 6.30 pm, Catherine Hall Stadium, Montego Bay;
Haiti vs Canada, 9 pm, Catherine Hall Stadium, Montego Bay;
(Monday January 12)
Canada vs Mexico, 4 pm, Catherine Hall Stadium, Montego Bay;
Cuba vs Honduras, 6.30 pm, Catherine Hall Stadium, Montego Bay;
El Salvador vs Haiti, 9 pm, Catherine Hall Stadium, Montego Bay;
(Thursday January 15)
El Salvador vs Canada, 4 pm, Catherine Hall Stadium, Montego Bay;
Mexico vs Honduras, 6.30 pm, Catherine Hall Stadium, Montego Bay;
Haiti vs Cuba, 9 pm, Catherine Hall Stadium, Montego Bay;
(Monday January 19)
Cuba vs Canada, 4 pm, Catherine Hall Stadium, Montego Bay;
El Salvador vs Mexico, 6.30 pm, Catherine Hall Stadium, Montego Bay;
Haiti vs Honduras, 9 pm, Catherine Hall Stadium, Montego Bay;
(Thursday January 22)
Cuba vs El Salvador, 4 pm, Catherine Hall Stadium, Montego Bay;
Honduras vs Canada, 6.30 pm, Catherine Hall Stadium, Montego Bay;
Haiti vs Mexico, 9 pm, Catherine Hall Stadium, Montego Bay;
Knock Out round
(Saturday January 24)
Play Off: 2nd Play-in Seed vs 3rd Play-in Seed, 3 pm, Catherine Hall Stadium, Montego Bay;
Play Off: 1st Play-in Seed vs. 4th Play-in Seed, 6 pm, Catherine Hall Stadium, Montego Bay;
Final: Group A winner vs Group B winner, 9 pm, Catherine Hall Stadium, Montego Bay.