Trinidad and Tobago National Senior Team head coach Stephen Hart has vowed to select a squad of mainly home-based players for an international friendly against rising CONCACAF force, Panama, in Port of Spain next month.
Panama will face the “Soca Warriors” on Friday March 27 at the Hasely Crawford Stadium in Trinidad and Tobago’s only scheduled fixture at present before the July 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup in the United States.
“March is the only official FIFA date until June so Panama will be the first phase of preparations for the Gold Cup,” Hart told the TTFA Media. “Finally I can use the game to evaluate local based players whom, through their performances, deserve the opportunity to display their ability in an international setting and fight for selection.”
Hart, who steered the Warriors to the 2013 Gold Cup quarterfinals and a 2014 Caribbean Cup runners-up spot, has used 38 players since he took over the reins two years ago. However, that figure is reduced considerably when retirements and injuries are factored in along with the tragic death of former Defence Force winger Kevon Carter.
In Hart’s 18 international games, only 19 players have made five appearances or more and just three from that list—Central FC goalkeeper Jan-Michael Williams, midfielder Ataulla Guerra and striker Willis Plaza—play on home soil.
The matter could be complicated further by the fact that several of Trinidad and Tobago’s exports play in leagues that are still active in July like Hughtun Hector and Daneil Cyrus (Vietnam) and Carlyle Mitchell (Republic of Korea).
Hart will try to offset potential issues in terms of player availability by widening his pool. And it is expected to lead to international recalls for Central attackers Rundell Winchester and Plaza while the likes of DIRECTV W Connection central defender Mekeil Williams, Point Fortin Civic attacker Marcus Joseph, North East Stars defender Dwayne James and Central full backs Kaydion Gabriel and Uriah Bentick and midfielder Sean De Silva will be among the players who would hope to stake their claim.
National Under-20 players Shannon Gomez, Aikim Andrews, Martieon Watson and Akeem Garcia, who all represent W Connection, might also get a look in along with national youth teammates Neveal Hackshaw and Jesus Perez (both North East Stars) and Kadeem Corbin (St Ann’s Rangers).
Evergreen 39-year-old Central utility player Marvin Oliver might tempt Hart too with his consistent performances at sweeper or central midfield although he would not be considered a long term prospect.
Regardless of which players are selected, an international clash with Panama will be a stern test.
“We are extremely grateful for this game,” said Hart. “It is an opportunity to play a CONCACAF team that I consider one of the top 5 in the region. They have invested wisely in their football and let’s not forget they were finalists at the Gold Cup in 2013, losing narrowly to the host nation USA.”
Panama have never qualified for a senior FIFA but the Central American outfit have become a regular participant at FIFA’s junior World Cups while they finished runner-up at the 2013 and 2005 Gold Cup tournaments.
At present, Panama are ranked 61st in the world by FIFA and third in CONCACAF while the Warriors are one place behind at 62nd and fourth respectively.
Hart was unavailable for comment on his team’s preparations leading up to the 2018 World Cup qualifiers, which kick off in November for the Warriors.
The upcoming FIFA international match window is eight days long and most teams, including Panama, will play twice. Thus far, the Warriors’ pre-Gold Cup schedule entails the solitary friendly against Panama and a camp that should start on March 20 at the conclusion of the local Pro League.
The Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA), which is plagued by financial issues and, arguably, mismanagement, will have seven national teams in action this year as the Men’s Under-17, Women’s Under-17 and National Beach Soccer Teams all due for CONCACAF tournaments while the Senior Women’s and Men’s Under-20 Teams have Pan American competition and the Men’s Under-23 and Senior Women’s Teams also face 2016 Olympic Games qualifiers. The Men’s National Under-20 team was eliminated at the CONCACAF stage last month.
Several of the national outfits that face action later this year do not yet have technical staffs in place. However, TTFA president Raymond Tim Kee said the football body will “make every effort” to prepare its teams.
“2015 is an extremely hectic year for us and one that will see six or more of our national teams engaging in international activities,” Tim Kee told the TTFA Media. “We intend to make every effort to ensure our programs are on stream and that our teams receive the necessary support as they prepare for these competitions.”
The Trinidad and Tobago National Under-17 Team will be next in action as they face CONCACAF action in Honduras from February 27 in their qualifying campaign for the Chile 2015 Under-17 World Cup. The junior Warriors have not played a single international game outside their scheduled Caribbean Football Union (CFU) qualifiers.
Hart’s senior Warriors at least have a date with Panama on the immediate horizon. The TTFA will provide further details on kick off time and ticket sales on that senior international friendly “in due course.”
It should create an additional buzz to the Pro League competition, which is on Carnival break at present.
Players who have made five appearances or more under present coach:
Jan-Michael Williams (Central FC); Justin Hoyte (Millwall—England), Daneil Cyrus (Hanoi T&T—Vietnam), Yohance Marshall (Juventud Independiente—El Salvador), Radanfah Abu Bakr (HB Køge—Denmark), Sheldon Bateau (KV Mechelen—Belgium), Carlyle Mitchell (Seoul E-Land FC—Korea Rep), Aubrey David (FC Shakhter Karagandy—Kazakhstan), Joevin Jones (Chicago Fire—US), Andre Boucaud (Notts County—England), Kevan George (Columbus Crew—US), Khaleem Hyland (Racing Genk—Belgium), Lester Peltier (Slovan Bratislava—Slovakia), Kevin Molino (Orlando City—US), Ataulla Guerra (Central FC), Cordell Cato (San Jose Earthquakes—US), Hughtun Hector (Hanoi T&T—Vietnam); Kenwyne Jones (Cardiff City—Wales) and Willis Plaza (Central FC).
Hart’s remaining capped Pro League players:
Marvin Phillip (Point Fortin Civic); Leston Paul (Central FC), Curtis Gonzales (Defence Force), Alvin Jones (W Connection), Marcus Joseph (Point Fortin Civic) and Rundell Winchester (Central FC).