Trinidad and Tobago National Senior Team coach Stephen Hart named three teenagers and 18 Pro League players in his squad to face Panama in a friendly international match from 7 pm on Friday March 27 at the Ato Boldon Stadium in Couva.
It will be a baptism of fire for Hart’s new call-ups as Panama, which is the fourth ranked team in CONCACAF, will travel to Port of Spain with a full-strength team that has just four home-based players.
Eight Panama players have 50 or more international caps while MLS goalkeeper Jaime Penedo and Costa Rica-based midfielder Gabriel Gomez each have made over 100 international appearances.
In contrast, Central FC goalkeeper Jan-Michael Williams is Hart’s only call-up with over 50 international appearances while Kevin Molino (Orlando City—US), Sheldon Bateau (KV Mechelen—Belgium), Justin Hoyte (Millwall—England) and Khaleem Hyland (Racing Genk—Belgium) are his only overseas invitees. And nine members of the T&T squad have never played for the international senior team before.
Hart is anxious to see how his home-grown talent rises to the challenge.
“This is my first opportunity to evaluate many of these players, whom through their play for their respective clubs, deserve the opportunity to participate and fight for selection on the National Team,” Hart told TTFA Media. “Panama has announced a full squad for this game, with many players who played in the Gold Cup final in 2013 and 2014 World Cup qualifiers. I am very pleased and excited about this. It will be the ideal game to evaluate potential players for the Gold Cup roster in July.”
Among the new “Soca Warriors” are teenagers Neveal Hackshaw (North East Stars), Shannon Gomez and Aikim Andrews (both DIRECTV W Connection), who all represented Trinidad and Tobago at the Jamaica 2015 CONCACAF Under-20 Championships.
San Juan Jabloteh winger Johan Pelter, the younger brother of Slovakia-based winger Lester Peltier, is an intriguing selection while North East Stars utility player Dwane James joins his half-brother, Molino, in the national set-up for the first time.
The Pro League’s most prolific scorer at present, Marcus Joseph (Point Fortin Civic), is in along with, arguably, the best player in the local game, Ataulla Guerra (Central FC).
Tyrone Charles, a versatile and pacey winger, typifies the extent to which Hart has backed himself for the Panamanian test. Charles, who is a Jabloteh employee at present, has represented five clubs in the last three years while his five Pro League goals this season put him outside the competition’s top ten scorers.
But the current national coach has chosen to reward his potential.
In contrast, the players who failed to earn the nod include W Connection attacker Jerrel Britto and defender Alvin Jones, North East Stars playmaker Keron Cummings, Central midfielders Leston Paul and Sean De Silva and Point Fortin defender Andre Ettienne. Explosive Connection winger Neil Benjamin Jr and St Ann’s Rangers attacker Kadeem Corbin were unavailable due to injury.
Eredivisie-bound attacker Levi Garcia, who remains without a club due to his self-imposed exile from Central, also misses out on the Warriors’ first outing for 2015, which is Trinidad and Tobago’s first step towards the 2015 Gold Cup and the 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign.
Hart hopes to have at least one more international with mostly Pro League players before he selects his Gold Cup squad.“I’ve been promised (by the TTFA) that they will do everything to get (another game) done and I’m really really trying to organise one,” Hart told Wired868. “I want to have a second opportunity along the same lines.”
He explained that he selected a few overseas-based players into his current squad to help the rookies grasp his ideas quicker.
“I wanted to have a situation where some of the players who have been with me and understand what we are doing are present to help the others in the squad,” said Hart. “So I have kept a few who have been in my environment so to speak.”
One notable absentee from the squad is Warrior captain and England Championship Division forward Kenwyne Jones. However, Hart said local fans should read nothing whatsoever into that decision.
Central attacker Willis Plaza is favoured to lead the line in Jones’ absence although Hart has used two playmakers, Molino and Guerra, upfront together before.
Tickets for Trinidad and Tobago’s clash with Panama will cost $100 and are available at Fan Club (MovieTowne POS, Trincity Mall, Gulf City Mall), All Out Restaurant (Queen’s Park Oval), Heritage Sports (Tobago), Ramsingh’s Sportsworld (Couva), Econo Supermart and all Kenny’s Sports Shops.
Trinidad and Tobago 22-man squad:
Jan Michael Williams (Central FC), Marvin Phillip (Point Fortin Civic); Justin Hoyte (Millwall), Shannon Gomez (W Connection), Sheldon Bateau (KV Mechelen), Jamal Jack (Central FC), Akeem Benjamin (Central FC), Mekeil Williams (W Connection), Uriah Bentick (Central FC); Dwane James (North East Stars), Khaleem Hyland (Racing Genk—Belgium), Neveal Hackshaw (North East Stars), Hashim Arcia (W Connection), Jomal Williams (W Connection); Aikim Andrews (W Connection), Johan Peltier (San Juan Jabloteh), Ataulla Guerra (Central FC), Kevin Molino (Orlando City—US), Tyrone Charles (San Juan Jabloteh), Marcus Joseph (Point Fortin Civic), Willis Plaza (Central FC), Rundell Winchester (Central FC).