Trinidad and Tobago National Senior Team coach Stephen Hart admitted to concern about the physical condition of his current squad and challenged his recruits to improve their conditioning to break into his CONCACAF Gold Cup and World Cup qualifying squads.
Hart named 10 uncapped players for the Warriors’ friendly international against Panama on Friday from 7 pm at the Ato Boldon Stadium in Couva. Eighteen members of his 22-man squad earn their living in the local Pro League competition.
And Hart, who steered the Warriors to the 2013 Gold Cup quarterfinals, revealed that his players were not physically up to scratch just yet despite generally being in mid-season with their clubs.
“(Their fitness) needs to be up to international standards,” Hart told Wired868. “In a one game situation, we might get away with it. But if we were in a tournament situation or if we had to play another game on the Tuesday after the Friday (match against Panama)?
“I would be very worried.”
The Warriors’ new fitness trainer Tobias Ottley, who is a SPORTT Company employee, may have a vital role in lifting the physical standard of a select group of Pro League players.
“Tobias Ottley came in with us today and this is his camp to observe the players individually and design a program for them,” said Hart. “So they will be monitored. They have to follow the program (designed for them) and they will be tested on an individual basis…”
The Warriors played a scrimmage game amongst themselves this evening at the Hasely Crawford Stadium in Port of Spain at a lively tempo. Teenagers Shannon Gomez and Akeem Garcia looked particularly spritely while the more experienced players like Khaleem Hyland, Ataulla Guerra and Kevin Molino bossed the midfield.
Strikers Marcus Joseph and Willis Plaza exhibited good finishing form at either end while Mekeil Williams and newcomer Dwane James, Molino’s elder brother, acquitted themselves well in central defence and central midfield respectively.
However, there were than a few individual errors as players tried to impose themselves on the proceedings.
Hart was not overly concerned as he explained that his new recruits were still coming to terms with the Warriors’ method of play and the movement of their teammates.
“Everybody is extremely eager to please and at times the football is not simple enough,” said Hart. “They are trying to catch my eye and I have to say to them the best way to catch my eye is to play simple, efficient football. But that is a good problem (for me) to have.
“Some of the things we are asking them to do, they are struggling in terms of familiarising them (with) what is their (positional) starting points, when to move, when to ask for the ball…”
The head coach is confident his players will improve as they get closer to Friday’s outing.
“It is only the third session and I think they are suffering because there are so many (players) of good quality (here),” he said, “and we are making such demands of them in terms of not giving away space (and) they are struggling to play quicker. But that’s normal until they find their legs and get accustomed to each other.
“They are not accustomed to the movement of the players around them and what the players are trying to do… We have to keep plugging away at that. It is not that they can’t do it. It is just the timing of it…
“I think the (closer) we get to the game, their possession should improve and our final pass should get better.”
Friday’s outing against Panama is likely to be the Warriors’ only international game until June. Hart intends to provide a good showing despite leaving out most of his top overseas-based players to face CONCACAF’s fourth best football nation, who will be at full-strength.
Hart is unbeaten in Trinidad and Tobago since taking over the post in mid-2013. Thus far, he has recorded wins over Jamaica, Antigua and Barbuda, St Lucia and the Dominican Republic as well as a draw against New Zealand on home soul.
The Central American should present a significantly stiffer challenge but Hart was defiant.
“You don’t go into the game thinking if we get this result (it will be nice),” he said. “I want to win the game and, more importantly, I want to play in a certain manner and try to win the game.
“We are playing at home against a top team and I think this is the ideal opportunity for players to fight and push themselves into a position where they can be selected for the Gold Cup. Because I think there are a number of positions that are open for selection.”
It is up to the new Warriors to rise to the challenge.
The uncapped Warriors: Aikim Andrews, Shannon Gomez, Akeem Garcia, Jomal Williams (all W Connection), Akeem Benjamin, Uriah Bentick (both Central FC), Dwane James, Neveal Hackshaw (both North East Stars), Tyrone Charles and Johan Peltier (both San Juan Jabloteh).
Trinidad and Tobago 22-man squad:
Goalkeepers: Jan-Michael Williams (Central FC), Marvin Phillip (Point Fortin Civic);
Defenders: Aikim Andrews, Shannon Gomez, Mekeil Williams (all W Connection), Sheldon Bateau (KV Mechelen), Jamal Jack, Akeem Benjamin (both Central FC), Justin Hoyte (Millwall), Uriah Bentick (Central FC);
Midfielders: Dwane James, Neveal Hackshaw (both North East Stars), Khaleem Hyland (Racing Genk—Belgium), Jomal Williams (W Connection);
Attacking midfielders: Tyrone Charles, Johan Peltier (both San Juan Jabloteh), Ataulla Guerra (Central FC), Hashim Arcia, Akeem Garcia (both W Connection), Kevin Molino (Orlando City—US),
Strikers: Willis Plaza (Central FC), Marcus Joseph (Point Fortin Civic).