Uncapped 19-year-old DIRECTV W Connection utility player Aikim Andrews was the surprise inclusion today as Trinidad and Tobago National Senior Team head coach Stephen Hart announced a 20-man squad to face Panama in an international friendly on October 8 in Panama City.
Andrews, who was a stand-out for Trinidad and Tobago at the 2015 CONCACAF Under-20 Championship in Jamaica, caught the eye with his recent performances for Connection in the Champions League and Pro League competition.
“It is important for us to increase our players pool (in the wide position),” said Hart, “and I like the things he has done.”
The Panama clash kicks off at 9.30 pm and will be broadcast live on Flow channel 99, which, according to Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) general secretary Sheldon Phillips, should be free to air.
The “Soca Warriors” will then return to Trinidad to face Nicaragua on October 13 at the Hasely Crawford Stadium in Port of Spain. Match tickets will cost fans $100 (uncovered stands) and $200 (covered stands).
As expected, team captain Kenwyne Jones and central defender Sheldon Bateau—two of the Hart’s best performers at the July 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup—return to the Trinidad and Tobago team, after they were allowed to skip an international friendly against Mexico in Utah last month due to club commitments on transfer deadline day.
Trinidad and Tobago and Mexico played to a 3-3 draw.
Bateau moved on loan to Russia top flight club, KC Krylia Sovetov, just before the transfer window shut, although Jones remained with England Championship club, Cardiff City.
There was a recall too for Gold Cup winger Lester Peltier, who was left out of the squad that faced Mexico. But it turned out to be short-lived.
Soon after the press conference, Hart was informed that the player suffered a rib injury and was unavailable to join his squad. The Warriors coach is due to name a replacement shortly.
San Jose Earthquakes winger Cordell Cato has been left out on compassionate leave, as his girlfriend is due to deliver a baby soon. Hart initially snubbed Central FC attacker Marcus Joseph and Portland Timbers 2 forward Rundell Winchester, who were his two other wide options from the squad that faced Mexico.
“Marcus, like any other player who comes to the squad, has to adapt to what we want,” said Hart, who also hinted at dissatisfaction with the former World Youth Cup player’s fitness and hunger for the international game.
The most glaring omission, though, was Bankers Insurance Central FC hitman, Willis Plaza, who scored four times in his last four games for his club against LA Galaxy, Point Fortin Civic and North East Stars.
Hart said he is well aware of Plaza’s ability but simply could not find room in his current squad for the striker.
At the Gold Cup, Plaza was selected alongside Breioablik striker Jonathan Glenn and captain Jones. But the inclusion of Austin Aztex attacker Trevin Caesar, who can play wide or upfront, and Glenn’s goal and assist against Mexico last month might have convinced Hart that he does not need an additional forward.
Plaza scored on his first outing for Hart on 5 September 2013 in a 3-3 tie away to Saudi Arabia. However, the striker did not score in his subsequent 10 international outings—seven of which came as a substitute.
Another absentee is central defender Carlyle Mitchell, who made 10 international outings under Hart before he joined Seoul E Land in the Republic of Korea’s second division.
The national coach said Mitchell remains on his radar but pointed out that the talented defender faces a 30-hour flight to Trinidad. The Warriors have just two and a half days to prepare before they face face Panama and Hart felt the timeframe involved and the possibility of jet lag contributed to Mitchell’s omission.
However, he added that the defender could still be recalled when the Russia 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign starts in November.
Trinidad and Tobago plays its first 2018 qualifier away to Guatemala on November 13 before returning home to face the United States on November 17.
The intention is that the Panama and Nicaragua friendlies will act as a test run for the more serious stuff next month.
However, the Warriors continue to grapple with financial shortcomings.
Team manager William Wallace will not travel with the team to Panama due to a shortage of funds. Today, he urged corporate Trinidad and Tobago to support the Warriors when they need it most and pointed out that their support did not have to mean cash payments to the local football body.
“If they are not too comfortable with coming on board in the traditional way,” said Wallace, “they can come on board by making direct payments straight to our service providers.”
Hart admitted that he is yet to agree a new contract with the TTFA while the players have not finalised match fees and bonuses for the 2018 qualifiers.
“Hopefully the (TTFA) can sit down with the players while they are here for the Nicaragua game,” said Hart, “and get some sort of idea of what their demands are. As for myself, it is an ongoing discussion.”
Unsurprisingly, Hart hoped for the Warriors’ off-field business to be much smoother as they enter into the World Cup campaign.
“If we are realistic—and we are entering a World Cup campaign—everything should already be in place,” said Hart. “This is a very difficult time for us (and) it is even difficult for us to use the word campaign.
“But the team has a good spirit, the players are unified and understand what is required, and we will go out in November (and) try to maximise our points.
Then, we have three months to try to put things together when the World Cup qualification run begins again.”
Hart praised his players’ approach so far and was relatively happy with their showing at the Gold Cup. But he is taking nothing for granted in their upcoming assignments and pointed to the Netherlands, who got to the Brazil 2014 World Cup semifinals but are now struggling to get out of their European qualifying group.
“The players have been tremendous and showed good spirit and leadership in terms of making demands of each other both on and off the field,” said Hart. “(But) you have to hope. Holland did very well in the World Cup and now cannot win a game.
“So you have to hope the players are in a good moment when you enter the qualification.”
The Warriors lost 1-0 to Panama in Couva on 27 May 2015, although Hart used an experimental team with mostly local players. They met again in July and Panama won on kicks from the penalty spot, after a 1-1 tie in regulation time.
But Hart said his attitude at the Estadio Rommel Fernandez in Panama City will be the same as everywhere else. Trinidad and Tobago will play to win.
“I don’t play a game to get a draw,” said Hart. “For me, that is the most difficult thing out. You play to get a win but you have to manage the game and understand that you are playing away from home and there are difficulties involved in that.
“So your approach sometimes might be different. But I have never played a game to draw.”
(Trinidad and Tobago team to face Panama on October 8 in Panama City)
Goalkeepers: Jan-Michael Williams (Central FC), Marvin Phillip (Morvant Caledonia Utd);
Defenders: Gavin Hoyte (Barnet—England), Radanfah Abu Bakr (HB Koge—Denmark), Yohance Marshall (Murcielagos FC—Mexico), Sheldon Bateau (KC Krylia Sovetov—Russia), Mekeil Williams (Antigua GFC—Guatemala), Daneil Cyrus (Chicago Fire—USA), Aubrey David (Shakhter Karagandy—Kazakhstan);
Midfielders: Andre Boucaud (Dagenham & Redbridge—England), Khaleem Hyland (KV Westerlo—Belgium), Kevan George (Columbus Crew—USA), Neveal Hackshaw (North East Stars);
Attacking Midfielders: Joevin Jones (Chicago Fire—USA), Keron Cummings (North East Stars), Aikim Andrews (W Connection);
Forwards: Trevin Caesar (Austin Aztex—USA), Jonathan Glenn (Breioablik—Iceland), Kenwyne Jones (Cardiff City—Wales).
Editor’s Note: Willis Plaza was selected to replace the injured Lester Peltier. Click HERE for more information.
Barnet FC defender Gavin Hoyte will return to his club after Trinidad and Tobago’s international friendly against Panama on October 8 and will be replaced in the squad to face Nicaragua on October 13.