Trinidad and Tobago will return to the Estadio Rommel Fernandez in Panama City on 8 January 2016 for a decisive 2016 Copa America Centenario play off clash with regional neighbours, Haiti.
The winner will advance automatically to the special centennial South American championship, which will be staged in the United States from June 3-26. Hosts Panama will also face Cuba on January 8 in a Copa America play off double header in Panama City.
However, the “Soca Warriors” could potentially find themselves handicapped as the fixture is carded for outside the FIFA international match calendar, which means that clubs are not obliged to release players to participate in the event.
European clubs, in particular, are never keen to release players for matches when not mandated by FIFA and it could create a potential headache for Trinidad and Tobago and Haiti.
At least six of Trinidad and Tobago’s current international players will be representing their teams in Europe at the time including team captain and Cardiff City forward Kenwyne Jones.
The other five players are Sheldon Bateau (KC Krylia Sovetov—Russia), Andre Boucaud (Dagenham & Redbridge—England), Khaleem Hyland (KV Westerlo—Belgium) and Gavin Hoyte (Barnet—England).
Full back Aubrey David (Shakhter Karagandy—Kazakhstan), striker Jonathan Glenn (Breioablik—Iceland), Kenwyne Jones (Cardiff City—Wales) and winger Lester Peltier (Slovan Bratislava—Slovakia) are likely to be off-season at the time. But their respective clubs would still have the right of refusal.
Wired868 could not reach coach Stephen Hart or team manager William Wallace for comment on the predicament.
However, TTFA director of communications, Shaun Fuentes, said the technical staff anticipated the issue and will try to create a squad based around Pro League, United States-based players and players in their off-season.
“The TTFA is awaiting further correspondence from CONCACAF as to whether they will assist the respective FAs to get players release,” Fuentes told Wired868. “But management had foreseen this situation and will look to the possibility of using local players as well as MLS and other off-season players.”
CONCACAF, incidentally, had from late July 2015 to schedule the Copa America play offs and might have done so during the international match calendar earlier this month.
Haiti played only once in October while the Warriors only finalised their friendly against Nicaragua a few weeks before the event.
Instead, CONCACAF, which is still reeling from the indictment of its suspended president Jeffrey Webb on racketeering charges linked to next year’s Copa America Centenario, carded the fixtures at a time when no team could reasonably expect to be full strength.
It might console Trinidad and Tobago football fans that Haiti would be harder hit by CONCACAF’s farcical scheduling.
Twelve of Haiti’s 23-man 2015 Gold Cup squad ply their trade in Europe, including Cyprus-based striker Jean-Eudes Maurice and talented Belgium-based midfielder Jeff Louis.
Maurice scored twice when the French-speaking islanders defeated Trinidad and Tobago 2-0 at the 2013 Gold Cup, which remains the only time that Hart’s troops have lost during regulation time in a competitive fixture after two years.
The Warriors won their last meeting with Haiti 1-0 in July, a week before the 2015 Gold Cup kicked off. But it was not a recognised international match and Hart used eight substitutes in the warm-up affair.