Trinidad and Tobago National Senior Team head coach Stephen Hart has summoned DIRECTV W Connection attacker Shahdon Winchester and Portland Timbers II attacker Rundell Winchester to his 23-man squad to face Haiti in the 2016 Copa America Centenario play off on January 8 in Panama City.
The two Winchesters replace injured North East Stars playmaker Keron “Ball Pest” Cummings and Central FC striker Willis Plaza.
Cummings was shot outside his Diego Martin home before dawn on Sunday morning and suffered a broken thigh bone while Plaza was ruled out with a shoulder injury he picked up in Central’s 4-0 pro League win over Morvant Caledonia United on December 19.
Cummings was scheduled to undergo an operation this morning at the Port of Spain General Hospital.
“I think if there is a silver lining in a shooting is that (Cummings) is alive,” Hart told the TTFA Media. “Hopefully he is in good hands. We wish him all the best to get back healthy, and then we can think about his football again.
“All the players and the staff are in full support. We’ll see him and give him our support.
“I think we have to rally around that and the game now has an extra meaning because he was a big part of us.”
The absence of Cummings and Plaza as well as midfielders Kevin Molino and Hughtun Hector, who are both recovering from broken legs, and the unavailability of team captain Kenwyne Jones, offers a rare opportunity for the unrelated Winchesters.
In 30 outings as coach, Hart used Shahdon on just three occasions while Rundell has just four caps for the current “Soca Warriors” coach.
At present, Hart has just 18 players in camp as striker Jonathan Glenn, defender Justin Hoyte and midfielders Khaleem Hyland, Kevan George and Andre Boucaud are still unavailable. All five Warriors are expected to join their colleagues by January 2.
Hart anticipates that the Haiti showdown will be a “dog fight” for the chance to compete against the likes of Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and South America champions, Chile.
“It’s one game and it’s one mission: to win,” said Hart. “The main thing now is to get players sharp. Some of them have been off for a little while, while others have been playing. The main thing is to get them in the right frame of mind and the mental attitude has to be right.
“We have to know that we are going into a game that will quite essentially be a dog fight but it is one to get into a very prestigious tournament and something where you can’t put a price on the experience you will get in playing in a tournament like that.
“But first things first: one game.”
New Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) president David John-Williams attended today’s practice session and subsequently visited Cummings at the Port of Spain hospital along with team doctor Dr Terence Babwah.
Hart declared the averted stand-off between the Warriors and the current TTFA executive as “unfortunate” and “mentally taxing.” However, he said he was pleased with the progress by the two parties.
“To be fair, the new regime came in and they were not aware of the entire situation and it is unfortunate,” said Hart. “It is very understandable in terms of the players, and you have to support that. But that’s behind us now and hopefully mentally behind us because it was extremely taxing mentally.
“I know for me, I was a little bit put back because this is a very important outing for us… I haven’t had a chance to sit down with the President as yet but we have been talking every day on the phone and he has assured me that all things are moving in the right track.
“I have to trust him on that. That’s his department and I will try and take care of things on the field.”
On the plus side, Hart welcomed Central playmaker Ataulla Guerra and W Connection attacker Jomal Williams back into the national set-up and challenged them to force their way into the starting team.
“I have shown confidence in picking them and now it’s for them to fight their way into the starting line up,” said Hart, “to train properly and show me that they cannot be left out unless it is for tactical reasons.”
The Warriors coach said the squad were happy to be back together for the time since their goalless 2018 World Cup qualifying draw with the United States on November 17.
“This is the part that I enjoy and I think we all enjoy,” said Hart, “having the players here and on the field and back in training.”