The Soca Warriors are desperate to get hex-ed.
Trinidad and Tobago National Senior Team head coach Stephen Hart today selected his 24-man squad to tackle Guatemala and the United States in two pivotal Russia 2018 World Cup qualifiers on 2 and 6 September respectively.
The Warriors, who currently sit atop Group C with ten points, only need a draw against Guatemala in Port of Spain to advance to the final six-team hexagonal stage. And Hart said he is determined to get the job done at the Hasely Crawford Stadium to avoid a must-win scenario against the US in Jacksonville, four days later.
“If we get in the Hex I’m satisfied, that’s all I care about at the moment,” said Hart, at a press conference in the TTFA’s headquarters. “Both Guatemala and the United States have a better set-up in that both teams will be playing their final games at home. But Guatemala knows very well that this is a game where they have to come and get the result and they are going to come and fight for that result.
“We have to be aware of that ourselves.”
Trinidad and Tobago, who are currently ranked 68th in the FIFA rankings, enjoyed success against the 82nd ranked Guatemalans last year as they prevailed 3-1 in a CONCACAF Gold Cup match in July, before coming away with a 2-1 World Cup qualifying victory in Guatemala City in November.
And Hart, who has all his goal scorers from those outings—Sheldon Bateau, Cordell Cato, Joevin Jones, Khaleem Hyland and Kenwyne Jones—within his squad, is hoping that his players can rekindle their fire after a six-month break from qualifying action.
“International football is very, very difficult to maintain levels of consistency,” said Hart. “The last time we played with this squad was March so we are going into a game in September where a number of players have only played a few games.
“And then we have more than half the squad that has played many games, so it’s important that I get the balance right and players find their feet within the squad and we get a good result from the game.”
One of the players who will be eager to wet his feet in the two upcoming qualifiers is England-born midfielder John Bostock.
The former England Under-17 captain, who recently transferred to French Ligue 2 outfit Racing Club de Lens, is enduring an agonising wait to represent the “Red, White and Black”. But with FIFA expected to give the final ruling on his eligibility in a few days time, the wait could soon be over for the stylish-looking central midfielder.
“There has been ongoing dialogue between the [Trinidad and Tobago Football Association] president David John-Williams and FIFA,” said Hart, “and the president has been persistent in his push to get this situation verified and we are almost 100 percent sure that the situation should be resolved by Monday.
“People who were involved in FIFA suffered a setback because people were on vacation or whatever but all the documentation and dialogue has been ongoing for about four weeks now.”
Bostock was also named in the Warriors squad for a pair of qualifiers in March, but was unable to play due to an error in the TTFA’s application for his change of nationality. Hopefully, the TTFA can get the green light on this occasion.
“The situation from all indications is that it is supposed to be resolved by Monday,” said Hart. “And if I had waited till Monday then it would mean that John will not be in a situation where he can train or be part of the team.
“If it works out in the negative I have no control over that [as] I would have to work with my squad. That’s kinda the reason I went with 24 [players].”
While Bostock may have some nerves on his journey from France, Louisville City FC goalkeeper Gregory Ranjitsingh will be overjoyed at his first international senior team call-up.
The Canada-born goalkeeper previously represented T&T’s National Under-20 Team and has emerged as Louisville’s number one choice between the sticks in the United Soccer League (USL).
“I have had [Ranjitsingh] scouted quite extensively and he has been having a very consistent season,” Hart said. “I thought it would be an opportunity for him to come in to work with [goalkeeper coach] Michael Maurice and, of course, to push for selection in the squad.”
Ranjitsingh will vie for a starting spot with Police FC’s Adrian Foncette and Morvant Caledonia’s Marvin Phillip. The latter has deputised for the injured Jan-Michael Williams in the last two World Cup qualifiers against St Vincent and the Grenadines.
“I anticipated the situation with Jan-Michael. He’s still in his recovery mode,” Hart said. “He has said to me that he thinks he’s a 100 percent but he has not played any football for a very, very long time and it was one of the most difficult decisions to not include him in the squad…
“Experience goes a long way but at the end of the day you need to be sharp like anybody else. And you know with goalkeepers it’s a difficult situation when you are not really playing consistently, and coming off of an injury that has not been tested.
“So I had to weigh all these factors in.”
Ranjitsingh, according to Louisville City’s website, is the first player from the USL club to receive a senior international call-up.
“I’ve been working toward this my whole life, training and trying to improve myself,” Ranjitsingh told the Louisville City website. “On my birth certificate it doesn’t say it, but I grew up in a Trinidad house. That was the culture—the food, everything—and it’s so close to my heart.
“It’s great to be able to represent the country.”
Hart kept the majority of his squad that faced SVG with just Justin Hoyte, Willis Plaza and Sean De Silva failing to make the final cut. Both Hoyte and Plaza are currently unattached, while De Silva misses out despite being involved in CONCACAF Champions League action with Central FC.
“Justin unfortunately was on the verge of signing a contract with Kilmarnock, and from all indications the club wanted him to retire from international football before the contract was signed and he refused to do so. And he’s in search of a club…”
Gaining recalls to the Russia 2018 campaign were Kevan George, Carlyle Mitchell, Radanfah Abu Bakr and winger Cordell Cato, who was sidelined for a few months with a hamstring injury.
“I’ve always been impressed with Cato, he’s one of those players who gives you everything,” Hart said. “He has come back from injury in a new position [at full back] and has adapted quite well. So once he’s fit, I see him as being an integral part of this squad.”
An experimental Trinidad and Tobago team conceded 11 goals on a three-match tour against Peru, Uruguay and China, three months ago. But Hart hopes his full-strength Warriors regain their focus and commitment quickly at their training camp, which starts on Monday.
Hart warned fans that they should come to the Hasely Crawford expecting to see a battle and not dazzling football.
“I don’t anticipate this game to be pretty at all,” said the Warriors coach.
The Guatemala fixture kicks off at the Hasely Crawford Stadium in Port of Spain from 7pm. Gates will open at the venue from 4pm.
Tickets cost TT$300 (Covered Section) and TT$150 (Uncovered Section) and are available, through Sun Tixx, at any of the National Lotteries Control Board’s (NLCB) 900 Lotto outlets nationwide.
(Trinidad and Tobago squad)
Goalkeepers: Greg Ranjitsingh (Louisville City FC—US), Marvin Phillip (Morvant Caledonia United), Adrian Foncette (Police);
Defenders: Aubrey David (FC Dallas—US), Daneil Cyrus (W Connection), Radanfah Abu Bakr (JK Silame Kalev—Estonia), Sheldon Bateau (KC Krylia Sovetov—Russia), Yohance Marshall (Murcielagos FC—Mexico), Mekeil Williams (Colorado Rapids—USA), Carlyle Mitchell (Seoul E Land—Korea Republic);
Midfielders: Andre Boucaud (Dagenham & Redbridge—England), Khaleem Hyland (KV Westerlo—Belgium), Hughtun Hector (W Connection), Neveal Hackshaw (Charleston Battery—USA), Kevan George (Jackson Armada FC—US), John Bostock (RC Lens—France);
Attacking Midfielders: Levi Garcia (AZ Alkmaar—Netherlands), Jomal Williams (Murcielagos FC—Mexico), Kevin Molino (Orlando City—US), Cordell Cato (San Jose Earthquakes—US), Joevin Jones (Seattle Sounders—US);
Forwards: Shahdon Winchester (Murcielagos FC—Mexico), Kenwyne Jones (Central FC), Trevin Caesar (Orange County Blues—US).