Trinidad and Tobago National Senior Team head coach Dennis Lawrence has indicated that talented Seattle Sounders flanker Joevin Jones is unlikely to feature against Jamaica tonight, after the Soca Warriors failed to receive written clearance from his MLS employers.
The Warriors and the “Reggae Boyz” clash from 8pm in friendly international action at the Hasely Crawford Stadium in Port of Spain. Tickets are $100 for the covered stands and $50 for uncovered.
Jones, who is due to join second division German team SV Darmstadt 98 in January, left Seattle on Monday and trained with his national team on Tuesday.
Sounders general manager Garth Lagerway said Jones returned to Trinidad for personal reasons but did not contradict a report in the Seattle Times which claimed the player was absent without leave.
Sounders cannot stop Jones from representing the Warriors on 1 September when they face Honduras in 2018 World Cup qualifying action at the Ato Boldon Stadium in Couva. However, they could report the Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) to FIFA if he plays without their permission tonight, since the friendly contest is outside the international match window.
Yesterday evening, Lawrence told the media that he was not prepared to take that risk.
“As of now, Joevin will not be part of that game [against Jamaica],” said the Warriors coach, “because I think we all understand that we need to have written confirmation from his club that he’s allowed to the play the game.
“That hasn’t happened so Joevin will not take any part in the game unless something changes between now and kick off time.”
Although the match is billed as a friendly, the two Caribbean nations are fierce rivals and assistant coach Stern John expects a tough outing.
“We don’t want to go into the game worrying about Jamaica being physical. Jamaicans are very physical [and] that’s part of their nature,” said John. “That’s part of the way they play. We just have to match them physically and be mentally strong too.”
Lawrence, John and Jamaica coach Theodore “Tappa” Whitmore are all former World Cup players for their respective countries. Whitmore led the Boyz at the France 1998 edition while Lawrence and John took part in Germany 2006.
For now, only Trinidad and Tobago have the opportunity of making a second appearance at a senior World Cup in Russia—although Lawrence admitted that his troops must improve quickly.
“I think if you look back at the last four games we’ve had we were up against four very good oppositions and we lost all four,” said Lawrence, who famously headed home his country’s decisive goal in a 2006 World Cup playoff win over Bahrain. “If we could get a victory tomorrow to motivate the boys and get the spirit up that will be good but I think most importantly is for the boys to understand some of the things we are going to work on for the Honduras game.
“[…] I think it’s the kind of competitive game we need going into the Honduras game and as I said before it’s going to be a good, fierce contest […] and we are going to play the game in the right spirit.”
Whitmore, a former Hull City and Tranmere Rovers player, could point to this year’s CONCACAF Gold Cup to illustrate his team’s steady improvement as the Boyz finished second in the gala tournament for a second straight tournament.
Both teams are understrength but Whitmore insisted that they were also taking the game seriously.
“It does not really matter whether it is a FIFA date, this is something we want for the local national players to have enough games for them to expose themselves,” Whitmore told the TTFA media earlier this week.
“Tappa”, who scored a double in 1998 as Jamaica stunned Japan for its sole World Cup final triump, said he is opening his doors for new players to impress in Port of Spain—with only six members of Jamaica’s 2017 Gold Cup squad available.
“Against quality opponents like a Trinidad and Tobago, who are preparing for two World Cup Qualifying games, it gives us a chance to look at other players,” he said.
At present, Jamaica are ranked as the 57th best team in the world by FIFA, some 26 places above their Caribbean brothers to the south. But Lawrence can take solace from the fact that his T&T team is still alive—albeit barely—in the Russia 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign.
Lawrence’s charges are bottom of the CONCACAF Hex with three points from six matches so far. And there is no margin for error as they prepare for pivotal qualifiers against Honduras (five points) and Panama (seven points) on 1 and 5 September respectively.
“Tallest” insisted that he is taking things one match at a time, though.
“Three points [against Honduras] is the main thing for me right now,” said Lawrence. “Six points [from the two upcoming games] will be fantastic but the main thing for me now is to get the three points, which will keep us going into the next game. And then we will move on from there.”
For added edge, Jamaica have defeated Trinidad and Tobago in their last meetings at every age group. The Boyz hammered T&T 8-1 at the recently-concluded CONCACAF Under-15 Championships, while their Under-17 unit defeated the young Warriors 3-2 in CFU action last year as Raewin Senior and Kaheem Parris put on a clinic in Couva.
And, in their last senior battle, the visitors won a penalty shootout in the 2014 Caribbean Cup final.
Parris, for one, will hope to create some history tonight as the 16 year-old attacker will become the youngest full international to represent his country if he takes the field under the bright lights at the Hasely Crawford Stadium.
Trinidad and Tobago have only scored three goals in the Hex so far and Lawrence indicated that it is a concern.
“We are not really blessed with strikers at the moment for some reason or the other, so we are still searching for that position,” said Lawrence.
North East Stars forward Rundell Winchester, Club Sando attacker Tyrone Charles and either of the W Connection duo of Marcus Joseph or Neil Benjamin Jr might get the chance to stake their claim.
John, T&T’s all-time leading goal scorer with 70 items and a former England Premier League frontman, suggested that the current crop of strikers need to gamble a bit more in order to see success in front of goal.
“You can practice and get better but I think goal scoring is something that you are born with,” said John. “You need an eye for goal. Like I was telling a couple of the strikers, I think sometimes you just have to gamble or tell yourself that the defender is going to miss.”
Time will tell who takes the gamble for the Soca Warriors in the 18-yard box tonight.
(Trinidad and Tobago squad for Jamaica friendly)
Goalkeepers: Marvin Phillip (Point Fortin Civic), Adrian Foncette (Police FC);
Defenders: Maurice Ford, Triston Hodge, Alvin Jones (W Connection), Taryk Sampson (Central FC), Shane Sandy (St Ann’s Rangers), Kevon Villaroel (North East Stars), Aubrey David (PS Remi—Finland);
Midfielders: Hughtun Hector (W Connection), Curtis Gonzales (Defence Force), Jared London (Club Sando), Nathaniel Garcia (Central FC);
Attacking midfielders: Hashim Arcia (Defence Force FC), Nathan Lewis (San Juan Jabloteh), Neil Benjamin Jr (W Connection), Tyrone Charles (Club Sando), Julio Noel (San Juan Jabloteh), Cordell Cato (San Jose Earthquakes—USA),
Forwards: Rundell Winchester (North East Stars), Marcus Joseph (W Connection);
Standby: Joevin Jones (Seattle Sounders—USA).