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U-20 Women bid to brighten mood; Shabazz seeks positive performance in CONCACAF tourney

Jamaal Shabazz, head coach of the Trinidad and Tobago Women’s Under-20 team, is well aware that Trinidad and Tobago could use a positive boost in these tense and negative times. And he believes that his players have what it takes to give the embattled nation the inspiration it needs.

“It would be good to give the nation some upliftment in this very difficult period,” Shabazz told Wired868 as the Junior Women Soca Warriors are deep in their preparations for the CONCACAF Under-20 Women’s Championship, “not just in our sport but overall.

“We are living in a time of conflict and war on the streets and the girls could make a huge statement.”

Photo: The Trinidad and Tobago Women’s National Under-20 Team trains at the Hasely Crawford Stadium on 9 January 2018.
(Courtesy Sean Morrison/Wired868)

All 16 matches in the tournament, to be staged from the 18-28 January, will be played at the Ato Boldon Stadium in Couva and the Junior Women, in Group A, will do battle with Costa Rica, Canada and Haiti. The defending champions USA, Mexico, Nicaragua and Jamaica make up Group B and the three teams that come out on top in the championship will qualify for the 2018 FIFA Women’s Under-20 World Cup in France.

Shabazz does not believe that the additional “social responsibility” on the shoulders of his team represents additional on-the-field stress for his charges; he is confident his charges are well placed to handle the pressure.

“They understand,” he assured Wired868. “They played at Under-15 and Under-17 level and they know what it is to play in a CONCACAF tournament. So understanding that USA, Canada, Mexico, Costa Rica, Haiti, etc. that qualified will be forces is a plus.”

“But honestly, there can only be one ambition if you’re playing a CONCACAF tournament at home,” he continued, “in an Under-20 age group with a bunch of girls who are passionate and fearless. I think we want to give it our best shot because it’s a wonderful opportunity to qualify.”

Reminded that the National Women’s Under-17 team had failed to make it out of the group stage in the Caribbean leg of the CONCACAF qualifying series in October 2017 in Haiti, the experienced head coach immediately put the focus on a major difference—apart from the obvious one regarding playing at home.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago midfielder Ranae Ward (left) and defender Natisha John challenge the ball during Women’s National Under-20 Team practice at the Hasely Crawford Stadium on 9 January 2018.
(Courtesy Sean Morrison/Wired868)

“Because the Under-17s that went to the CFU finals in Haiti were not exposed to that level before, they didn’t understand what they were getting into. This group understands…”

That Under-17 team, which finished bottom of the group behind Jamaica and Bermuda, featured players like Moenesa Mejias, Nathifa Hackshaw, Aaliyah Prince and Tianna Daniel, all of whom have made the step up to the next age division. None of them, however, is among Shabazz’s list of go-to players, at least not yet, not in this tournament.

Shabazz revealed that he will be leaning heavily on his playmaker, Renae Ward, the elegant passer who recently led Bishop Anstey Port-of-Spain to the 2017 Girl’s National Intercol title. Ward’s team dismantled Pleasantville 6-0 on the back of her goal-scoring MVP performance.

According to Shabazz, defenders Natisha John and Shadi Cecily Stoute are also key players in his set-up but the composition of the final squad will be revealed at a media conference tomorrow. The decision about who will skipper the team is likely to be made public closer to the first game against Haiti on 18 January.

Having been involved in the national women’s game virtually from its infancy, Shabazz only took over the reins of the National Women’s football teams in July 2017, in the wake of the sudden departure of Italian Carolina Morace and her technical team. He noted that, generally speaking, today’s local players lack the technical ability of previous generations, a fact which has negatively impacted the country’s performance in recent tournaments.

Photo: Renah Campbell (second from left) and Sidney Boiselle (centre) lead the Women’s National Under-20s during a run at the Hasely Crawford Stadium on 9 January 2018.
(Courtesy Sean Morrison/Wired868)

“The players that we turning out are not as technically sound as the Maylee Attin-Johnson and the Kennya Cordner, etc.” Shabazz lamented. “Kennya, Attin-Johnson, Tasha St Louis, from 2000 to 2001 trained four days a week with no tournament in sight, on technical development. And look where they reached as players.”

He lauded the commitment of his staff—“Marlon Charles, Isla Browne, Kester Lendore, Jinelle James and company”—who used their own resources to scout and train players from the primary school level but expressed regret that that kind of thing “hasn’t been done since 2010.”

Appointed coach of Guyana’s National Senior Men’s team in 2011, Shabazz was involved exclusively in senior men’s football up until his July 2017 return to the Women’s game. But the reintegration into women’s football has not been without its challenges.

“It has been a more difficult a transition than I imagined,” he told Wired868. “The language I used in Guyana with a Senior Men’s National Team to get the best out of the player (was different and) the antics sometimes included physical force. But with Under-20 women and Under-17 women, it poses a different challenge.

“It has made me a more patient and understanding person.”

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago Women’s National Under-20 coach Jamaal Shabazz (right) instructs attacker Aaliyah Prince during practice at the Hasely Crawford Stadium on 9 January 2018.
(Courtesy Sean Morrison/Wired868)

The Morvant Caledonia United owner cited as critical his understanding that women footballers may not be able to operate at the same speed and with the same intensity as their male counterparts. There is, therefore, a lingering lack of ease about his players’ ability to remain compact and maintain their intensity when covering the pressuring player.

A larger concern, however, was the recurrent issue of lack of funding. Were the money available, he would have liked, he said, “to get at least two more matches against high-level opposition, outside of the two (friendly) games against Jamaica.”

Praising the TTFA for its “tremendous effort,” he acknowledged that the money problem is not new but was particularly important because of the peculiar circumstances surrounding this team and this tournament.

“Funding has been a major issue and the Christmas period was always going to be difficult, which was the only time other than now that we would have gotten our full squad. Remember at least 40% of the team is living in North America so you have to prepare the team in two parts.”

But Shabazz gave the assurance that his team would not allow anything to stand in the way of its efforts at success in the tournament.

“All in all,” he ended, “what we lack in resources, we want to make up in attitude.”

Photo: Attacker Tiana Daniel (left) tries to get past goalkeeper Klil Keshwar during Trinidad and Tobago Women’s National Under-20 Team practice at the Hasely Crawford Stadium on 9 January 2018.
(Courtesy Sean Morrison/Wired868)

About Amiel Mohammed

Amiel Mohammed
Amiel Mohammed is a sports enthusiast and has worked in communications for Central FC and the Women's Premier League TT. He has also pioneered numerous projects geared towards creating opportunities for the differently abled such as the Differently-Abled Football Camp 2015 and Focus Football Coaching Academy.

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24 comments

  1. Where can I get the itinerary of matches?

  2. Yeah ah really tired ah the football tabanca eh hence the reason why ah afraid to get involved either with the TTFA, the professional and the Super league eh to much of the 3 rd world mentality and plenty bachanal just look at what is taking place the Keith Look Loy vs the proleague eh and jusy imagine that he said that the league was financially successful eh and the teams played for free, the man really behaving like if the Super League really belongs to him the same as his club Santa Rosa eh and I dont know why he doesnt just stay in the back office and do his thing nah , and who continues to suffer not our players and the beautiful game eh. Them really good yes

  3. I would be happy just to see them be consistently competitive. Anything else is a bonus.

  4. So we are living in ah time of war and conflict on the streets so the girls will make ah huge statement eh, my prof Jamaal Shabazz , so hasn’t that been happening a long time eh and when the Lady Soca Worries doesn’t qualify eh, the war and conflict on the streets always continues eh, the one thing that I know is that you really good with your words eh, oh well good luck eh. Them really good yes.

  5. Why is the team not named yet?

    I note this is the same staff from all the years ago, I may be sounding pessimistic, but if we change nothing, can we truly expect a change in result?

  6. Wishing team TTO all the best in this competition!!

  7. Wishing the team and the staff all the best in this tournament ,Keep reppin the Red ,White and Black.

  8. Wish them the best. Can’t believe Pville star player Mama Joseph can’t make this team though..

  9. Dedicated staff of coaches and players .. wishing them all the best and a successful tournament ⚽️