U-20 Women: Shabazz claims “underdog” status at home; tips Prince to sizzle

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When the Trinidad and Tobago Women’s National Under-20 first take the field from 6.30pm tomorrow at the Ato Boldon Stadium in Couva in the CONCACAF Under-20 tournament, it is their Haitian opponents who, coach Jamaal Shabazz says, will be the favourites to walk away victorious.

“We don’t mind the underdog status,” an untroubled Shabazz told Wired868 after overseeing his team’s practice session at the Hasely Crawford Stadium training field last evening. “Despite playing at home, we don’t mind that status.”

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago Women’s National Under-20 Team members enjoy a light moment during practice at the Hasely Crawford Stadium on 9 January 2018.
(Courtesy Sean Morrison/Wired868)

Pressure is something that Shabazz is used to. And he is hoping that his vast experience of dealing with it—on and off the football pitch—will help his charges cope as they bid to earn themselves an Under-20 World Cup spot in France later this year.

“I don’t feel pressured [about the CONCACAF Under-20 tournament] in the least,” Shabazz said. “The situations I’ve been through in my life, things that will kill other people will just frighten me.”

Shabazz, who was part of the Jamaat-al-Muslimeen group which attempted an abortive coup in the Parliament in 1990, was joint head coach with Hutson “Barber” Charles of the technical team that qualified Trinidad and Tobago’s Senior Men’s National squad for the 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup.  Subsequently replaced by Stephen Hart, he has also been one on the pioneers of the women’s game locally, assisting in the development of players such as Maylee Attin-Johnson, Kennya “Yaya” Cordner and Tasha St Louis.

Some 28 years after he, then 26, and 113 Jamaat colleagues stormed the Red House, Shabazz has a different fight on his hands. And he is hopeful that he can turn that now distant negative experience into a positive asset.

“I’ve been through more life and death situations than a tournament like this,” he told Wired868, “and I hope to bring my experience to bear upon this team.”

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)

Fully aware that, just a few months ago, his Under-17 Women’s team bowed out in the Caribbean phase of qualifying for the 2018 Under-17s Women’s World Cup in Uruguay, the ex-Guyana coach expressed satisfaction with the development and progress of his current Under-20 crop. He expects, he says, a better showing.

“The Under-17 team did not come out of a developmental programme,” Shabazz “pointed out. “This [Under-20] team has played under some top local coaches; they have played under Jason Spence, Rajesh Latchoo, Marlon Charles and Richard Hood and they have been through the ranks of Under-15 and Under-17.”

According to Shabazz, his team has no illusions about the quality of opposition they will encounter at the Ato Boldon Stadium in Couva starting tomorrow. And his young starlets are excited and ready for the challenge which lies ahead. And a challenge it is sure to be as, Caribbean counterparts Haiti apart, the “Young Women Warriors” are set to face Canada and Costa Rica.

The coach is well aware of the cohesiveness and the skill which make Haitian footballers a difficult proposition at any level.

“Haiti’s women’s football has grown tremendously in the last seven to eight years,” he said. “Although I’ve been out of the women’s game for about ten years, I’ve admired the growth of their football.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago midfielder Karyn Forbes (centre) tries to weave her way past some Haiti players during the 2014 CONCACAF Championship.
(Copyright AFP 2014)

“The fact that they had their players living together over the years has now started to reap benefits and they have shown that at Under-17 level and they also have a formidable Under-20 team.”

His own team will be less formidable than it might have been, forced as they are to go into the tournament without the services of former Germany-based defender Amaya Ellis, who tore her meniscus in training a few days ago. Despite that setback, Shabazz is encouraged by the promise he has seen in the 16-year-old pair of Nathifa Hackshaw and Aaliyah Prince and he is optimistic that they will make their mark on the competition.

“These two youngsters [Hackshaw and Prince] are testimony that you have got to keep your programme ongoing,” he explained. “Because when we came back from the Under-17s, they joined the Under-20s and they have been able to force themselves into the team as two youngsters and I am so proud of them.

“For Prince, this is a moment to [seize]. She has shown that she can handle the Under-17 level and she has been handling the Under-20s in training. Now, she has earned the right to be tested in competition.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago Women’s National Under-17 Team forward Aaliyah Prince (foreground) in action against Grenada during 2018 World Cup qualifying action at the Ato Boldon Stadium, Couva on 27 August 2017.
(Courtesy Chevaughn Christopher/Wired868)

“At the end of the day, when the whistle blows, the way she handles the pressure will tell us a lot about how she has developed. And it’s the same with Hackshaw; they are both pushing for starting picks and that’s part of the excitement I feel.”

Having the evidence of the preliminary round of the Under-17 Caribbean qualifiers held in Couva last year, Shabazz knows that the local fan base is very demanding—though not understanding. And it is one of the areas where he expects the girls to call on his own experience and that of his staff—goalkeeping coach Glennon Foncette and assistant coaches Desirée Sarjeant and Charles (Marlon)—to guide them through.

“I think it will show if we are strong enough mentally to deal with the pressures of playing at home,” Shabazz explained, “with an expectant public and demanding fan base who know precious little about the women’s game.

“That type of pressure, I could deal with. And the bigger job for me is getting the players to keep focused, one game at a time.”

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago Women’s National Under-20 coach Jamaal Shabazz (second from right) talks to fellow technical staff members (from left) Desiree Sarjaent, Marlon Charles and Saran Joseph during practice at the Hasely Crawford Stadium on 9 January 2018.
(Courtesy Sean Morrison/Wired868)

He stressed that the support personnel’s role was critical to success in the next few days.

“How we do that as a staff could define how we do in this tournament,” he said, “not thinking about qualification but focusing on performance. This is the challenge.”

After tomorrow’s crucial Haiti encounter, T&T square off against 2015 CONCACAF Under-20 runners-up Canada on Saturday and then finish their group schedule against Costa Rica on Monday.

Does Shabazz have in mind a specific points tally which he thinks will assure the team of progressing to next week’s semi-finals where two of the four Group B sides—Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua and USA—await?

“I try to focus on one game at a time and, right now, that’s Haiti. Of course, everybody hopes to get nine points in three games and come out of the group. But each tournament has a story and the way it evolves…”

So, he quipped to Wired868, there will be neither miracle nor magic: “I try to remind myself that my name is Jamaal and not Jesus. It’s not Merlin either!”

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago player Jaasiel Forde (airborne) prepares to pass the ball during Women’s National Under-20 Team practice at the Hasely Crawford Stadium on 9 January 2018.
(Courtesy Sean Morrison/Wired868)

Another challenge, the coach admitted, is preventing his players from being distracted by the ongoing conversation about whether the Ato Boldon Stadium surface will stand up to the testing 16-games-in-11-days schedule of the tournament.

“CONCACAF made that decision after seeing the ground and with full knowledge of what happened before,” Shabazz tried to reassure Wired868, “and they are responsible, with the TTFA, for scheduling it. It doesn’t matter what opinion we have, we have to play there.

“We are focused on going on that pitch and playing and, at the moment, that is where we call home.”

And he is high in praise of the efforts and adjustments so far made by the players to keep the proper focus.

“The team knows how momentous the task is,” he commented, “and I have to give them credit for the disciplined way they have handled the preparations [thus far]. They have made tremendous sacrifices with school and their social lives.”

Those sacrifices, Shabazz says, along with their service to the national cause, are one reason why he hopes his charges will reap the rewards they so richly deserve.

Photo: Just over 20,000 Trinidad and Tobago supporters came out to watch the “Women Soca Warriors” face Ecuador in Port-of-Spain on 2 December 2014.
(Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)

“I think the pathway they have taken in terms of commitment to the game is impressive,” he intoned. “And I would like the results to come to further encourage them and to encourage the country to make a huge investment in the Women’s game.”

“It could snowball into something that would really affect the nation in a positive way,” he ended. “This is the hope, this is the dream and we have made the sacrifices for it. We have made the sacrifices for it and now we will see if Allah will accept the sacrifice. But our team is not short on commitment and sacrifice.”

Just after 8.30pm tomorrow, Shabazz and the rest of the Under-20 contingent will have a clearer idea of whether ahead lies another most welcome sacrifice, which is to make themselves proficient in French.

CONCACAF Women’s U-20 Championship

[All matches are carded for the Ato Boldon Stadium in Couva]

(Thursday 18 January)

Costa Rica v Canada, Group A, 4pm;

Trinidad and Tobago v Haiti, Group A, 6.30pm;

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)

(Saturday 20 January)

Haiti v Costa Rica, Group A, 4pm;

Trinidad and Tobago v Canada, Group A, 6.30pm;

(Tuesday 22 January)

Haiti v Canada, Group A, 4pm;

Trinidad and Tobago v Costa Rica, Group A, 6.30pm.

(Friday 19 January)

Mexico v Jamaica, Group B, 4pm;

United States v Nicaragua, Group B, 6.30pm;

Photo: Venezuela midfielder Milagros Mendoza (foreground) looks to initiate an attack while Trinidad and Tobago midfielder Ranae Ward (centre) stays close during international friendly action at the Ato Boldon Stadium in Couva on 29 March 2017.
Venezuela won 3-1.
(Courtesy Chevaughn Christopher/Wired868)

(Sunday 21 January)

Nicaragua v Mexico, Group B, 4pm;

United States v Jamaica, Group B, 6.30pm;

(Tuesday 23 January)

United States v Mexico, Group B, 4pm;

Jamaica v Nicaragua, Group B, 6.30pm;

(Friday 26 January)

Group B winner v Group A runner-up, Semifinals, 4pm;

Group A winner v Group B runner-up; Semifinals, 7pm;

(Sunday 28 January)

Third Place Play-off, 2pm;

Under-20 Finals, 5pm.

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About Roneil Walcott

Roneil Walcott
Roneil Walcott is an avid sports fan and freelance reporter with a BA in Mass Communication from COSTAATT. Roneil is a former Harvard and St Mary's College cricketer who once had lofty aspirations of bringing joy to sport fans with the West Indies team. Now, his mission is to keep them on the edge of their seats with sharp commentary from off the playing field.

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  1. This is tournament prep. He really shouldn’t be a developmental coach here.

  2. I don’t think Shabazz is a good developmental coach plain and simple and based on the technical ability I’ve seen of these players as well as what I perceive to be his tactical limitations …I don’t see this being a successful outing. I don’t feel he is the man for the job and I’m not expecting him to succeed in this tournament …if he does good for him but I’d be surprised …his defensive stance in the press conference betrays his state of mind and immediately gives his opponents a mental advantage

  3. ..Jamaal is a great football coach. He has proven that over many years. And he has demonstrated his indisputable commitment to women’s football. But no TTFF/TTFA administration has given the women’s game the support it should have, particularly on the grassroots and developmental side. And THAT is where we fall short and will continue to struggle with the best teams. The comcerns being expressed by the “critics” are REAL. This is not about Shabaaz. It is about the lack of broad development of the women’s game; the limited player pool that arises from that; and the TTFA’s inconsistent approach to team management and preparation. Again, we all hope for the best and wish the team well, but the issues transcend nationalism..

    • based on what you have said maybe we would have to legislate equality in sports ..al a tittle 1X that was done in the USA college system to bring women’s sport within equal parity with their male sporting counterpart..The issues and problems you have advance I can fully comprehend as the sport am in basketball went from having over 30 women teams in the 80/s to presently three [ 3]consistently functional teams..then as you have highlighted … the prob seams to be administrative that have no respect for the female version of the game , which makes the coaching of a national female team double harder .. how can you have a programme ..when there is no human resource s to mobilize …[players that is]..Keith Look Loy What you have identified I hope the football ….though it was and is a football post basketball administrators will see and understand what they have done and is doing to our women in sports participation..maybe legislating equal funding ,and equal opportunity treatment ought to be instituted ..why not follow a good USA principle.. just saying.

    • i like the title XI reference from Jack. BBall in the 80s was a very different scene—not just for women, but for men, youth, schools…the entire sport collapsed.
      I think that the women’s football scene has had enough LOCAL high-profile tournaments to have activated private equity interests, especially after the near-qualification of the senior women for the last Women’s WC…
      But THIS situation with THIS team is a classic case of nobody wanting to spend a dollar to pay to see ah ants wine

  4. Do local coaches support another local coach when they are national coaches .. especially when he or she can really do the job? //for me from personal experience the answer is no but that is in another sport … trini football coaches do you think Jamaal shabazz can do…coach football ..if yes do you support him to success if no state your opinion on his none ability just observation from y’all words

  5. ..We spend all this money and then what? I hope for the best but that is just nationalism. And that doh beat quality..

  6. ..We ask CONCACAF to host a tournament only to claim under dog status? SMHY..

  7. Hannibal Najjar

    Gentlemen, Dennis and Lasana, if we begin by saying that Haiti are the favorites then, we are twice-time underdogs. To sell this notion to the public and the ears of his players in front of the public, is itself, offering the first right of victory to Haiti. Haiti is, an already substantial opposition that I believe, owns a better head-to-head record against T&T at this level and I argue, all youth level of play, male or female. Second, to further reduce us with us having the home-field advantage is compounding lending a friendly hand for Haiti to steal total advantage. Haiti, it would appear, is, the 3rd strongest team in this group with Canada and Costa Rica being 1 and 2 respectively – I think this would be most pundits view. I sight that in this article, it was shared that Jamaal, at 26, took to overthrowing this country government but now, as it is stated in the article as well, some 28 years later, he loss dat mettle to beat Haiti, at home, and with all of the media and nation’s support at our backs. I urge Jamaal, a man that I know understands his countrymen and women as he does other nations of the region, to please take all of today and tomorrow to inject a bold confidence in his players to complement his preparation – tactics and strategies.

  8. Best of luck to the ladies. Win, lose, or draw – give it your all and make us proud.

  9. plain talk, bad manners: These women appear woefully underprepared. They look like kids next to some of the opposition…
    If Shabazz ain fraid well i ain shame to say i welllll fraid!

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