Crisis? What crisis?
A potentially tricky assignment was last night transformed into a “coming out” party at the Ato Boldon Stadium, where the Trinidad and Tobago Women’s National Senior Team put a humbling 13-0 whipping on their Grenadian counterparts.
The Women Soca Warriors needed only six goals to qualify and, by halftime, they had already got those. Coach Jamaal Shabazz revealed that he had asked his players to take their feet off the gas, once they hit double figures—but his plea fell on deaf ears.
“I was more nervous than them [on the night before the game],” said Shabazz, at the post-game media conference. “[…] They never doubted… They have a deep desire to go forward and they demonstrated that today.
“[…] I was trying to call them off when we had 10 goals and they said, ‘No, let’s play and let’s devour them.’ And they did.”
There will be tougher opponents than Grenada—who conceded 27 goals in four matches—to contend with before Trinidad and Tobago’s France 2019 World Cup campaign reaches a climax. But at least the Women Warriors have got over their first psychological hurdle with flying colours.
Shabazz, who has endured more lows than highs since returning to the women’s programme to replace Italian Carolina Morace in mid-2017, took the opportunity to pat himself—and his technical staff—on the back as they too emerged creditably from yesterday’s challenge.
The veteran coach suggested that he had had his entire squad to choose from against Grenada but opted to rest key midfielder Karyn “Baby” Forbes, emerging talent Shanelle Arjoon and the experienced Patrice Superville, for the uncomplicated midfield offerings of Naomie Guerra and the teenaged pair of Aaliyah Prince and Kedie Johnson.
Johnson got the first goal of the match with a gorgeous left-footed strike, Prince notched a hat-trick—her second against Grenada in just over a month, after her treble in the CFU Challenge Series—and Guerra was a breath of fresh air in the midfield.
“Sometimes people underestimate the work that we do [as coaches],” said Shabazz. “We know what we are doing. Sometimes the result will not go the way we would like or we expect but this is football.
“[…] Everybody except the reserve keeper got a chance to play and, at this stage, we accomplished what we set out to do: to widen the pool and to start to re-establish ourselves as a dominant team in Caribbean football.”
In August, the Trinidad and Tobago women, who—lest we forget—are the reigning Caribbean champions, will play in the final round of the qualifying series, where they take on Jamaica, Cuba, Bermuda and Antigua and Barbuda.
The top three nations progress to the Concacaf stage and, with Haiti already out—eliminated on goal difference by Jamaica—the Women Warriors are favoured to sail right through the next round with the “Reggae Girlz” likely to offer the toughest opposition to their title aspirations.
Before then, Shabazz will take his squad to Colombia for battle in the July CAC Games, where they will face Mexico, Nicaragua and Haiti in Group B.
Four years ago, Trinidad and Tobago women’s coach Randy Waldrum, who was an unpaid volunteer, controversially opted to skip the CAC competition as he juggled duties between the Women Warriors and his club employers in Dallas.
Shabazz, who earns a salary paid by the Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA), will not do likewise and he expressed his eagerness to face tougher opposition before their final Caribbean qualifying phase.
“It’s just the kind of exposure we need before we get to the Caribbean finals in August,” said Shabazz. “[…] Going into the CAC Games, we will be aiming to get a medal in that tournament. But because the CAC Games doesn’t qualify us for anything, it is a chance to experiment [and] see what we can get away with and what we cannot get away with.
“It is something we are looking forward to.”
The senior team will take a few days off to rest and “assess” the players with knocks and bruises before they begin preparations for the next phase.
Venezuela have asked for a practice game in the next two weeks and Shabazz hopes it becomes reality and also wants another friendly next month. By then, there should be some new faces in the national squad.
“We have five or six players on the outside to bring into the squad to compete for places,” he said, “and we will re-invite some players locally and start to prepare for the CAC Games—[with] four, five days a week preparation.”
This time, Shabazz shied away from naming the players he wants to insert into his squad, which is just as well—after being rebuffed by his former captain, Maylee Attin-Johnson, last week.
Often one to split opinion, Attin-Johnson’s blunt views on the team’s chances under the current technical staff are believed to have been met with mixed responses by her former teammates.
She had an unlikely ally in the soft-spoken Prince, though. The 17-year-old starlet, who barely lifted her voice above a whisper in front of the tape recorders, had a firm answer when asked for her favourite player, male or female.
“Maylee Attin-Johnson,” responded Prince, who just graduated from Success Laventille. “[…] She is the one who inspired me to start playing football.”
While Attin-Johnson’s own international future is shrouded in doubt, there is no question that the diminutive Prince’s is on the upswing. Shabazz credited her tactical discipline today, when she started as a right-side attacker rather than in her preferred role through the centre.
“She fitted in well with the seniors [and] we consider her a player,” said Shabazz. “She is one player who we feel has a bright future. We are very pleased with her performance and, most of all, we are pleased with her attitude [because] she in no way feels she has arrived.
“She listens to the older players and I think this is a player we need to keep our eyes on.”
Amidst the smiling faces and optimistic forecasts, there was also a note of caution from 28-year-old Trinidad and Tobago defender Jenelle Cunningham.
“Basically, we need to up the intensity of practices and make sure we have a healthy squad for the next round,” said Cunningham, who has a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration and is employed as assistant coach at Angelo State University in Texas at present. “The sessions [have to be] more conducive to what we are facing next.”
Shabazz suggested he was comfortable with the greater role that Forbes and Cunningham were playing behind the scenes. And his assessment was similar.
“I am comfortable with the knowledge base of the players [particularly when we are changing formation during the match],” said Shabazz. “I think right now we need to get fitter. And we still have a lot of work to do psychologically as well.”
The journey now start.