In 2018, two Caribbean teams qualified for FIFA World Cup tournaments for the first time. Neither were Trinidad and Tobago.
Haiti booked their place for the France 2018 Women’s Under-20 World Cup—after finishing third at the Concacaf tournament hosted right here in Couva—while Jamaica qualified for the senior 2019 World Cup, which will also be held in France.
So what has gone wrong for the Trinidad and Tobago women, who once ruled the region and came within minutes of qualifying for the Canada 2014 Women’s Under-20 World Cup and 2015 Women’s World Cup?
Wired868 asked former Women Soca Warriors captain Maylee Attin-Johnson as well as a current National Senior Team member to share their views.
Attin-Johnson spoke first.
Wired868: How do you think the team performed at the 2018 Concacaf Championship in USA?
Attin-Johnson: It turned out to be a disaster. It was difficult to watch because I know some of those players have sacrificed a lot for the women’s program. There are players who just play for a program and there are players who change a program. And when you have a player like Arin King—who helped change this program—looking and sounding defeated, it was honestly heartbreaking to see.
When we mention Arin King, we are talking about a true warrior and someone who sacrificed a lot for our country. When you see Karyn Forbes go out there on a bad knee and playing for two [players], it is tough to look at.
No one could tell me that Panama has better players than us. I will defend that view with everything. But they sure as hell had a better game plan, they were more organised and, most important, they had proper leadership on and off the field; and that was the difference between us and every other team.
It was honestly heart-wrenching to watch; but I know one day, one day we will get it right.
Wired868: Did you want to be there, despite all the issues? And, if so, then why?
Attin-Johnson: Representing my country has always been an honour and privilege, it’s one of the greatest feelings in the world. So despite all the chaos and controversy, I still had that fire, that energy and passion in me to represent my country. There were many people asking me to return one last time to lead the team. My social media in-boxes were filled with messages urging and encouraging me to return and give it one last go.
Outside of that, some of the players called and messaged, urging me to return. I was prepared and fit, even though I was not part of the team for some time. I honestly believed with the right leadership, the team would have stood a chance of qualifying.
Wired868: What are your thoughts on what Kennya ‘Yaya’ Cordner did in refusing to play against USA; and what would you have done if you were in the squad and she told you what was on her mind?
Attin-Johnson: If we have to speak about Yaya’s actions, we have to speak first about the actions of the technical director [Anton Corneal]. I know if we had a chance to qualify, I promise you that ‘Fifa course’ [that he went to conduct] would have went on without him. I’m not condoning or agreeing with what Yaya did but the actions of the subordinates are a reflection of the leadership.
As I told Yaya, if you wanted to take a stand, you should have never gotten on that plane in Norway [to come and play in the Concacaf tournament]. You don’t wait until you have absolutely no leverage to effect change. I know she will learn from this, as well as grow past this. She’s a blessed individual and you cannot stop a star from shining.
Wired868: In this cycle, the Trinidad and Tobago Women were coached by Randy Waldrum, Anthony Creece, Richard Hood, Carolina Morace, Jamaal Shabazz, Anton Corneal and Shawn Cooper.
Can you say a little about how each did, based on your first hand experience?
Attin-Johnson: If I recall correctly ‘Coach Randy’ only had the team for the US victory tour and was fired before he could have implemented his program. We all know the massive impact that Coach Randy had and I know—if he was given the opportunity to implement his proposal—he would have made a greater contribution to the program.
Mr Creece had the team that went to Brazil. That Brazil trip was a disaster before it even started, as that tournament collided with the US trip. I would say we took a President’s XI team to that tournament. No matter what coach was there, it would have been difficult to do well, since most of the National players were on the victory tour in the US.
Coach Hood is someone who I grew to respect. He coached us some years before this cycle as well. In 2016, he became the first coach to qualify for the second rounds of the Concacaf Olympic qualifiers with little to no preparation. A lot of people may think that’s nothing to highlight; but what people need to understand is that we play in the toughest region for women’s football and the Olympic qualifiers is the hardest tournament to qualify for because only two teams advance.
He was a coach who had a plan and was very organised. Plus he had a very good assistant coach in Rajesh Latchoo. Coach Latchoo complemented him, so in areas where Coach Hood wasn’t proficient, Coach Latchoo was able to step up and provide that assistance. I think that in itself helped to make the team successful.
I’m sure who ever hired Carolina Morace, eventually realised she was a mistake. When Carolina was first hired, I was super excited at the thought of the heights she could take the program. I was willing to work even harder to be part of the program.
The first week every player had to try out [and] I would band my knee and go out and train. If I pushed off, turned left, right or cut, I would be in pain; but I still pushed through that entire week.
I remember in one of the sessions in that first week she said ‘number nine, you’re a lazy player’. I did not take it personal because I knew she didn’t know what she was talking about. Maybe in the moment I was lazy because God knows how much pain I was in.
The following week, the pain started to ease up and my movement was a little better, and the communication between us opened up. The second week, she came close to me and pinched my side, pretty much indicating you have to lose weight. Again I didn’t take it personally; I took it as a challenge.
For the next four weeks, I gave up chocolate and meat—all who know me, know how huge that was for me. I lost 12 pounds in four weeks. I did strength training in the morning for my knees and then trained in the evening.
Carolina never believed in strength training so I had to stop, which did more harm than good for me. Then came a time I felt my knee wasn’t getting any better and I approached her with Dr Terrence Babwah and told her ‘coach I think it’s best I shut it down because when you really need me I would be of no use’.
She agreed and I started the PRP procedure for two to three weeks where Dr Babwah had to take my own blood and inject it back into the affected area with a huge needle.
I know you are wondering why do I need to go to so much depth about the procedure. But I need to. I need for people to understand that I was fully committed to this program and I was willing to do whatever it took. I remember having to leave home two in the afternoon for a 6 o’clock session everyday. I had to pick up players in Cascade, then head to City Gate to pick up more players and then head to training before rush hour traffic.
We would train hard for two hours and after I would drop players off in front of their homes because I wanted to make sure everything ran smoothly; and I wanted to make sure I did my part as a leader.
I remember Darcel (Ahkeela Mollon) calling me venting for about 45 minutes telling me what the coach was dishing out to her. I remember telling her ‘that’s just how Carolina is, she is just blunt’; and Darcel replied, ‘Maylee it’s one thing to be blunt but it’s another thing to be cruel and very disrespectful’. And as time went on, I came to realise what she was saying was true.
The falling out with myself and Carolina was a heated exchange of words between two highly opinionated, competitive and outspoken individuals. But I must say that the volcano didn’t just erupt in one day. There was a lot of tension leading up to the explosion.
Carolina did not like anything under the sun in Trinidad and Tobago. Everything was ‘sheeeeet’. I listened to her disrespect the president, the technical staff and the facility management. The day we fell out, in her pre-game talk, she kept saying, ‘you have accomplished nothing as a team’. I felt that to be highly disrespectful, because if we had not made an impact as a team and as individuals, she wouldn’t have had the opportunity to coach us.
There were so many red flags with Carolina, so many incidents that took place, that it’s difficult to process. Whoever hired her dropped the ball and they clearly didn’t do due diligence on her. Just ask the Canadian Soccer Association!
She did not respect our culture nor did she respect our people. I would say the one thing she did, though, was destroy years of friendships as well as expose the people who allowed money and opportunity to control their loyalty; and I thank her for the latter.
When it comes to Jamaal Shabazz, he’s coached me since I was 14. So anything he said was gold to me. No one could have told me differently.
He taught me the tactical and the social aspects to the game. He introduced me to Malcolm X books and taught me how to deal with the media at a young age. I’m thankful for the part he played in my development and he knows there’s nothing but love for him.
But it was not until I left Trinidad and was exposed to different coaching philosophies and perspectives, I realised there was more to football than I was privy to. That’s when I began to challenge him. We became two people with different perspectives and different desires when it came to winning.
I didn’t have a problem initially when it was announced Jamaal was taking over because I thought, being out of the women’s game for some years, he would have brought a different approach and perspective. That didn’t happen and it turned into a familiarity-breeds-contempt type of environment.
I once said to him football has evolved tactically, technically and, most important, scientifically. I knew he was old school which was okay but he also surrounded himself with a technical staff that was old school—so no evolving was going to take place. In the end, I wasn’t willing to maintain the status quo.
We had some back and forth with that entire situation, where we were not able to agree. The one thing I would like to do is apologise to him for the way I handled the interview with [TV6 reporter] Joel Villafana. My father always told me when I’m emotional or angry, do not speak or write—clearly I didn’t listen.
As I told him, I meant what I said; however I should have been much more tactful in my delivery. I want to apologise to him for that.
I remember telling Anton Corneal in 2012 or 2013 that he was the only local coach we believed could help us to qualify for a World Cup. He told us then that he’s the ‘TD’ and won’t be able to be viewed as a coach; but he would put someone to front and he will conduct the sessions.
During that time we went on numerous tours to Costa Rica, England and South Carolina. I remember Anton telling me ‘Maylee, the only reason I’m still here is because of you ladies and this women’s program’. So when I heard Anton resigned in early 2014 and our dream of going to the Canada World Cup was still alive, I felt as though he abandoned us—which I also mentioned in an interview.
Fast forward four years and [Corneal] has now accepted the same position and is facing the same situation for which he said he resigned, four years earlier. During the time Jamaal was coach, I was told that Anton Corneal wasn’t keen on me being part of the team. Obviously that didn’t hold any weight with Jamaal; but it sure as hell had weight with Shawn Cooper.
I assume Anton took my comment about him abandoning the team to heart and held a grudge—or he probably thinks a ‘half-chinee’ girl from the ghetto shouldn’t be so outspoken, or shouldn’t be so fearless to speak truth to power. Whatever it is, it’s no longer my business. It was never personal with me but he—or they—made it personal.
Wired868: What can you say about what the TTFA provided (like training contracts) and failed to provide for this World Cup campaign?
Attin-Johnson: First the contract situation was a forward thinking idea; but it wasn’t carefully thought out. Honestly we had players on contracts that should not even be on a national team. No standard was set, no accountability held and no visibility was created.
I remember telling the manager it was important that the players who were on contracts needed to market and bring some visibility to the women’s program. They needed to start integrating themselves in the primary and secondary schools, so kids can know who they are. I don’t think that ever happened. So quite clearly, players were on contracts but were never held accountable for anything other than showing up to train.
Wired868: Looking back at it, what do you think went wrong?
Attin-Johnson: What went wrong? Hmmm. DJW; that’s what went wrong. The stakeholders of Trinidad and Tobago football did not do due diligence and elected a man who single-handedly destroyed football in our country; and I say that without reservation.
Just imagine the first order of business was to get rid of Randy Waldrum, who created history with the women’s program. The reasons for Randy’s firing were unbelievable and downright absurd. Quite clearly he had a personal agenda when it came to Randy Waldrum.
Then we had Stephen Hart who was responsible for pumping blood back into T&T football. That’s a fact. We had top Concacaf teams not wanting to face us at a point in time. He did everything in his power again to get rid of a successful coach.
The moment these two firings took place, the writing was on the wall. That was the demise of our football.