Trinidad and Tobago National Senior Team head coach Dennis Lawrence revealed that German-based flanker Joevin Jones and United States-based attacking midfielder Ataulla Guerra were ruled unavailable to face Wales next week, as he tried to explain his 22-man squad for international friendly action at the Racecourse Ground in Wrexham.
Guerra, according to Lawrence, has a slight injury and missed several sessions while Jones allegedly asked to be omitted for personal reasons.
“I am not in any position to make any more comment on [Jones’ withdrawal],” said Lawrence. “I respect his wishes in that it is private and confidential.”
It is the second time in the past five months that Jones withdrew from selection despite being physically able to play. Last October, he also pulled out of a trip to Thailand after saying he needed to mentally regroup.
Lawrence criticised Jones then for his late decision—which left the Warriors with a player short in their travelling party—and published the latter’s letter. But he was more conciliatory today.
Once more, Lawrence pointed to the number of national players in their pre-season and off season as his biggest worry heading into the Wales clash. The Warriors coach addressed this somewhat with a three-week camp for the local-based players but suggested it also prompted his recall of 31 year old forward Willis Plaza, who is campaigning with Churchill Brothers in the India professional league at present.
“For me, I would’ve liked [my players] to be playing competitive football,” said Lawrence. “We tried to put together a three-week training programme [and] we managed to get three friendly games—two against Rangers [and] one against the Police.
“[But] I think we all know is difficult because we are going take on a Wales squad that [has] got players that played over 30 games in the Spanish La Liga, 30 games in the English Premier League and so forth.
“So, in terms of the players’ match tempo, I think it’s going to be a bit difficult for them. So that’s why it was important to select a squad with a lot of the players that are involved in leagues, like Willis Plaza, Khaleem Hyland, and Sheldon Bateau; because these boys are more active at the moment.”
But how did Morvant Caledonia United winger-cum-left back Ross Russell Jr get in the squad ahead of overseas-based players like Keston Julien (AS Trecin—Slovakia) and Noah Powder (Real Monarchs—USA)?
At present, Powder is in pre-season while Julien, although still in season, has not played for his club since last October. Lawrence said Russell Jr—whose father, Ross Russell, played alongside Lawrence for Defence Force and Trinidad and Tobago and is the current goalkeeping coach—earned his chance by impressing at their training camp.
“We needed to strengthen in the left back position,” said Lawrence. “[…] Ross did very well coming down to the back end of last season and he was invited to be part of the training group and I think he really impressed with what he offers us.
“I think he deserves his selection.”
A versatile flanker, the 26 year old Russell Jr was considered better than useful at Pro League level with his ability to play in either full back or wing role. But his career trajectory was dramatically altered when he was charged for murder in 2016.
It took two years before lawmen realised they held the wrong man; and by then he lost his job as a soldier.
Lawrence suggested that Russell Jr’s international call up—his first at senior international level—was reward for his efforts since his release on 20 August 2018.
“Part of the reform is the boy [is] back now and getting his football career to where it should be,” said Lawrence. “I think we need to see that as a positive. A lot come out [of jail] and go back in.”
Lawrence suggested that he still hopes to have a look at players like Leland Archer, Akeem Roach, Shannon Gomez and Powder—who are all under 23 years old—but felt the short preparation time for the Wales match meant it was not the best opportunity to integrate them.
The Warriors coach confirmed that two local-based players were cut from his training squad due to failed drug tests but declined to name them. He said the duo could be important national players and he hopes they get the help necessary to return to his squad.
“Our job is to help the players, not to reveal anything,” he said. “The clubs have been notified [and] they’re working with the clubs.”
The Warriors depart from Tobago to Manchester tomorrow from where they will head to their training base in Chester, just 15 minutes from Wrexham. Their first training session is scheduled for Monday afternoon.
Lawrence, who spent eight years in Wales as a player with Wrexham and then Cardiff City, said he had been trying to get this game ever since his appointment in January 2017.
Trinidad and Tobago, again, will play only once in this FIFA international match window. Lawrence said this was because their other friendly offers were outside of Europe and FIFA regulations advise against playing in different confederations within such short timeframes.
“We had the opportunity to play other friendlies, but [they] were in different confederations,” said Lawrence, whose outfit are preparing for the June 2019 Concacaf Gold Cup.