Gary Griffith III, son of Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith, will be part of a 20-man Trinidad and Tobago National Under-17 Team that travels to Miami on Monday for the Under-17 Concacaf Championship, which also serves as a World Cup qualifying series.
The National Under-17s, coached by Trinidad and Tobago senior international record goal scorer Stern John, begin their campaign against Bermuda on 1 May.
The squad comprises of 12 local based-players and eight from overseas including Netherlands-based midfielder Tyrese Pierre, Canada-based attacker Justin Araujo-Wilson, US-based forward Jerrel Nixon, who is the son of former World Youth Cup forward Jerren Nixon, and John’s own son, Isa Sayeed.
Fatima College contributed more players to the squad than any other team with Jean-Heim Mc Fee, Andrew De Gannes and Zachary Welch all making the 20-man squad. Araujo-Wilson is also a former Fatima student.
John, who was assisted by former 2006 World Cup teammate Kenwyne Jones, had barely six weeks to prepare the team but was pleased with what they got done.
“We had to get in everything in a very short space of time,” John told the TTFA Media. “The guys took it all on board and [are] relishing the opportunity. [They] are excited and I am excited myself to go there and compete.”
The National Under-17s were not supported financially by the Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) and the coaching staff worked for free. John admitted that the squad sometimes relied on aid from parents in the areas of post-training meals, transportation and visa applications.
John singled out Griffith for his assistance to the squad.
“Special thanks to Mr Gary Griffith, the Commissioner of Police,” said John. “He came forward and really helped the team out in preparing for this tournament. In terms of nutrition, getting us food and stuff on time, also transport for the boys after training as well.
“Most of our sessions were held at Mannie Ramjohn, and the traffic [is] really bad on the afternoon and I think he played a very important role in getting the boys on a [police] bus from Port of Spain to the stadium on time and back to their respective homes as well.”
“[…] Mr Griffith was pivotal in helping us to fast track some of the visas as well too. He used some of his resources so we got the visas on time. Today the manager [Aaron Pollard] would’ve went to the embassy and picked up the rest of passports with all the visas so we could travel on Monday.”
John insisted that Griffith’s financial aid to the team did not give his son an advantage when it was time to select 20 players for the Concacaf tournament. Griffith III got minutes with North East Stars’ Pro League team in the 2018 season and is set to take up a scholarship with Sunderland College. He was one of two St Mary’s College players—the other being SSFL stand-out Gabriel Nanton—who trialled with former England Premier League team, Sunderland United, last year.
“No, no, no [Griffith’s assistance to the team did not influence my selection],” said the National Under-17 coach. “I think I was given a job to represent my country and to pick the strongest team that I have at hand. People might think Mr Griffith’s influence in helping the team made his son get a pick but it’s not that way.
“I think his son came in and worked hard just as everybody else and he competed for a spot just like the rest of players and he deserved to be on the squad.
“[…] Griffith III plays up front and out wide too. He has a great, great, great attitude; he brings a lot to the table and [has] very good quality. That’s why we picked him; because we know he has the quality we’re asking for and we know he can play at this level too.”
Financial woes apart, John’s outfit also struggled with the timing of the competition which clashes with the CSEC examination. However, the head coach suggested that the Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) found a solution by getting examiners from the Ministry of Education to travel with the team.
“We have like five players who have exams [during the tournament],” said John. “We worked with the schools, we came together and we figured out a way around it; so they can get the exam and play the games as well too.
“I think also the further we go into the tournament, there’s a couple more players who [will] have exams… We’re gonna have to deal with it there and then, even if we have to let the players sit the exam and then probably play the games afterwards.
“But obviously the school [work] is very important as well too.”
Wired868 was unable to get more details about the students who are due to sit exams and what the TTFA has put in place to assist them.
Team manager, Pollard, said he could not pass on that information unless specifically authorised to do so by new general secretary Camara David, who has instituted a gag on all TTFA staff outside of arranged press conferences.
John was pleased with the success of his combine in Atlanta, which led to selections for four players. Curtis De Leon, who represented the David Nakhid International Academy at the recently concluded Madrid Cup, is one of that quartet along with Kevan Kahoussi, Sayeed and Nixon.
He hopes to keep tabs on these players in a database that the football body promised to implement.
“We have a database that [allows us to keep] in contact with the players and also the parents,” said John. “Even the ones that weren’t chosen, we still keep in contact with them because […] if we qualify for the World Cup, we’re gonna have to go back and look at players.”
Bermuda apart, Trinidad and Tobago must also compete with Jamaica and Mexico in the group phase. One from the quartet will be eliminated while the other three advance to the quarterfinal round.
“We want to go there and try to qualify for the second round firstly,” said John. “I think our main goal is to win our first game which is important. I think once we do that then we have a very good chance of qualifying for the knockout phase.”
(Trinidad and Tobago National Under-17 team)
Goalkeepers: Isaiah Williams (W Connection FC/Presentation College, San F’do), Kahlil Oliver (San Juan Jabloteh/Trinity College East);
Defenders: Nigel Carraby (W Connection FC/Presentation College, San F’do), Luke Savery (W Connection FC/St Mary’s College), Jordon Britto (San Juan Jabloteh/San Juan North Secondary), Cephas St Rose (W Connection FC/CTS College), Isa Sayeed (Indy Premier Soccer/ Hamilton South-Eastern High School—USA);
Midfielders: Zachary Welch (North East Stars/Fatima College), Jaiye Sheppard (Unattached/Presentation College, San F’do), Tyrese Pierre (WSV Apeldoorn/Rivers International School—Netherlands), Andrew De Gannes (North East Stars/Fatima College), Curtis De Leon (North Carolina FC/ Leesville Road High School—USA), Gary Griffith III (North East Stars/Trinity College Moka), Jeremy Lashley (Internazionale of Edmonton/ Archbishop O’Leary Catholic High School—Canada), Kielon Burnett-Acevaro (W Connection FC/Carapichaima East Secondary), Kevan Kahoussi (NC Fusion/Crossroads Flex High School—USA), Ajani Fortune (Atlanta United/Mc Eachern High School—USA);
Forwards: Justin Araujo-Wilson (San Juan Jabloteh/Virtual High School—Canada), Jean-Heim Mc Fee (Club Sando/Fatima College), Jerrell Nixon (Concorde Fire Soccer Club/Campbell High School—USA).