The Trinidad and Tobago Men’s National Under-17 Team have precious little time to soak in the atmosphere in Bradenton, Florida. The junior Soca Warriors landed in Florida last night and, by tomorrow evening, they will already be in ‘do or die’ territory when they tackle Bermuda from 4pm at the IMG Academy in the Concacaf Under-17 Championship.
Three from the four teams in Group E advance to the knockout round but Trinidad and Tobago’s other two opponents are Jamaica and Mexico. It cannot be overstated how important it is for the Warriors to start with a positive result.
“We are here to compete and we’ve spoken about this as a team,” National Under-17 Team head coach Stern John told the TTFA Media. “That means we have three points to get in this opening game [against Bermuda] to give ourselves some breathing space for the remaining matches in the group.”
The Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA), plagued by financial woes and administrative paralysis, considered not sending this squad to the Concacaf Championship in the first place.
Privately, TTFA president David John-Williams floated the idea of withdrawing from the competition, which serves as a qualifying series for the Brazil 2019 Under-17 World Cup. And there was a suggestion that the local football body might send its Under-15 Boys Team—the only one of the TTFA’s nine potential teams that trains all year round—to participate in the higher age group for ‘experience.’
In the end, though, the John-Williams-led administration appointed John to spearhead their campaign with barely six weeks to screen, select and prepare a team for competition at the highest level in the confederation. The key selling point for the hiring of John and his staff was that they were prepared to work for free.
“The TTFA didn’t so much as buy a bun for the players!” one parent told Wired868, on condition of anonymity.
It left well wishers to pick up the financial slack. Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith, whose son, Gary Griffith III, was selected in the final 20-man squad, figured prominently among the parents who contributed to meals and transport for the players.
The Sport Company of Trinidad and Tobago also took care of not only airfare for the National Under-17 Team but meals at the airport and, crucially, airfare, accommodation and related costs for two examiners who will travel to Florida this weekend to oversee the players’ CSEC tests.
CSEC exams start on 7 May and roughly a dozen players are due to sit. It means precise arrangements to ensure the boys take exams at precisely the same time as the rest of the country and that the process is above reproach with sealed papers and proper supervision.
Normally, even if the Ministry of Education agrees to assist—with the permission of the Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC)—the organisation making the request for examiners must meet the full cost of the exercise. But, with the TTFA’s accounts frozen due to its failure to meet its debt to the National Futsal Team, SPORTT has stepped in the breach.
“The TTFA came with the request and the budget,” said SPORTT executive manager sport development Anthony Creed. “My job was to go to the board to ensure that everything was in order; and the approval was given so it is only a matter of waiting for the release [of funds].
“[…] We also budgeted to ensure the players were able to get a meal at the airport when they got to Florida so they would not be disadvantaged.”
Creed’s nephew, Brendon Creed, was a member of the Trinidad and Tobago Under-17 Team that got to the quarterfinal stage of the Concacaf Championship in 2013. It is as well as the Warriors have fared since 2007 when a Kevin Molino item ensured the twin island republic of a 1-0 win over Jamaica and a place at the Korea Republic 2007 FIFA Under-17 World Cup.
John hopes to somehow steer his undercooked squad to similar heights.
“We’ve prepared as best as we can and now it’s down to the boys to execute,” said John, a former 2006 World Cup forward and Trinidad and Tobago’s all-time record goal scorer. “It’s up to them now as we cannot play from the bench. What we will do is guide them as best as we can. I am confident in their ability.
“I think the key will be to settle early because there will be some nerves at the start and that’s expected because it’s a first time for a lot of the boys. Once we put our heads down and play to our ability then we should be pulling off a result to give us a good head start.”
The National Under-17 Team should expect much from former Fatima College stand-out Justin Araujo-Wilson and Trinity College East goalkeeper Kahlil Oliver as well as overseas-based inclusions like midfielders Ajani Fortune (Atlanta United—USA) and Tyrese Pierre (WSV Apeldoorn—Netherlands), full back Isa Sayeed (Indy Premier Soccer—USA) and Jerrell Nixon (Concorde Fire Soccer Club—USA).
Sayeed and Nixon are the sons of John and Jerren Nixon, a former Under-20 World Cup forward, respectively.
Araujo-Wilson told the TTFA Media that he is thrilled at the chance to make some history for himself.
“The preparation was very organised and well done to coach Stern [John] and coach Kenwyne [Jones] for bringing the boys together and pushing us hard to prepare for this tournament,” said Araujo-Wilson. “We have to come out and work hard and win games for ourselves, our families and the country.
“[…] It’s mandatory for us to get three points; [and] we know what we can do. I just like wearing the Red,White and Black because growing up watching the Soca Warriors play was good and now it’s a dream come true to play for the National Team.”
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 (Unattached/Virtual High School—Canada), Jean-Heim Mc Fee (Club Sando/Fatima College), Jerrell Nixon (Concorde Fire Soccer Club/Campbell High School—USA).