Trinidad and Tobago Men’s National Senior Team forward Willis Plaza will spend the next month focused on winning a plane ticket to Lithuania, rather than Qatar, after he was selected in the 14-man National Futsal Team to compete in the May Concacaf Futsal Championship in Guatemala City.
The Futsal Team, coached by American Constantine Konstin, play two friendlies against Costa Rica in Alajuela on 26 and 27 April before they start competitive action on 3 May. The four semifinalists from the Concacaf Championship qualify automatically for the 2021 Fifa Futsal World Cup in Lithuania, which runs from 12 September to 6 October.
Plaza, who has 30 outdoor national senior team appearances with seven goals, will temporarily turn his attention from the Soca Warriors to participate. He was a second half substitute on 28 March when Trinidad and Tobago and Puerto Rico played to a 1-1 draw in the preliminary Qatar World Cup qualifying series.
His Futsal adventure will have the blessing of coach Terry Fenwick’s technical staff, according to a football insider.
The Warriors’ next fixtures are against the Bahamas and St Kitts and Nevis on 5 and 8 June respectively and, with the Pro League closed due to Covid-19 restrictions, Plaza’s involvement with the Futsal Team is being viewed as a positive.
Konstin also selected former National Senior Team midfielders Keron ‘Ball Pest’ Cummings, Sean De Silva and Aaron Lester, along with another six players who have outdoor national youth team experience. Former National Under-20 Team playmaker Che Benny and 2019 Secondary Schools Football League MVP Mark Ramdeen are both included.
Cummings was one of two Terminix La Horquetta Rangers players named in the Futsal squad along with Keston George. Notably, Rangers goalkeeper Levi Fernandez is with the Trinidad and Tobago Beach Soccer Team at present too.
It leaves Soca Warriors coach Terry Fenwick’s outfit as the only national squad unable to find a workable arrangement with the Pro League team, which is steered by managing director Richard Ferguson. Plaza, who was a trialist at Rangers, walked out on the club to join the Warriors last month.
“We met with the Rangers owners, we invited their players to come out and they came with the club’s permission,” said National Futsal Team assistant coach Paul Decle. “The club was notified that they were selected and that was it.”
Only one member of Konstin’s 14-man squad, left back Jameel Neptune, has played Futsal at international level before. The split from the players used by former coach Clayton Morris, which won two gold medals and one bronze at regional level in the past decade, left a sour taste in the mouths of the old guard.
Noel Williams, a utility player and former Pro League champion with San Juan Jabloteh, said he spoke for several teammates—including Jerwyn Balthazar, Kerry Joseph, Kevin Graham and Cyrano Glen—when he complained of feeling ‘disrespected’ by the new regime.
“[Konstin] phased out the players with the experience and picked a whole new bunch of players who know nothing about futsal,” Williams told Wired868. “He did not give us a fair chance. And this is a tournament where you win two games and you’re in the quarterfinal; and once you get into the semifinals, you are in the World Cup.”
Williams said his feelings of discrimination were based on an overheard conversation involving Konstin and the supposed snubbing of the veterans during sessions. As a result, he said most of the former players withdrew from the screening.
He claimed that the new staff have underestimated the preparation necessary for an international tournament.
“It took me about six months to really learn the game of Futsal properly,” said Williams. “You have to learn handle the ball, which is smaller and heavier, and the rhythm of the game is different. It is pass and move, pass and move.
“And fitness is key, because you can’t lose your marker. You have to be able to follow him everywhere he goes.”
Konstin is a qualified Futsal instructor and his final selection suggests that he felt three months were indeed sufficient time for an induction into the game.
Decle denied that the current staff were unwelcoming to the veteran players and noted that Williams did not train long enough to earn selection.
“We recalled everybody who was part of it last year and they were all notified and invited back,” said Decle. “[Discriminating against players] is not something we will ever do.”
Decle is looking forward to his first tournament as an international and credited the current crop of players for picking up the game quickly.
“They adapted quickly and showed us the tendencies we needed to see as well as good technical skill,” said Decle. “[…] You have players with international exposure like De Silva and [Keston] George and Plaza. They bring a certain level of confidence and professionalism to training practices, which makes it easier for the coach.
“[…] I think each player we selected brings something unique and I can’t single out just one player. They have all pushed each other along the way [and] we have many leaders.
“I think the tournament will bring out the stand-out individuals and we are excited to see how that plays out.”
Decle could not help but be complimentary about Benny and Cummings, though.
“Che Benny is a very mature young man with a lot of self belief,” he said. “Cummings has also fit in easily. He is very smooth on the court with his natural improvisation and skills. When you look at him play, you just smile.
“[…] There aren’t any egos in our team. The players fight for each other.”
Futsal is played with four players and a goalkeeper. The DNA of a futsal team, according to Decle, is physically strong, two-footed central players complemented by quick, tricky wingers. All players are expected to be technically sound with good movement off the ball.
Decle says the staff feel good about the team’s chances.
“We definitely feel confident; our preparations have gone well,” said Decle, who is a Uefa B licensed coach. “Obviously [some of] the other countries have futsal leagues, whereas we are taking footballers and teaching them the game of futsal. But the players have gelled well and we are confident in our chances of qualifying.
“[…] We think we have selected the best team available to us locally and we really want to make sure we represent our country as best as we can; and I think we will do that.”
Trinidad and Tobago are drawn in Group A alongside hosts Guatemala and Dominican Republic. The top two teams advance to the quarterfinal phase. Decle said the practice games against Costa Rica this month will be ‘extremely important’ to their stated objective.
“Costa Rica is one of the top three futsal teams in Concacaf along with Panama and Guatemala,” he said. “It is going to give us a chance to see what the best team looks like and help us to maybe get over our butterflies before we get to the tournament.
“We are going to use those two games to practice some of the things we have done with the players and see how it works, as well as look at the intensity of the play.
“[…] We are lucky to be able to play those games, based on a relationship between coach Konstin and the Costa Rican coach—and the normalisation committee helped tremendously.”
Trinidad and Tobago National Futsal Team: Andre Marchan (GK), Kern Caeser (GK), Willis Plaza, Dwight Quintero, Mark Ramdeen, Dylon King, Aaron Lester, Sean De Silva, Jameel Neptune, Keston George, Keron Cummings, Che Benny, Adrian Welch, Darius Olliviera.
Staff: Constantine Konstin (head coach), Paul Decle (assistant coach), Dunstan Williams (goalkeeper coach), Nigel Roberts (manager), Stephen Bernard (equipment manager), Mark Lewis (trainer), Roger Ryan (medic).