Trinidad and Tobago National Under-15 Team head coach Russell Latapy has not addressed the public since his team returned last week from a shambolic showing at the CONCACAF Under-15 Championship in Florida.
The young Soca Warriors scored once and conceded 21 goals in four matches, their results including a 8-1 hammering from a Jamaica team that had failed to score in their three previous outings.
Latapy, according to the TTFA Media, has not scheduled a media conference for the foreseeable future either. However, Wired868 spoke to a football insider who was close enough to the action to offer some insights.
Wired868: First off, were there any issues or problems for the team on tour? Did coaches receive their stipends from the TTFA and so on?
Football insider (FI): There were no issues. For the most part, the TTFA has been very accommodating. [TTFA general secretary Justin] Latapy-George [who is also the younger brother of the head coach] has been instrumental in ensuring that we got the things we needed… We even went up [to Florida] earlier than the other teams to acclimatise. There were only two or three others [from the 39 competing nations] there. We requested that and it cost the TTFA money but they made that happen. [The technical staff was paid all stipends owed] before the tour.
Wired868: Were there disciplinary issues? I understand there was an altercation between Under-15 attacker Tyrese Pierre and assistant coach Duane Richardson during the pre-tournament tour in the Cayman Islands? And an issue with defender Cephas St Rose during the loss to Jamaica?
FI: There was an issue during the warm-up before the second match in the Cayman Islands. But to my mind it was a miscommunication between the assistant coach and the player. [Contrary to rumours], he didn’t choke the player…
We were preparing for the match and the player had a bib resting on his head. The coach tried to take it off and it might have yanked his head and the player felt the coach had done it roughly. This escalated. It was minutes away from the start of the match but, after the match, it was dealt with. The player was of the impression that the assistant coach was always picking on him but [the technical staff] had no evidence or prior reports of that.
As it turned out, the player’s mother was there in the Cayman Islands and [Latapy and the team manager] had a meeting with her, which was recorded with her consent. Duane apologised and everyone got the impression that she accepted the apology and we could move on. However, when the team returned to Trinidad, we were told that the parent had filed a report to the TTFA.
(Pierre was not selected on the National Under-15 squad for the CONCACAF competition).
Cephas was arguing with teammates on the field but I can’t say there was anything more than that. It was a stressful situation for the boys but he had generally been a player who we looked at as a leader. It was a hard tour and a wake-up call to everyone—staff included—in terms of what we need to do to succeed at that level. I think the players were frustrated too because sometimes they felt that more was demanded of them than they can do. I don’t know about any more issues other than that.
Wired868: So there were no further disciplinary issues?
FI: In the Cayman Islands, there were some disciplinary matters but it was mostly a matter of players being late for meals or some wanting to do their own thing like go to shop and eat as they liked and so on. Remember they were all representing their country for the first time and they were unaccustomed to the rules. So we would tell them what to avoid eating and then hear that players went ahead and did their thing.
But that was it really and we ironed most of those issues out there and they were not repeated in Florida.
Wired868: So what led to the bad results in Florida?
FI: I am not a coach and I will try to stay away from discussing that aspect of things. But in my humble opinion, we need to play against better opposition. We went to the Cayman Islands [for an invitational tournament against top academy teams] but that is not enough and you see that USA went to Europe and played against European Under-15 teams…
We also need to widen our pool of players and find a way to get potential players from USA, Canada and Europe into the mix. And that is a management thing…
The reality is these boys are accustomed to playing in Trinidad and being the best in Trinidad but then you go away and realise you are up against it. How do you deal with it mentally and emotionally? The boys were not mentally prepared for it and I think we need to look into bringing a psychologist on board.
Other teams had nutritionists and psychologists and all of that and they were better prepared for competition than we were.
Wired868: Granted Trinidad and Tobago’s preparation did not match the USA’s but how do you explain our result against Jamaica, who do not have superior resources to us?
FI: One of things that Haiti and Jamaica have over us is that desire to succeed. I don’t know if our boys have that ability to dig deep. We need psychological help. These boys are the best in the country but we are not mentally ready. I would say they were not mentally and emotionally ready to play in front of screaming fans and media. (The largest crowd on any given day was about 500 spectators when they faced the USA).
I don’t want to blame the boys. They performed to the best of their ability and the coach did the best he could do. In their minds, they are getting better in increments but it is only when they see the competition [that they realise how far short they were]. I saw Mexico play and their Under-15 Team [which was the eventual CONCACAF champion] might give some of our senior Pro League teams problems. They had great discipline, structure and tactical awareness. It showed me we have a lot to do to put things in place. The TTFA has been supportive but now we need to widen the player pool and get a psychologist involved.
Wired868: Is it true that the technical staff went out on the night before the Jamaica match and returned in the wee hours of the morning?
FI: That is not true at all. The staff did go out to Applebees with [former national player] Ricky Aleong but that was literally three minutes away from our quarters. And the players and staff had different accommodation too. The staff was back by 11pm. But you know how Trinis love to find negative things to talk about…
Wired868: We just lost 8-1 to Jamaica. Does the National Under-15 staff not feel that the public has a right to be upset by those results?
FI: I know Trinidad and Tobago fans are upset because we now have a history of bad performances but these things don’t happen overnight. This is a wake-up call to recognise how far off we are. There was some networking between the Caribbean nations there and we all saw how we struggled. Now, we want to organise friendly matches and tours amongst ourselves in the Caribbean so we can help each other out…
Jamaican athletes have more of a killer instinct than ours do and we probably need to do more in terms of that. People should realise that, at senior level, some of the advantages balance themselves off because we have players outside who are benefiting from playing at a high level. At youth stage, our players are competing with boys who are at proper academies like Saprissa and MLS Academies and we lack that. You can’t compare Jabloteh or W Connection to those academies which train right through the year. The Pro League and SSFL are not developmental leagues; they are competitions.
Wired868: Was there a bright spot in terms of our performances in Florida?
FI: I would say Jaiye Sheppard was a notch above the rest. (Sheppard is a 15-year-old Scarborough Secondary left-winger who already plays adult football with Phoenix FC).
[Fatima College midfielder] Zachary Welch and [QRC defender] Darian Bradshaw held their own too and gave it their all. But Sheppard stood out. He is mature and business-like and technically strong. He looks like he grew up playing against older players and he fights to the end and doesn’t give up.
I think he is one for the future.
(Trinidad and Tobago National Under-15 Team)
Goalkeepers: 1.Jahiem Wickham (St Anthony’s College/Trendsetter Hawks), 18.Kernel La Fon (Matura Secondary/North East Stars);
Defenders: 4.Antonio Chee Ting (Trinity College East/San Juan Jabloteh), 3.Darian Bradshaw (Queen’s Royal College/St Ann’s Rangers), 12.Rhowen Stewart-Williams (St Benedict’s College/Club Sando), 2.Randy Antoine (Arima North Secondary/San Juan Jabloteh), 5.Cephas St Rose (Independiente Sabaneta FC—Colombia), 16.Marc Wharfe (Maple Leaf International School/Skhy FC);
Midfielders: 9.Ezekiel Kesar (Naparima College/Point Fortin Civic), 13.Zachary Welch (Fatima College), 6.Jabari Lee (Pleasantville East/W Connection), 15.Adriel George (Bishops High School Tobago/St Clair Coaching School);
Attacking midfielders: 11.Jaiye Sheppard (Scarborough Secondary/Phoenix FC), 10.Josiah Edwards (Brazil Secondary/San Juan Jabloteh), 7.Jean-Heim Mc Fee (St James Secondary/St Ann’s Rangers), 8.Josiah Allen (Shiva Boys Hindu College);
Forwards: 17.Justin Araujo-Wilson (Fatima College/Skhy FC), 14.Aamal Julien (Point Fortin East Secondary/Point Fortin Civic).
Technical staff: Russell Latapy (Head Coach), Aaron Pollard (Manager), Duane Richardson (Assistant Coach), Otis Hislop (Physiotherapist), Rawle Webster (Trainer), Devin Elcock (Equipment Manager), Kevin Graham (Goalkeeper Coach).