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A little too late! Pro League blanks T&T National U-17s; half-measure in the works.
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A little too late! That, according to TT Pro League acting CEO Julia Baptiste, is the reason why the Trinidad and Tobago Men’s Under-17 Team has not had its application to play in the Under-18 Division of the ongoing Youth Pro League (YPL) approved. The application simply came a little too late.

Baptiste, who has just been promoted from general secretary following the resignation in quick succession of long-standing CEO Dexter Skeene and Chairman Sam Phillip, told Wired868 that the decision to turn down the Under-17’s request was made in the best interest of the YPL since almost half of the season is already in the books.

“With so many match days already gone,” Baptiste said, “I thought it would not have been in the (League’s) best interest to enter the National Under-17 team at the time. It was just me giving consideration to the integrity of the League table. […] I felt it was the best decision to leave it as is.”

The National Under-17’s, coached by former national standout Russell Latapy and managed by Aaron Pollard, had hoped to get a run-out in the YPL competition to provide them with sustained match practice. But, Baptiste pointed out, with four games already gone in its season, this year’s competition will see one more round of league matches followed by a knockout tournament.

And even if the Under-17’s registration were completed in time for action this weekend, they would have been able to contest at most five matches in the League. Furthermore, as the current pool of National Under-17 players features youngsters attached to clubs in both the Under-16 and Under-18 Divisions of the YPL, the transferring of players could, in Baptiste’s eyes, have proven problematic and would have potentially put the League on hold.

The new CEO gave the assurance that the League’s decision would have been different if the season were longer than its current one round plus knockout schedule.

The National Under-17s were bidding to claim the spot in the Under-18 category left vacant by Morvant Caledonia United, whose co-founder, Jamaal Shabazz, informed the League of the club’s inability to field an Under-18 team for the current YPL season.

Baptiste told Wired868 that Caledonia had been completely removed from the Under-18 Division so that teams did not benefit from their withdrawal by way of additional points for forfeited games. Inserting the Under-17s at the midway point of the competition, she suggested, would have created a grey area with respect to determining whether or not teams had received points for the games which “Cale” should have played.

Initially, last month, Pollard and National Under-17 assistant coach Duane Richardson informed members of their 40-plus player pool that they were required to sign transfer documents for Caledonia in order to turn out in the Under-18 Division of the YPL competition. However, the Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) quickly reversed its position and proposed that the National Under-17s play under their own identity, a move which was recommended by Latapy and supported by Technical Director Anton Corneal.

In the end, their late bid for a YPL spot proved unsuccessful although plans are underway to arrange friendly games for Latapy’s squad against the top flight clubs.

The Under-18 Division is currently headed by Club Sando, who lead three-time and defending champions San Juan Jabloteh on goal difference, with Jabloteh having a game in hand. The “San Juan Kings” have swept all three age groups of the YPL over the past three seasons and they currently sit in first and third spots in the Under-16 and Under-14 Divisions respectively.

In the middle of conducting a CONCACAF D-License coaching course in Guyana, Corneal could not be reached for comment on the collapse of the plan. Wired868 was also unable to reach Latapy.

TTFA General Secretary Justin Latapy-George declined comment on what lies ahead for the Under-17’s and would say only that he had no problem with the TTPL’s decision to turn down the application.

“For me, it’s not a matter of being surprised,” he said, “as the League has its autonomy.”

Team manager, Pollard, declined comment on why an approach was not made to the Pro League prior to the start of the YPL season, opting instead to reiterate the technical staff’s mission for the National Under-17s.

“Our goal is to prepare our boys to the best of our abilities,” Pollard declared, “with the resources we have available.”

“The Under-18 League would have served as good practice matches for the boys [but] we have the option to organise practice matches against [local] teams who are at a good standard.”

Director of football Muhammad Isa revealed that the Pro League has offered a compromise of sorts to the National Under-17s, which should ensure Latapy’s charges still see some action. The new proposal is that Youth Pro League clubs will take turns facing the young Soca Warriors once a week, possibly on Thursdays, in exhibition matches.

So, although there will be no points at stake, there should be games for the national youth team.

The National Under-17 Team is aiming to avoid a repeat of the 2017 campaign when the Young Warriors failed to advance past the CFU stage, despite playing on home soil.