"We have nothing to lose," T&T's Under-20 football coach Russell Latapy has said ahead of the World Cup Qualifiers in Florida USA in two week's time.
A provisional squad of 34 players were chosen for the team's first training session this morning at 9 am at the Mannie Ramjohn Stadium in Marabella, since the team's return from a tournament in Colombia, July 31.
Team manager Alexandria Procupe is expected to submit a final list of 20 players to the CONCACAF tonight, after just one session. Latapy who has agreed to coach the team because of his close relationship with the young players, said as the team has not been training regularly, he expects that there will be realistic expectations from them.
His request for a proper training programme, which included at least 12 international matches six months ago, was not met by the governing T&T Football Association, despite constant communication.
Latapy, known affectionately as "The Little Magician" in local football, promised that he and his lads will do their best at the qualifiers, which will include St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG), Puerto Rico, United States, Suriname and the US Virgin Islands in Group 'A'.
T&T opens against SVG on November 1, before facing Puerto Rico November 3, USA November 5, Suriname November 7 and the USVI on November 9. Only the top team will advance. Latapy believes his troops, in spite of their little to no preparation, should be able to hold their own against all the teams in the group except the home team.
"My main concern is the USA, the tournament's defending champion team. The problem is that with just one team going through, our players need to be more than just competitive to beat the US. The US has played about 18 international matches and has been receiving all the support they need," Latapy said.
"We know the situation with the T&TFA, which is unfortunate. This lack of support for the boys has really frustrated me, but we are going to do our best and hope that it can take us through. The good thing is that playing in this tournament can be a life-changing opportunity for the players and we want to give them that opportunity," Latapy explained.
Latapy concluded by saying he felt really sorry for the young players as they are such a talented bunch.
This year's qualifying tournament has taken on a new format, with the removal of the regional Central American and Caribbean qualifiers and guaranteeing each entrant a minimum of four competitive games.
The competition will determine the four CONCACAF representatives at the 2019 FIFA U-20 World Cup in Poland. It will also determine the CONCACAF teams playing at the 2019 Pan American Games men’s football tournament in Lima.
Meanwhile, a number of Premier Division teams in the Secondary Schools Football League (SSFL) have come out against the selection of their players without their knowledge. One coach from an east school said while he has no problem with players on national duty, he was concerned by the manner in which his players were taken without informing his school, ahead of today's key round of matches.
However, Shawn Cooper, the Presentation College coach said he is not concerned by his players being called to national duty, as they were expecting this all along.