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Sat, Mar

T&T men's under-20 football team coach Brian Haynes (R) watches on from the sideline during a screening session for his under-20 charges at the Ato Boldon Stadium training field in Balmain, Couva. - TTFA Media
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Roughly two months away from Trinidad and Tobago's first match in the 2024 Concacaf men's under-20 qualifiers, T&T's men's under-20 coach Brian Haynes says the door is still open for players to make their way into the training squad ahead of the team's first qualifying match on February 23.

T&T have been drawn in group D of the qualifiers alongside Canada, Dominica and St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG). T&T's group matches will be played at the Hasely Crawford Stadium in Mucurapo, with the hosts opening their campaign against SVG.

In total, 27 Concacaf member nations will contest the qualifying tournament, with the six group winners advancing to the 12-team Concacaf under-20 championship to be played in the summer of 2024. The six group winners will join Concacaf's highest-ranked men's under-20 teams: Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Honduras, Mexico, Panama and the US.

Haynes currently has roughly 50 players engaged in daily screening sessions at the Ato Boldon Stadium training field in Balmain, Couva. He hopes to trim the squad down to 30-35 players within the coming weeks.

"The door is always going to be open (for players to get into the squad)," Haynes told TT Football Association (TTFA) media this week.

"Guys can be playing at a high level and once they are interested in being here we will see how we can get them in."

Haynes also expressed a desire to undertake a scouting exercise in Tobago. He pointed to positives such as work ethic, competitiveness and intensity in the sessions. Haynes urged the players to continue fighting for their spots and remain on top of their game during the festive seasons, with Christmas less than a week away and Carnival 2024 scheduled for February 12 and 13.

"I know T&T has something called Carnival but we cannot have that get in the way of what we are doing. We have to make sure we plan around it so we can be consistent going into the tournament.

"I made sure and took the time out to tell them nobody has made the team yet. From the time you lack effort and your intensity, now I am thinking you think you have made it. It is good to see guys are coming into themselves right now and realise what they have to do to be on this team."

Haynes' team is expected to include a number of players who featured for T&T at the 2023 Concacaf under-17 men's championship back in February. To help with a smooth transition from the under-17 to the under-20 age group, Haynes has been joined by men's under-17 coach Shawn Cooper for his screening sessions. Cooper is also the coach of the Presentation College (San Fernando) team which won the boys' national intercol title on December 7.

"Even though these guys are coming off their (SSFL) seasons, they need to be as fit as they can be. I do not care who we are coming up against, we have to be working harder than any team," Haynes said.

"We need to (improve) on our fitness because some of these guys are coming to the end of their seasons and some guys are just coming from the US and different places so their fitness levels are different. We have to make sure they are at the same place and try to win some games."