Historically, football and cricket, as is the case is in most Caribbean countries, are the most popular sports in Trinidad and Tobago.
Starting from their foundation days at Arima Boys RC primary school, brothers Kevin Molino and Kevon Cooper - national players in football and cricket respectively - have passionately pursued both sports before their undeniable talents forced them to make a choice between the two.
“In primary school, me and Kevon played cricket and football regularly with all the boys,” said Orlando City midfielder Molino, who took the surname of his mother.
“One of the boys was Sunil Narine, who I always thought from our younger days, would have been a cricket star. I particularly enjoyed fielding more than batting and bowling.”
Cooper, over six feet tall, not surprisingly noted that he was a striker during his football days.
“At Arima RC up until age 16 when I joined the Queen’s Park cricket club, football was my game,” Cooper said. “Arima won the school championship twice and when I joined FC Santa Rosa we also won the Milo Cup. Later when I made the Trinidad Under-19 cricket team in 2008, I fully focussed on my cricket career.”
Given the glare the modern media puts on professional athletes, the jovial brothers were quite keen to be interviewed and open about their past and ambitions.
Cooper, skillful with the bat and ball, was a crucial member of the Trinidad and Tobago Red Force that won the 2015 Nagico Super50 Tournament on home soil and was also instrumental with the now disbanded TT Twenty20 team that dominated regional cricket before the Caribbean Premier League (CPL) was introduced. Despite being an IPL regular at the peak of his game, Cooper has never feature for the West Indies but he was unfazed. “At the end of the day, selectors have their job to do (and) I have mine to do. Yes it’s a bit disappointing (not to have played for West Indies) when I was playing well, but I still have to carry on my career in IPL and other T20 leagues, keep performing and everything will take care of itself,” Cooper declared.
“Currently I’m just training hard with my club Queen’s Park, working hard on my batting and bowling with coaches because I want to be a cricketer that plays all formats of the game.”
While Cooper continues his ambition to become an even more successful cricketer, Molino is part of Soca Warriors outfit that is trying to rebuild after plummeting due to well publicised controversies since the zenith of participating in the 2006 World Cup.
One of the darkest on-field moments of this period was on November 11th, 2011, when Guyana toppled them 2-1 in a World Cup qualifier, ending the Soca Warriors dream of reaching the 2014 showpiece in Brazil.
After the 2009 FIFA Under-20 World Cup in Egypt, Molino was always pencilled as a potential key national player for the future alongside teammates from that tournament such as Khaleem Hylaand, Sheldon Bateau, Daniel Cyrus and the late Akeem Adams.
Over the next two years, Molino’s ability saw him go on trials in Belgium, Slovakia and famous Dutch Eredivisie club - PSV Eindhoven. Despite not getting a European club contract , Molino is still grateful for the tough initiation period.
“Belgium, Slovakia and PSV reports (trials) were good but a few reasons prevented me from going all the way but the trials were an invaluable experience,” said Molino.
The 24-year-old, set to play alongside former AC Milan and Real Madrid star Kaka this season in the MLS, is undoubtedly making maximum use of his abilities and showed his class at the 2014 Caribbean Cup where this country lose in the final to hosts Jamaica.
“Scoring and doing well for your country is always a wonderful feeling but I couldn’t do it without the team. It was obviously disappointing not to win Caribbean Cup, but I believe the team is headed in the right direction under coach (Stephen) Hart. Once we take upcoming friendlies very serious, anything is possible with this team who really operate as family on and off the field,” he continued.
The former San Juan Jabloteh player, now sporting a blond mohawk, prefers playing in the “hole” but he credits Hart for his recent comfort playing on the flanks.
“Coach Hart told me that a lot of top international players with much skill and pace attributes like myself get more success playing on the flanks compare to midfield where more space is available,” he explained. Orlando City and Soca Warriors fans expect big things from Molino who cites ex-TT skipper Russell Latapy and Spain’s Andres Iniesta as his favourite players.
“All players aspire to move to a big club. Now that I’m at one, I’m just staying patient and humble and hope to simply improve as a player every game I play for Orlando City.”