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Defender Shannon Gomez training with the national team in the Bahama on June 2nd 2021

THE RECALL of wide backs Shannon Gomez and Keston Julien gives the Trinidad and Tobago senior men’s national team a lot more options for their upcoming 2022 CONCACAF zone Group F World Cup qualifiers against the Bahamas (tomorrow) and leaders St Kitts and Nevis on Tuesday.

Both are young, can attack but also defend well.

Their inclusion also gives head coach Terry Fenwick the option of shifting a less fluid, but solid defensive player like Neveal Hackshaw from left-back to the defensive midfield position where he first came to prominence with Derek King’s national Under-20s.

Julien, 22, has three national caps under former head coach Dennis Lawrence and has been playing professionally in Europe for the last five years since his early TT Pro League days with San Juan Jabloteh and W Connection. After signing his first contract with AS Trencin in Slovakia, Julien, an attacking left-back, now plays for FC Sheriff Tiraspol, multiple champions in Moldova and a team which has played very well in European qualifiers. Sheriff again won the Moldova domestic league in 2021 and have qualified for the early rounds of the UEFA Champions League qualifiers. Julien, a starter for most of this season, has recently returned to action following an injury. He also relishes a return the T&T national team.

“Am happy to be back in the team and under a new coach as well,” stated Julien. “Everything is positive.”

Julien’s three T&T senior team caps came in 2019 Nations League matches. Since then he believes he has become an improved player at Sheriff, having as a Caribbean footballer had to work ten times as hard to make the line-up at his club, which also has a lot of African and European players in its ranks.

“I have made a transition to a higher-level club,” stated Julien. “Tactic-wise, I have improved a lot, especially with my defending. My coaches have taught me a lot, so am coming to bring that to my national team.”

Julien added:“On quality, we know we are a better team than Bahamas and St Kitts.” But he has cautioned his teammates to stick to Fenwick’s plan in the upcoming matches.

Gomez, 24, was captain of the national Under-17 team which won the 2014 Caribbean Championship under Derek King. Gomez was also a strong national team prospect and notably impressed former coach Stephen Hart when making his senior team debut on March 28, 2015 in a 1–0 friendly defeat to Panama. He played for 77 minutes before being replaced by Jomal Williams. Gomez made his second international appearance in a friendly on June 6, 2015, featuring for seven minutes in a 1–0 loss to Curaçao.

Making his W Connection debut as a 17-year-old, Gomez was quickly sent to the United States on loan to Major League Soccer club New York FC, but after two injury spells and subsequent surgery, he dropped down to the second tier USL level for the Pittsburgh Riverhounds and now Sacramento Republic. However, Gomez now seems back to his very best and has already this season picked up a Man-of-the-Match award and a Team of the Week pick in Sacramento Republic’s opening two matches.

Bahamas are winless and have conceded 15 goals in previous qualifiers against St Kitts (4-0), Guyana (4-0) and Puerto Rico (7-0). But on Saturday, Gomez thinks T&T need to be ruthless.

“This is a big game for us,” he said. “We need to play to the best of our ability regardless. Come out in the game strong, score our chances and put the game to bed,” he stated.

A very confident Gomez feels the formula against Bahamas is simple, although requiring serious effort.

“We shouldn’t have a reason for an excuse,” he declared, “just go out and play a good football game and win the game for the country.”

Gomez declined call-ups for recent matches against the USA and two March qualifiers but now thinks he is ready for action. He said it had been a long road back from injury but is thankful for the support he has had.

“It is probably the biggest learning experience in my life so far,” Gomez said of his return from injury. “I am just happy to be back at the top of my game again and by extension being back on the national team and representing Trinidad and Tobago again.”

SOURCE: T&T Express