NATIONAL men's football coach Angus Eve has called the overhaul of his squad a "new beginning" ahead of Thursday's Concacaf Nations League opener against Curacao at the Hasely Crawford Stadium, Mucurapo. The match kicks off at 6pm.
T&T face El Salvador in the Central American country on Sunday before tackling Guatemala in the next international window on October 13.
At a media conference on Wednesday at the Hasely Crawford Stadium, Eve said, "We have picked a lot of young players because we have to rebuild the team going into World Cup qualifying in 2026."
Eve's 23-man squad retains just nine players from his Gold Cup team just two months ago with 11 local-based players getting the nod.
Defence Force, winners of the inaugural TT Premier Football League and the knockout tournament, boast six players in the team. The club is also joint top of their group in the Concacaf Caribbean Cup.
The freshening up of Eve's squad came three days after his former captain Kevin Molino, 33, announced his international retirement and claimed Eve had lost the dressing room.
In an interview with Wired868, Molino alleged disrespect towards senior players and a lack of on-field strategy by Eve during the Gold Cup – the former's last appearance in national colours.
The Carenage-born player was part of Eve's provisional 40-man squad for the Nations League. Also missing out are senior players such as Joevin Jones, 32, and his brother Alvin Jones 29.
The Jones brothers – both from Carenage – are good friends of Molino. Last month Molino wished Joevin a happy birthday in an Instagram post calling him his "brother".
Asked whether the inspiration to inject new blood in his squad was an attempt to keep control of his dressing room, Eve said, "We announced the 40-man squad before this conversation started – and then these things came out."
Eve said the sidelining of Alvin was owing to match fitness. The right-back and his brother were part of the Concacaf Best XI in League B of the Nations League. Alvin also opened T&T's account at the 2023 Gold Cup with a goal against St Kitts and has been a reliable performer for the national team for years. In October 2017, Jones scored a memorable long-range strike to eliminate USA from World Cup contention. He was in action 26 days ago in the Concacaf Caribbean Shield semifinals against Martinique's Golden Lion FC.
Eve said, "Alvin team get knocked out a couple months ago. We just believe Shannon (Gomez of San Antonio FC in the USL Championship) is a bit more match fit and ready at this point in time. That is part of the decision why Alvin Jones (was omitted)."
Eve: Why criticise me now?
Eve, who also hails from Carenage, said the decision to put the focus on younger legs was no different from that of his opposition as Curacao changed 12 players from their Gold Cup team.
He added, "It's so sad that all the questions are focused on me.
"If somebody wants to retire, for whatever reason it may be....I was left out of the (2006) World Cup team unceremoniously I probably thought. I never went anywhere and said anything about the coach (Leo) Beenhakker. I accepted the decision he made.
"If there were issues with me before, why wouldn't they say it at the time, since (June) 2021 to 2023. That is as much as I want to say. I respect all the players. I think I have a good relationship with all the players."
The former national captain said Molino's retirement is a massive loss.
"Kevin Molino has been a stalwart for a long time. Like everything else, Russell (Latapy) had to leave, we left, and others have to take over. I want to wish him all the best whatever he does in the future. He is a player (who) lived with me a very long time as a player, and a young man in my community."
Eve said the Columbus Crew player is entitled to express his opinion on any topic.
"Kevin is an individual He has the right to feel however he feels about any situation. He has the right to do so."
Eve said he wants the focus to be on the young men representing T&T and not the negative stuff.
"I don't focus on negative stuff. I have to be focused for these guys here. These guys I'm putting my belief in for TT. Young men are dying all over the place with gun violence. These men want to do something positive for their country."
Three points important
Eve said the aim is to pick up maximum points before heading on the road. "It's of paramount importance because the home games is what you try to win. It would do the world of confidence to these young players."
Eve said his squad is younger but the players have been around the national set-up. "The only one who was not in the squad previously was (goalie Christopher) Biggette.
"A lot of the guys have been in and out. Every single window is a competition. We don't have time to give the players much-needed friendly matches. We've been given them games periodically."
New national captain Aubrey David, 32, said, "Our main focus is to start the tournament in the right way – getting three points. We have the home support, we're playing home. It's important to stay focused on that and stay concentrated."
Eve will be matching wits with interim Curacao head coach Dean Gorré, who was appointed just a week ago. However, Eve said there is no advantage to T&T as his opposite number was no stranger to the Curacao programme as he previously served as technical director.
Curacao is being captained by midfielder Leandro Bacuna who played for Watford FC in the English Championship last season. Bacuna is now representing FC Groningen in the Dutch second division.
Gorré and Bacuna both said they looked up to T&T as a respected Concacaf team having previously qualified for the World Cup.