Fri, Dec

Part two: “We never feel like we can just be free and play!” Revisiting the Women’s W/Cup campaign.

For the first time in awhile, I noticed how disjointed we are during our pre-tournament camp in Raleigh. We have cliques, like all teams do; but we have to have the maturity to see past differences for the good of football and country. That was hard to do this time but I believe it was hard to do because of two main reasons.

I believe some players had better relationships with the coaches, who then refused to make tough decisions for the betterment of the team. They played players they liked, not necessarily who could help the team; and that is a reflection of culture in Trinidad and Tobago.

The second reason there was team division is that some of the players were sick and tired of being disrespected by the TTFA. We don’t get paid on time or barely get paid at all, we get treated like a recreation soccer team and not the Women’s National Senior Team.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been to a Trinidad and Tobago Women’s National Team camp, and we have to have ‘players only’ meetings to decide if we are going to boycott the game because we haven’t gotten paid, or if we need to take a stance for equality for women. And many times our different viewpoints on that have divided the team before we even got on to the field, with some players willing to act like everything is fine and dandy.

The fear of getting blackballed meant some girls were afraid to ask for what they truly deserve as national team athletes because they fear a backlash for them or their families; so they let the TTFA run all over them. To me, that is abuse. I also believe some people might be too interconnected with the TTFA structure, so they won’t speak out against injustice because they think they may need to get help later on.

The TTFA makes it so disturbingly hard to ever just focus on football; we never feel like we can just be free and play.

But we do have our great moments as a team, when we dance and sing and laugh together. Those are my favourite moments and I learn so much about Trinidad and Tobago culture from my teammates.

Janine Francois always makes me feel at home. She is like a big sister to me. She takes me out from time to time in Trinidad to help me get to know the country and I will always love her for that.

Tasha St Louis—she calls me ‘Mad Cat’! Lol. I think it’s funny and it doesn’t bother me—has invited me down for Carnival. Nothing to do with football; just to come down and have fun. That’s what I love about my teammates when I’m in Trinidad. And that is how a team should be.

You don’t keep coming back to a place that constantly disrespects you as a player if you don’t love something about it. Maybe I’m crazy but I haven’t given up on a Trinidad and Tobago women’s team qualifying for a World Cup or Olympic Games. We just need to remove bias and corruption and insert a business approach to the game, so we can compete with the rest of the world.

Being born in America with ‘Trini’ parents isn’t the same as being born in Trinidad. Look, I get it. But I bonded well with my teammates and some of the younger players in Trinidad. I made them laugh and I talked to them about getting scholarships in the States and guided them anyway I could.

Aaliyah Prince, Aaliyah Cornwall and Natisha John are examples of players I think should be playing Division One soccer in the States. We do have really good talent. But we have so many distractions that the team cannot concentrate and that’s what makes it so hard.

Girls struggle to find ways to get to practice, have to constantly ask when the next check is coming, and never feel respected as national team players. It wears you down; and then player friction happens because not everyone has the same background, financial stability, or patience to deal with the second class treatment from the TTFA.

I am a jokester and some girls call me crazy or goofy; and I don’t mind that. But when it comes to soccer, I am intense. I also know how to put problems aside for the greater good, which is the product on the field.

I think another problem the Trinidad and Tobago team has is ‘player entitlement’, which is because we do not have a deep enough pool of strong bodied, able players. It should be an absolute dog fight to make the Women’s Senior National Team, not just a case of who is available at the time.

Our final 20 for the Concacaf championship did not represent the best players we have; but that’s what happens when constant dysfunction surrounds the women’s game. Too much bullshit and politics led to the choosing of that side. If the TTFA got its act together, we could have as many as 40 solid players competing to make a squad, which would truly be our best possible team.

Shawn Cooper told us he coaches for the TTFA patch and Trinidad and Tobago, and I know he wasn’t dealt the best cards; but none of us were and I wish he handled things a lot differently.

[Technical director] Anton Corneal is a true professional and has a hell of a soccer mind; but the TTFA has done such a disservice to him and disrespected him so many times that I believe he reached his breaking point. I think, at the Concacaf tournament, his mind was in other places.
I think when Carolina Morace and Randy Waldrum were there, bias went out the window and you knew the best players will always play. That forces other players to raise their level and makes the team more attractive for foreign-based talent.

We have to change the whole culture of football in Trinidad and Tobago; but that cannot happen if we don’t have professionals in place within the TTFA.

The U-15 girls team missed their Concacaf tournament due to visa issues. We had Ayana Russell, Rhea Belgrave and Kayla Taylor arrive at the venue on our first match day with their suitcases because of visa situations too. How embarrassing is that for the TTFA?!

If the team is picked early and correctly with a training camp established in a timely manner, players who need visas have an appropriate window to collect them so we look uniformed as a team. You should hear what the American broadcasters had to say about us. It is a shame how we are set up for failure before we even stepped on the pitch.

People who see what our Women’s National Senior Team go through when a qualification tournament comes around would say: “It’s like your federation pretends they don’t know the World Cup comes around every four years.”

But it is what you do between those four year cycles that makes you competitive, not working magic in the last four months—or begging for a preparatory camp between the Jamaican qualification leg and the final round in North Carolina.

We were poor at the CAC games and if proper planning was in place, we would have gone straight into camp before the Caribbean Championship in Jamaica. Instead, there was a coaching change, foreign-based players leave, and we don’t even get all of our players to Jamaica at the same time. So then we showed poorly in Jamaica as well.

The international game is the highest level of football in the world and it is sad that Trinidad and Tobago do not treat it as such. How can you properly prepare when you have three different coaches in three months, no training camp, you don’t pick all your best players and your team doesn’t train consistently over time?

Film study is another huge part of the development we are missing as a side. We do not properly scout our opponents. Yes, our coaches went to games and saw them play; but why not have someone film all those games and ours and then break it down for us? Film study helps you better understand how to play each team. It is the little things that count.

We did not do that for Panama or Mexico and were grossly underprepared to play them. I put that down to 33% player execution, 33% game planning and 33% failure to prepare for our opponent.

We watched Panama for 15 minutes with our coaches before we played them and we all said: ‘Yes, yes, we know how they play, we should beat them’. And then we lost.

As players, we should have demanded more from our coaches in terms of pre-prepared clips of our opponents and our own team, so we can see what they are doing and also what we are doing wrong. But it is harder to make those demands of your staff when they keep changing.

As a goalkeeper, no coach broke down the goals scored on us and showed us how to improve on our defensive mistakes. This is something that club coaches are doing at youth level! Our national team doesn’t do it, partly because no one cares to do it.

Coaching is a layered position and everyone seems to be doing the bare minimum and expecting amazing results; and that includes players, coaches and staff. I will get told that, in the Caribbean, we don’t have the resources that others do. But how long do we have to beg and plead to get even a fraction of what is needed for true progress?

Other girls and myself on the team follow many Men’s National Senior Team players on our social media and see that they wear sports performance trackers at training, have access to theragun massage guns and a multitude of other recovery tools like stretch and foam roll sessions, and stay in appropriate hotels which the girls never ever seem to have access too.

It’s truly a shame to see how much better they are treated than us. I cannot sit here and let DJW say all these other teams are paying the expenses for the Men’s National Team to play them in friendlies—because some line of communication has to be made to arrange these games.

I wonder how long the Women’s National Senior Team will go without an international friendly. Obviously we did not qualify for the Women’s World Cup; but why not arrange matches for us against teams who qualified?

It’s 2018 and we still lose by seven goals to the USA, five to Mexico and three to Panama. Jamaica got no help from their federation, so why did they succeed and we didn’t?

The Jamaica Women’s National Team will forever be used as an example for our ineptitude as a federation. They now are the first Caribbean women’s team to qualify for a senior World Cup—a feat that should have belonged to Trinidad and Tobago.

Yes, we let 2015 slip away; but it was what happened after that sealed our fate. Like firing Randy Waldrum and Ben Waldrum and not letting them set up their developmental plan from the U-15’s to the  Women’s National Senior Team. For whatever reason, we let ignorance win again and they were never allowed to finish the job they started.

Are they still upset with Randy Waldrum for that tweet? Let it go! The federation put themselves in positions to be called out when they constantly disrespect the women’s program. That team almost made it to a World Cup with nothing.

But this point is about Jamaica and what their coach, Hue Menzies, accomplished and how he did it.

First, look at his resume:

US Soccer National ‘A’ Coaching License
National Youth Coaching License
Thirty-plus years of coaching experience
Executive Director of Central Florida Kraze/Krush (2012 – Present)
Technical Director of Jamaica’s Women’s National Team (2015 – Present)
Brought ECNL to the state of Florida with Central Florida Kraze/Krush in 2011
Concacaf Study group member (2014 – Present)
One of the founders and Directors for the Lonestar Soccer Association in Austin, TX
Director of Coaching for the Warrior Soccer Association in Austin, TX
Fifteen years Olympic Development Coaching experience at the National, State and Regional level
Won several State titles in various age groups, regional and national finalist USYSA
Former Assistant coach at the University of Texas Women’s Soccer
Has placed 400+ players into various colleges
Now look at how a foreign-based coach, who ran most of his operation out of Florida, was able to recruit effectively to this national team and—not without a struggle from his federation—got a Caribbean team to the World Cup.

We had Carolina Morace and Randy Waldrum who have even more impressive resumes but we chose to show them no respect and did not allow them to build on their plans.

Jamaica entrusted Menzies with the time to create a staff, a credible program, and to find, evaluate and select players—whether they were foreign-based or not. And now Jamaica have made history and Trinidad and Tobago are stuck behind.

Editor’s Note: On 13 Thursday, Wired868 will wrap up the Saundra Baron interview with a look at the power dynamics within the squad at the Concacaf tournament and her view of the Lauryn Hutchinson and Kennya “Yaya” Cordner incidents.