Women’s senior team coach James Thomas is assuring that Trinidad and Tobago’s footballers will be well-prepared leading up to November’s opening round of matches for the 2022 CONCACAF Women’s Championship, which serves as a qualifier for the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup.
T&T have a fairly safe passage to the final round, taking on Guyana, Nicaragua, Dominica and Turks and Caicos in Group F, where only the winners advance to the eight-team CONCACAF final round in 2022.
However, that same winners-take-all format saw T&T go out in the 2019 Olympic qualifiers when a shock 4-1 defeat to St Kitts and Nevis and a 0-0 draw with the Dominican Republic left them only third in Caribbean Group A and saw coach Stephan De Four lose his job.
Appointed a few months ago, Thomas has a 20-player squad under training in the first of two residential camps before qualifying begins in November. Among the players are veterans Maylee Attin-Johnson and Lauryn Hutchinson, who were not part of the 2019 squad which contains mainly younger players, captained by the experienced Karyn Forbes.
However, Attin-Johnson and Hutchinson were both key members of the team which missed the final spot to the 2015 World Cup, when edged 1-0 on aggregate by Ecuador in an inter-continental playoff. For these two veterans, these qualifiers might be a final chance at getting to a World Cup.
US-born defender Hutchinson has not been called to national duty or played competitively for three years, and was contemplating retirement at just 30 years old. But given the opportunity to stake a claim for a spot on the team for next month’s qualifiers, she is here in Trinidad and ready to go.
“First of all I love the new system. I love the expansion and the way they have done it,” she said of the new CONCACAF format for World Cup qualifying. “I think the qualifiers are a lot more attainable for just more countries in general to prepare.”
Former captain Attin-Johnson is even older at age 35 and has been out of the game for five years. Attin-Johnson’s fall-out with former head coach Italian Carolina Morace, saw her exit the national team set-up in 2016. Her open critique of former mentor Jamaal Shabazz saw her either refuse to play or excluded from subsequent national teams in the past five years under coaches Shabazz, Shawn Cooper and more recently De Four. Attin-Johnson said one of the reasons for joining Thomas’ camp was that the Welshman had not prejudged her on the past.
“Over those years I have always been mentally lit and I knew I had to stay physically fit and as healthy as possible, for when my opportunity comes again, I’ll be able to grab it with both hands and represent my country with everything I have,” Attin-Johnson stated.
Thomas gave neither Hutchinson nor Attin-Johnson any guarantees that they will be in his final squad.
“I said to every player on day one, you are starting with a score of zero. “I am not judging previous performances,“ Thomas said during a brief media interaction on Wednesday at the Ato Boldon Stadium. His prospects are encamped a stone’s throw away at the Home of Football (HOF). Thomas said his staff has had to adapt to unforeseen changes, but the HOF facility-wise, provided everything he needed to prepare.
“We have a few players that we selected for this camp that are unavailable, whether it be injury, or travel restrictions which are obviously in place around the globe at the moment. So, we have couple of players less than we anticipated, “ he explained.
“These are the players that are on your talent list,” Thomas said of the bunch currently in the training camp.
The Welshman said he will also take the opportunity to have a look at other players.
“We want to look at players who maybe haven’t been tested at the moment in international football,” he said.
“The benefit of this camp being a training one rather than a fixture camp (is) it allows us to experiment with players. It allows us to experiment with the formation and the tactical side of the game a little bit, to make sure our game plan matches what the players are.”
“So we are not just coming in and delivering a tactical format for the players that they have to fit into. We are ensuring that what we are doing fits in to the type of players that we have and the athletes that we have,” stated Thomas.
The full 20-member training squad comprises:
Kimika Forbes, Tenesha Palmer, Malaika Dedier, Collette Morgan, Rhea Belgrave, Naomi Guerra, Jasandra Joseph, Karyn Forbes, Maylee Attin-Johnson, Lauryn Hutchinson, Maya Matouk, Aaliyah Prince, Laurelle Theodore, Aaliyah Pascall, Afiyah Cornwall, Summer Arjoon, Sharain Cummings, Tisanne Leander, Anya De Courcy, and Brittany Mahabir.
SOURCE: T&T Express