The Soca Warriors Online (SWO) is asking its members and all T&T supporters to join in and support the T&T national women's football team as they embark on a journey to regain Caribbean supremacy, and at the same time qualify for the 2015 FIFA World Cup in Canada.
It is a task that is very much achievable but they have had a long string of disappointments and hiccups which may very well undermine the team’s focus. Try telling that to Maylee Attin-Johnson. The women’s team captain insists that she is not letting anything stand in her way, and pretty face notwithstanding, she is totally the opposite when on the pitch; fighting to the end and leading by example. She fits the mold thus, of a perfect captain.
Attin-Johnson may not have her full complement of troops with her in Houston, nor is she or any of the national women team being compensated while on international duty. This continues a trend over the past few years where they've had to play second fiddle to their international male counterparts, going months without playing any international games. This while having local fans all over their case, expecting miracles.
Meanwhile, with no steady funding or sponsorship, the cash-strapped Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) had to pull rabbits out of their hats to get the team to Houston and in camp, a move which represents the first time in TTFA history that such an investment is being made in the Senior Women’s program. The TTFA even had to go abroad for help when they got American Randy Waldrum to coach the team for free for the duration of the CFU Cup.
All is not well however, the team is missing a number of players who were left back in T&T because of ticket and visa issues, largely caused by a shortage of funds. Spirits nonetheless remain high and the team is determined to prove that they have what it takes to get T&T women’s football back on the map, by qualifying for their first ever World Cup at this level.
While the TTFA were pulling rabbits out of their hats Life Sports were the real magicians, they made $34 million dollars disappeared.
Trinidad and Tobago has now had a failed rogue Life Sport Programme which was specifically designed to help community groups and individuals in furthering plans, programmes and activities that foster the development of sport, facilitate athletic performance and engender community spirit.
Some of Life Sport beneficiaries are doing their best David Copperfield impression, making millions of dollars disappear from under the noses of the T&T government, and doing so with impunity. In fact, the penalty for malfeasance in public office and misappropriation of funds seems to be mere termination from office. Against this backdrop, these women footballers have gone without any sort of financial support, as some assume the burden of family and other responsibilities, yet still manage to drop everything and answer the call to represent their country.
Picture for a moment what a mere fraction of the infamous $34 million dollars would do to help these young ladies achieve their goal. It would be interesting to see the support, if any, that they would get from the government if they were to actually qualify for the 2015 Women’s World Cup.
At any rate, enough of the socio-political commentary. Despite the apathy which the women have often been forced to endure, they nonetheless harbor no ill-feelings and instead show massive commitment and dedication to the red, white and black as they aim to change the course of women’s football in T&T and put their country back on the footballing map.
Alongside from Ahkeela Mollon, team captain, Attin-Johnson happens to be one of this country’s most decorated current women players. She boasts a wealth of experience since graduating Diego Martin High School, representing Cumberland University in Tennessee and later Kennesaw State University in Georgia, making enough of a name for herself to have caught the eye of Women’s Premier Soccer League team Issaquah Soccer Club. Attin-Johnson, now attached to local out-fit Central FC, is convinced that there is enough talent in the national pool to put a scare into any team on any given day.
With the likes of Tasha St Louis, Ahkeela-Darcel Mollon, Karyn Forbes, Captain, Attin-Johnson and Janine Francois who can all turn heads in midfield, clinical finishers like Anique Walker, Mariah Shade, Joe Marie Lewis and in-form Tobago-born striker Kennya Cordner, there is enough fire power to make the team competitive. Then you have the defense that helps anchor the boat in Arin King, Rhea Belgrave and Taylor Mims. Last but not least, there’s the experienced Kimika Forbes standing tall between the uprights. Any which way you cut it, this team is rich with talent, and probably one of the most-talented teams to come along in a while.
All this without mentioning players who are not at the Houston camp (for obvious reasons) but who could add further depth to this current team should they progress. Among these, Camille Borneo, Maria Mohammed, Linfah Jones, Jessica DeLeon, Liana Hinds and Lauren Schmidt come to mind.
The main focus for now is on winning the CFU however, and the Soca Princesses should relish their chances of qualifying, having been drawn in a group comprising Antigua and Barbuda, Martinique and St Kitts & Nevis. Today, the Soca Warriors Online (SWO) would like to spotlight our national women's team as they prepare to do battle from August 19-26.
We managed to catch up with team captain, Attin-Johnson who was very kind enough to take the time off her busy Houston training camp to do a brief Q&A with the SWO.
How has the experience been thus far under new coach Randy Waldrum, do you think he has made a difference since his appointment? And also, the Houston experience, how has it been there?
MAJ: The experience with coach Randy has been excellent thus far. He brings a different perspective which is needed for the next level. He is a very forward-thinking person and I believe the difference that he will make is in the fundamental aspects of the game we take for granted. For instance we have done more shooting in a week than we have done in probably two years. Also set pieces are an aspect of the game that we take for granted and we have started to work on this aspect with the new coaches. So he is definitely moving in the right direction.
I also admire how he is very straight-forward and how he commands the attention of the players. His sessions are very structured and well organized. He emphasizes a lot on the technical and tactical aspects of the game. Thus far the players have bought into his philosophy and professional approach. Every session has been productive and fun-filled. The Houston experience has been extremely, extremely HOT!!!, that may be an understatement but I must say the chemistry of the team has improved and the energy in the camp is where we need it to be.
Who are some of the teams you guys are going to face while there. I heard that Mexico has pulled out of the friendly against T&T?
MAJ: It's unfortunate that we won't be playing a high profile team as Mexico however we will compete against the Houston Dash which is a professional women's team here in Houston, as well as the Houston University and Houston Baptist University.
Can you tell us the players in the camp including the foreign-based players.
MAJ: Maylee Attin-Johnson, Kennya Cordner, Tasha St. Louis, Karyn Forbes*, Kimika Forbes*, Rhea Belgrave*, Tinesha Palmer*, Janine François, Patrice Superville, Jonelle Warrick, Arin King, Dernelle Mascall, Jo-Marie Lewis, Afiyah Matthias, Shenelle Henry, Annalis Cummings, Kennya Charles, Sherine Scott*, Mariah Shade, Khadisha Debesette*, Khadidra Debesette*, Anyana Russell*, Lauryn Hutchinson*, Taylor Mims, Anastacia Prescott, Janelle Magee, Christina Joseph... (*expected to arrive by Friday).
Are you satisfied with the TTFA in how they are handling the team with the visa issues etc? As we understand, half of your teammates are still in Trinidad and Tobago. Do you see a chance of the new TTFA making a difference.
MAJ: That's an unfortunate situation (with the visas) and the reality of the matter is that everything is tied into funding. We all know the magnitude of the battle that TTFA is fighting due to past failures. I can put my hands up and say I have criticized the association in the past but I also believe that they're willing to do what it takes to improve the situation that we have been facing. We can either sit back, criticize and judge or we can suggest solutions. As I said to the General Secretary [Sheldon Phillips] I would love to work hand in hand with the association to help garner support for the women's program. Sometimes we need to be proactive instead of reactive and that's something that I'm learning.
As tough as it is with the team being half in Trinidad and half in Houston the show must go on. Only when you're in the kitchen you will feel the heat. I honestly believed that the team needed a different environment, positive energy and most importantly quality sessions. The only other option would be to stay home and stick with the same program. In my estimation the Association is doing all they can with the little resources they have and the amount of obligations they're facing. What I would love to see is more government and corporate support, not when the bumpy roads are crossed but before we journey across them.
Do you guys get paid while on international duty.
MAJ: We don't get paid, we usually get a stipend.
Who are some of the exciting players we could look forward to? In other words, who do you feel will cause havoc for opposing teams?
MAJ: I think each player will bring about some type of excitement in their own way, however I do believe Kenya "Yaya" Corner will set the field on fire. I also think once Ahkeela "Darcel' Mollon is available for the Concacaf rounds the both of them will cause some havoc. In terms of potential and newness we need to look out for Jo-Marie Lewis and Shenelle Henry. But we are looking forward to each player bringing some sort of excitement to the team and to the game.
As I understand, the team has talent but is lacking in fitness (which is understandable given the lack of preparations among other small hiccups). Now that the team is preparing for the 2014 Caribbean Cup tournament and despite relatively a weaker group which T&T has drawn, how serious are you guys taking these games and is the team fitness improving? As you know playing international football is a lot different to friendly games.
MAJ: We respect every opponent that we face regardless of strength or lack thereof. We aren't going to take these games likely because by the end of the day we know we are number one in the Caribbean and teams will be targeting us. When it comes to the fitness aspect, we don't want to look past the CFU however we do believe we can get away with not being 100% fit at Caribbean level but at CONCACAF level it will be challenging. At this particular period it's not smart to overload sessions so we need to be smart and manage every aspect of the game going into this final leg of CFU. So far a trainer has completed a couple fitness test with us and from the results he will develop a program for each individual specifically which will help enhance the fitness aspect.
Who are some of your favorite players (men and women) and who inspire you as a player.
MAJ: My favorite player growing up was Alessandro Del Piero. I don't have a favorite player on the women's side but I do respect Christine St. Claire, to me she does more with less than any other of the big name players.
What are some of the changes you would like to see in T&T women football?
MAJ: I would like to see a better structured league because we need to have players playing on a more consistent basis if we want to continue improving our pool of players for the national setup. One change I would love to see is corporate Trinidad as well as the government being more proactive by sponsoring and empowering our young ladies.
In 2010 you were appointed Manager of Women's U-20 Team. Following your appointment we did not heard anything from you. What happened?
MAJ: When I completed my studies in 2009 I decided to take some time off from football due to injuries (3 ACL surgeries) I got an opportunity straight out of school which I was appreciative of, however the passion I had for football at that time wasn't administratively, it was how fast could I get back on the field, so I never pursued being a manager after the under 20 tournament was over. That's probably why you haven't seen or heard from me in that aspect. Today I'm still faced with the same knee issues but until I believe I can't compete at a high level I won't stop.
Have you ever visited the SWO and if yes, what are your thoughts.
MAJ: I have and I think it definitely keeps the average fan/supporter in the loop about T&T football and footballers both locally and internationally. The fan forum is hilarious, looking forward to the comments about this interview... (smile)....
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