Trinidad and Tobago's national senior women's team footballers have no place to train. So, on Thursdays they head to the Queen's Park Savannah, in Port of Spain. It is hard to believe that these young women are preparing for a World Cup--the Canada 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup to be exact.
Ranked 48th in the world, the T&T women will bid to qualify for the World Cup for the first time in seven attempts, and seem to have a realistic chance of achieving that goal. Their chances have been improved by the expansion of the Women's World Cup, from 16 teams to 24.
World champions United States and world #7 Canada are normally bosses when it comes to World Cup qualifying in the CONCACAF region, which serves the Caribbean, as well as North and Central America. Mexico are considered the third best team, with T&T and Costa Rica following close behind.
Expansion of the FIFA tournament means that for the 2015 World Cup, CONCACAF will have four teams playing, with a possible fifth, if successful in a play-off with a South American team.
In contrast, South America, where Brazil rule, has just two guaranteed berths and the play-off spot with CONCACAF.
Many of the CONCACAF teams are chomping at the chance to reach the World Cup, and 10 of them have been active in the month of March.
T&T head coach Marlon Charles is fully aware of how good his chances are of reaching the 2015 World Cup. Qualifying does not actually start until 2014, but Charles is beginning the work now.
"We are seeing it as our best chance. We are going
to give it a real effort to try and make it this time. We don't have to compete against Canada this time because they are the hosts. The United States will get one automatic qualifying spot because they are the best team in the world. That leaves two automatic spots and a play-off spot up for grabs, between us (T&T), Mexico, Costa Rica and any other team that may come up."
Charles has had a long-term commitment to women's football in T&T, and now has at his disposal a group of seasoned players with an average age of 25. Most of them have been on the United States college circuit, and are also experienced national players, T&T having made a decision some years ago to drop many of the ageing players and invest in talented 16-year-olds.
Captain Maylee Attin Johnson, now 26, has been a starter with the national senior team since the age of 17, and was part of the outfit that lost 7-0 to the US in an Olympic qualifier in Costa Rica. In that match, she played against American standouts Mia Hamm, Christine Lilly, Shannon Box and Abby Wambach.
Another 26-year-old, Aveanne Douglas has been on the T&T senior team even longer—11years. She was a member of the 2002 squad, along with winger Akheela Mollon, who is now 28.
Ayanna Russell and dangerous striker Kenya "Ya Ya" Cordner are among 10 T&T players aged under 26, but with years of international experience.
Recent results, including a 1-1 draw with Mexico and a narrow 1-0 defeat to Canada at the 2011 Pan American Games in Guadalajara, Mexico, tell the story of a maturing T&T team.
"We recently toured Costa Rica," said Charles, "where we lost 1-0 to their national team in the first match and beat them 4-0 in the return. We also played club teams there, and were successful as well."
In addition to his stalwarts, Charles has a group of emerging talents, including Jonelle Warrick, Janine Francois and Kaylor Taylor, a member of T&T's 2010 FIFA Under-17 Women's World Cup team.
"We are building our programme around this committed bunch of players we have locally. We also have some who are still outside but have played with the team for years, such as Ayanna Russell, Candice Edwards, Arin King, Kamika Forbes. These are the players we will bring in to make up the final team.
"Everyone knows the problems with funding for national football teams," Charles continued, "but we have started our work, and will look for the possibility of playing warm-up matches when they emerge. For now, we doing what we can."