T&T could soon be represented on the international by another member of former Miss Universe (1998) Wendy Fitzwilliam's family, her son Ailan Andrew Panton.
This after the 16-year-old Panton, her son with former husband, Jamaican senator, David Panton impressed the T&T Under-17 men's football team coaching staff led by Shawn Cooper during the residential training camp at the Home of Football in Balmain, Couva which ends today as preparation continues toward the Concacaf U-17 Men’s Championship in Guatemala in February.
Speaking on the eve of the conclusion of the second stage of the camp which was briefly interrupted on Christmas Eve (Saturday) to allow the players to enjoy Christmas with their families before it resumed on Thursday until today (Saturday, December 31), Cooper said he has been relatively pleased with the players.
"We resumed on Thursday with a double session where we continued to look at a couple of players from the USA in terms of seeing how well they would have adapted to what we are trying to do in terms of our style of play and tactics, and they were pretty okay and also adopted very well to the conditions, especially coming from the very cold weather that is facing the USA at the moment."
"They all adjusted well to what we were doing and it's now up to us as members of the coaching staff to sit and determine which players we will be going with for the tournament.
The T&T coach said it will without a doubt be a difficult task to select his final team, but one that he and his staff embrace.
"My coaching staff and I have a very hard task in selecting a final squad for the tournament not only because of the high competitive level between the players, but also Concacaf has reduced the number of players per team for this age group tournament to 20 players, so where in the past teams would have selected three goalkeepers, we will more than likely have to go with one less, and then it's a hard choice in terms of the rest of the squad in terms of defenders, midfielders, and forwards."
"Only on Thursday night we had four USA-based players left to return to North America and off the top of my head, I would say that Jeremiah Cato, and Tyrell Moore, the latter, the younger brother of Shaq Moore who appeared for the USA at the just concluded 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar. Both players are the sons of former T&T player Wendell Moore.
"I would also add to those two, the son of former Miss Universe Wendy Fitzwilliam, Ailan Andrew Panton who has proven himself to be a very good goalkeeper, and certain to have a bright future in the sport along with Luka Hislop, son of former national goalkeeper Neil ‘Shaka’ Hislop, who is younger.
He added, "Overall, the camp was a very useful one with about 35 players involved in total, with about ten to 12 from overseas, but unfortunately last Thursday close to ten of them were showing signs of flu-like symptoms and as a precaution, we had to send them home to avoid it spreading through the rest of the camp to the other players
Looking ahead to the resumption of school next week and the scheduling of training sessions for the locally based players, Cooper said he plans to ramp up the weekly sessions.
"We are expected to leave for Costa Rica coming closer to the end of January where we will play two international warm-up matches against that country's Under-17 team, but before that, we will basically add more weekly sessions to about four a week. So the guys can expect a schedule of Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays until we depart,
T&T will open its campaign at the Concacaf Under-17 Championship, which serves as a qualifier to the FIFA Under-17 World Cup in Peru next year against Canada in Group F of the 20-team tournament on February 11, 2023, Men’s Under-17 Championship against at the Estadio Pensativo in Antigua, Guatemala.
The young Soca Warriors then face the USA in the second match on February 13 before closing out their round-robin group campaign against Caribbean rivals Barbados on February 15.
Groups H which is made up of Honduras, Haiti, El Salvador, and Suriname will also be played at the Estadio Pensativo in Antigua while
Group E which comprises defending champion and eight-time winners Mexico, Panama, host Guatemala, and Curacao, and Group G featuring Costa Rica, Jamaica, Guadeloupe, and Cuba will be based at the Estadio Nacional Doroteo Guamuch Flores in Guatemala City.
After the group stage, the top three nations in each group will advance to the knockout stage, joining the four 2022 Concacaf U-17 Men’s Qualifiers (CU17Q) group winners: Bermuda, Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, and Puerto Rico.
The round-of-16 matches will take place on February 18, and 19, at both venues, followed by the quarterfinals on February 21, and 22 with the semifinals set for February 24, and the finals on February 26 in Guatemala City.
All knockout stage matches will be played in a single-match direct elimination format and the four semifinalists will qualify for the FIFA U-17 World Cup Peru 2023.