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Head coach Francis ‘Baba’ Lastic has named a 20-member squad for Saint Lucia’s FIFA World Cup Russia 2018 qualifiers against Antigua-Barbuda.
The national team will play both of their Round 2 games away in St John’s, due to the unavailability of a suitable home venue.
The games will be played next Wednesday and then the following Sunday at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium.
Saint Lucia’s selection includes four changes and one addition from the team that finished fourth and last at home in the Windward Islands Men’s Tournament. Central defender Dwight Degazon, Marchand goalkeeper Alton Roberts, midfielders Romiel Felix (Central Castries) and Everton Lambert (Gros Islet) have all been left out of the team, which is scheduled to travel to Antigua on Monday.
Replacing them is a mix of youth and experience. In-form Gros Islet goalkeeper will provide competition to Randy Poleon as the last line of defense. Jamil Joseph, who is 24 years old, returns to the national team. The frontman for Caledonia AIA in the Trinidad and Tobago Pro League missed out on the Windward Islands tournament due to club commitments.
The young attacking trio of Travis Thomas, Levi Francis Altidore and Elijah Louis has also been included. Thomas is from Dennery, and has also played for Uptown Rebels in Vieux Fort. Louis is a youngster who has been prolific for Northern United and Gros Islet. And Levi, who has played with W Connection in the TTO Pro League, has been in and out of the national team.
“When I look at these guys in training, I like what I see,” said coach Lastic, reflecting on the fact his team scored just two goals in the four-team sub-regional competition. “They are hungry. And some of our players, when the coaching staff looked at our performance from Windwards, they were just too relaxed, so we saw it fitting to introduce some new blood.”
Of course, it’s not all change for Saint Lucia. Midfield general and Footballer Of The Year, Sheldon Emmanuel returns as captain. Midfielder / forward Lester Joseph rejoins the team from Cunupia FC in Trinidad and Tobago’s NSFL. Midfielders Tremain Shayne Paul and Shervon Malik St Prix and fullback Kurt Frederick all hail from W Connection FC.
The other regular overseas-based player added to the squad is midfielder Zaccheus Polius from FC Parham in Antigua-Barbuda
England-based defender Melanius Danny Mullarkey apparently did enough on debut to impress, despite being harshly sent off in the second half against Grenada. So, too, did Erickson Reid, another young attacker from Anse La Raye.
Super League champions Gros Islet have centre-forward Troy Greenidge, winger Eden Charles and defender John Perry Joseph joining Poleon and Louis. Emmery Edward of Central Castries will be given another chance to prove himself in the back four, whilst Sabbatus Hunte from Dennery should get a run in the midfield, and David Henry of Canaries will add to the attacking options.
Still missing through injury are defender Pernal Wiliams of L’Aiglon in Martinique and Eric Gabriel of Anse La Raye. Among those who might have bolstered the national team, Italy-based Zaine Pierre and France-based Caniggia Elva have both been down with injury.
Aston Villa central defender Janoi Donacien played much of his season on loan at Tranmere Rovers, where he excelled, but although he has been on island in recent weeks, the 22-year-old has not reached out to the technical staff of the Saint Lucia Football Association.
With eight under-23 players in the squad, the failed Windward Islands campaign fresh in their minds, and playing both legs away from home, it will be interesting to see how this group performs against the Benna Boys.
The Antiguans depend heavily on players based in the United States and United Kingdom, but they have incorporated them well into the overall team ethos. In 2014, Antigua-Barbuda were (briefly) the top-ranked team in the Caribbean.
Even so, they needed a last-gasp goal to earn a come-from-behind 2-1 win when these two sides last met in Gold Cup qualifying last year.