MIDFIELDERS Elton John and Akeem Garcia are both keen to make an instant impact at their new club Halifax Wanderers FC. John and Garcia will join fellow TT footballers, goalkeeper Jan-Michael Williams and midfielder Andre Rampersad, at Halifax for the inaugural 2019 Canadian Premier League.
John recently served as captain of San Juan Jabloteh, and Williams played with Guatemala club Sacachispas last season. Garcia and Rampersad made the move to Halifax from 2018 TT Super League title-holders FC Santa Rosa.
According to a media release issued by the club yesterday, the TT players are the first international signings made by team coach Stephen Hart and his assistant Derek King.
Hart served as TT coach from 2013-16, with King as his deputy. King won a pair of national titles during the past two years – the 2017 Pro League trophy with North East Stars and the 2018 Super League crown with FC Santa Rosa.
In telephone interviews yesterday, John and Garcia, both Arima residents, said they were delighted when they found out they would be heading to Canada next month. The league is set to kick off in April.
John, who has had experience at the local level with Jabloteh, Ma Pau, Central FC, North East and Queen’s Park, said, “I’m happy about it. Over the years, I’ve been waiting for something like this to happen. I didn’t expect it to come so sudden, but I’ll take it.”
Garcia, a former TT Under-17 and Under-20 player, said, “This is my first contract abroad; the feeling is good and I want to give it my everything.”
According to the 31-year-old John, “I played with King in the 2017 season and we won the Pro League. Hart knows me and he knows the type of player I am. I probably have been one of the players he’s been looking for, in terms of what he wanted to do with his new club.”
John continued, “Derek knows what I stand for, what I can do and what I can bring to the team.”
The 22-year-old Garcia said, “Stephen Hart used to be around the Under-20s and then I earned a senior team call under him against Panama (in 2015). He’s seen me around at Under-17s also.”
Looking ahead to his Canada stint, Garcia said, “I’m looking to make a statement. I’m looking to be consistent in all my games, once given the opportunity, and I’m looking to score as much goals as I can.”
Asked about the reaction of his family, Garcia said, “My family are very excited for me to go as well. They’ve been pushing me and they know this is an opportunity I’ve been waiting for. They are delighted that I’m going.”
This will be John’s first time competing at the club level in North America.
“I never actually played (club football) in North America, but I competed in the CONCACAF Champions League. This is not the first time I played abroad. I played in Belgium (with CS Vise in 2014) so this is actually the second time I’ll be playing abroad.”
With few TT footballers earning contracts in Europe, John wants the local crop of players to use North America as an avenue to gain vital experience.
“I think it’s actually great,” said John. “It’s a stepping stone and I think that it’s an opportunity for a lot of scouts to have a look at you. With the kind of backing I’m seeing when you go on the social media sites, you will see the kind of (support the league is) getting.
“It’s a very good stepping stone for these guys if they want to go to Europe. I think it’s a good stage that they can prepare themselves to go further.”
Hart is looking forward to working with the TT players, during the 2019 season and beyond.
On the club’s website, Hart was quoted as saying, “I’m delighted because we have a group of players who are familiar with each other and basically they play down the middle of the park (except Williams), so I think that’s very important.”
Hart, the TT-born former Canada coach, said, “They’ve played with and against each other. I see them competing for some of those key spots and I hope they help the team gel very quickly.”
And the 58-year-old Hart hopes the TT quartet can help with the growth of the younger Canadian players he plans to sign.
“They’re accomplished players who bring lots of experience,” said Hart. “They’re game-savvy with the kind of dedication that comes from having the right attitude of being a professional.”