‘Being around these guys will raise my level’: Rampersad ready for long-awaited Trinidad and Tobago call-up

Halifax Wanderers captain Andre Rampersad was called up to the Trinidad and Tobago national team on Tuesday, ahead of a pair of crucial Concacaf Nations League B matches against the Bahamas and Nicaragua. The 28-year-old midfielder, who is going into his fifth season with the Wanderers, has never played for his country at any level before, but during his standout seasons in Halifax, a call-up has always felt close.

Rampersad told that circumstances have kept him out of national team camps in the past. One of those circumstances was when travel restrictions due to the pandemic kept him and Wanderers teammate Akeem Garcia out of a camp in 2021, but now that he’s finally going to be joining the team, he’s planning to take full advantage of the opportunity.

“One of the dreams as a kid playing soccer is representing the country,” he said. “To finally see all the hard work that I’ve put in come into play now, it’s definitely a great feeling for me. [I’m] definitely excited to represent the red, white and black. Circumstances made it what it was before, why I wasn’t able to go, but now I’m excited and I’m up for the challenge.

“When you join a national team, the majority of the guys there play in different leagues. [There are] certain guys you probably don’t know, certain guys that play in higher leagues. One is (Kevin) Molino, he plays in MLS, a player that I looked up to for a long time. Just being around these guys will raise my level.”

Garcia and Rampersad aren’t the only connections between the Wanderers and Trinidad and Tobago — former Wanderers head coach Stephen Hart is from the country and formerly coached the national team, and Wanderers goalkeeping coach (and former goalkeeper) Jan-Michael Williams made 80 appearances for The Soca Warriors between 2003 and 2017. Former Wanderers midfielder and defender Elton John also made an appearance for his country in 2012.

Rampersad credits being around so many of his compatriots as a source of motivation, knowing that he too wanted to play a role with the national team. He knew that taking in as much information as he can would be useful in the long run, when that opportunity finally presented itself, which it has now.

“These guys helped me along the way, and just how they carried themselves as professionals,” he said. “At some point, they all represented the country so I definitely took an example of how they did that, and whatever they did.

“I’m thankful to be around these guys, and they helped me for when I get there, how to behave and what it would be like, so when I get in it wouldn’t be too much that I don’t expect.”

Halifax’s Trinidad and Tobago contingent after signing for the team in 2019. Left to right: Jan-Michael Williams, Elton John, Akeem Garcia and Andre Rampersad. (Photo: Halifax Wanderers)

Current Trinidad and Tobago assistant coach Derek King was also the Wanderers assistant in 2019, and previously coached Rampersad at TT Super League side FC Santa Rosa. He, along with national team head coach Angus Eve, have been pushing to get the Wanderers midfielder into the national team setup, and finally got their wish.

“[Eve has] tried a lot before to get me in,” Rampersad said. “The assistant coach Derek King is there as well, who was my coach back in the day, and then was the assistant with the Halifax Wanderers.

“The conversation we had was just straight up: ‘We want you here and you can be a big part of what we’re trying to develop and what we’re trying to do’. They believe in me, to be there and show my potential.”

Rampersad said he found out that he was getting called into the national team from Wanderers Sporting Director Matt Fegan, who phoned him recently to give him the good news.

“He said, ‘You know what, this is a great opportunity for you, and we’re gonna let you go’,” Rampersad explained. “He had a word in that and talked to them for me, and there was the opportunity, so I took it.”

Andre Rampersad in action against Pacific FC (Photo: Pacific FC)

Some of Rampersad’s motivation comes from watching Trinidad and Tobago at the World Cup in 2006. That was the first, and so far only, time the nation of about 1.5 million people had qualified for the world’s biggest soccer tournament.

He remembers “the streets flooded with people” and the country going crazy at seeing their local heroes competing on the world stage. A lot of the players he looked up to were on that team, and he says that emotions of watching them play made him think that he too could someday play at the World Cup.

To this day, that remains his dream.

“Maybe [it’s] a long shot from that, or it could happen in the next few years, but definitely [playing at] the World Cup,” Rampersad said of his national team aspirations. “The Gold Cup is coming up, even the qualifiers… Anytime that you get the opportunity to represent your country is definitely an accomplishment, and for me, everything is so meaningful.”

For now, however, he is going to soak up the environment and atmosphere at his first international camp.

Then, after getting back to Halifax and re-joining the Wanderers for the end of their preseason, the hard work continues to get off to a good start in the Canadian Premier League. Rampersad knows that if he and the team play well, more good things could be on the horizon.

“Preseason has definitely been really hard, this is what preseason is, putting in a lot of work,” he said. “The guys have been pushing each other, and the quality is definitely super high, which is good for me going into camp with players of a certain calibre.

“We’re having fun with it, and trying to bring it to the table when we get to April 15.”