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Panama school Warriors; but Hart savours individual successes

Trinidad and Tobago’s Russia 2018 World Cup charge started off with a baby step at the Ato Boldon Stadium in Couva last night as the “Soca Warriors” fell 1-0 to Panama in an international friendly affair.

At the final whistle, Panama goalkeeper Jaime Penedo had not been stretched once. Trinidad and Tobago registered two shots on target for the entire 90 minutes—from Willis Plaza and Sheldon Bateau respectively—and both offered just straightforward catching practice for Panama’s US-based custodian.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago forward Willis Plaza (left) tries to keep the ball from Panama captain Roman Torres at the Ato Boldon Stadium, Couva. (Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)
Photo: Trinidad and Tobago forward Willis Plaza (left) tries to keep the ball from Panama captain Roman Torres at the Ato Boldon Stadium, Couva.
(Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)

But, on the other hand, it was not quite shooting practice for Panama either as Trinidad and Tobago defenders Sheldon Bateau and Mekeil Williams—the best players in red, white and black on the night—protected their own goal as well as could be expected.

“In the end, Panama’s experience showed and they made us chase the ball a lot,” said Trinidad and Tobago coach Stephen Hart, in the post-game press conference. “… Outside of the fact that it is five days of preparation, our organisation wasn’t too bad.”

Not too bad, of course, is not good either. It was a lukewarm showing at best from the Warriors, who rarely imposed themselves on their Central American guests. But, as always, context matters.

Panama were seconds away from pipping Mexico to a 2014 World Cup Play Off spot, barely two years ago, while they were beaten finalists at the 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup tournament. It is not for nothing that the Central American team is ranked fourth in the Confederation.

KFC Munch Pack

And, more importantly, Panama travelled to Trinidad with a full-strength team while the hosts did not return the compliment.

The average age of Panama’s starting team was 28 with a combined 523 senior international appearances between them. In contrast, the Warriors’ first team averaged just 22 years of age and amassed just 185 full international caps.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago defender Sheldon Bateau (right) tries to wrestle the ball from Panama attacker Rolando Escobar during last night's friendly international at the Ato Boldon Stadium, Couva. (Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)
Photo: Trinidad and Tobago defender Sheldon Bateau (right) tries to wrestle the ball from Panama attacker Rolando Escobar during last night’s friendly international at the Ato Boldon Stadium, Couva.
(Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)

It was veterans versus interns.

“I always wants us to play teams who will push us over the top,” said Hart. “(American boxer) Larry Holmes was Muhammad Ali’s sparring partner and he went on to be world champion…”

The final score line was no disgrace but Panama pulled their punches. It was a schooling, which might necessarily be as bad as it sounds. The Panamanian squad is built for today whereas the Trinidad and Tobago team is at the start of its cycle.

But that might be scant consolation for the roughly 3,000 local fans who turned out for the proceedings.

Thirty minutes before the scheduled 7 pm start, Couva was hit by a power shortage that temporarily cut the lights at the Ato Boldon Stadium. And, as they waited for the generator to warm up, a shower—blown from east to west—sent supporters scampering through the dark in search of a hiding place.

When the game got underway, seven minutes after the advertised kick off time, it was the Warriors who looked exposed as Panama gave the hosts a lesson in ball movement and collective play.

After an early optimistic penalty shout by Trinidad and Tobago playmaker Kevin Molino, Panama deservedly went ahead in the 16th minute as captain Roman Torres outmuscled 18-year-old Warriors right back and debutante, Shannon Gomez, to head home Rolando Escobar’s cross.

Photo: Panama captain and goal scorer Roman Torres (centre) is hugged by teammate Rolando Blackburn during international action yesterday at the Ato Boldon Stadium, Couva. (Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)
Photo: Panama captain and goal scorer Roman Torres (centre) is hugged by teammate Rolando Blackburn during international action yesterday at the Ato Boldon Stadium, Couva.
(Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)

It was a rough introduction for the pint sized Gomez but the National Under-20 Team captain did grow into the match and might be pleased with his contribution by the end.

Things nearly got worse for the Warriors in the 24th minute, as the slick passing Panamanians carved through the left side of the host’s defence like a hot knife through butter. On this occasion, Marvin Phillip, the Point Fortin Civic goalkeeper, produced a superb save to deny Rolando Blackburn.

Phillip was a surprise inclusion in the starting line-up ahead of Jan-Michael Williams but there is little to choose between the former 2001 Under-17 World Cup teammates.

“Jan is always 100 percent ready (but) I think Marvin deserved an opportunity with his professionalism and work ethic,” said Hart. “I have to find and create competition in the squad for work places.”

But while Phillip, Williams (M) and, to a lesser extent, Gomez gave tangible evidence of their worth for the Russia 2018 cause. Further upfield, Tyrone Charles, a debutante at 27, struggled to adjust to the demands of the international game while neither striker Willis Plaza or the creative pair of Kevin Molino and Ataulla Guerra compensated for the man-mountain that is striker and captain Kenwyne Jones.

True, Jones’ performances in the 2014 Caribbean Cup were largely forgettable. But, under Hart, he has produced more good games than poor ones and, on this evidence, his leadership will be vital.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago captain Khaleem Hyland (background) tries to muscle Panama midfielder Ricardo Buitrago off the ball at the Ato Boldon Stadium, Couva. (Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)
Photo: Trinidad and Tobago captain Khaleem Hyland (background) tries to muscle Panama midfielder Ricardo Buitrago off the ball at the Ato Boldon Stadium, Couva.
(Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)

Khaleem Hyland, who barely played a handful of games this season with Belgium top flight club Racing Genk, thundered around the field flattening Panamanian players like a latter day school principal after the recess bell had rung.

He certainly put the fear of God into his opponents. But it is debatable whether he helped galvanise his own teammates.

Seconds before halftime, Hyland nearly started a brawl after he knocked over Escobar, took exception to the fallen player’s reaction and drew his hand back as if to punch him.

Guyanese referee Sherwin Moore, who looked as far out of his depth than one or two of the Pro League players, did not even show a card.

At the interval, Hart urged his players to get closer to deep-lying Panama playmaker Anibal Godoy, and the Warriors did make things more difficult for the Central American team in the second half.

Three minutes after the break, Plaza got Trinidad and Tobago’s first effort on goal as he neatly cushioned a long ball before crashing a left footed half volley. It was a simple catch for Penedo but at least gave supporters something to cheer.

Photo: A Soca Warrior fan enjoys the action between Trinidad and Tobago and Panama at the Ato Boldon Stadium, Couva. (Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)
Photo: A Soca Warrior fan enjoys the action between Trinidad and Tobago and Panama at the Ato Boldon Stadium, Couva.
(Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)

Hart seemed to be thinking about damage limitation already. In the 53rd minute, he introduced Central defender Jamal Jack for Charles and, ten minutes later, Plaza gave way to teenaged winger Akeem Garcia.

The changes checked Panama’s rampaging runs down either flank but it would be overly generous to say that the Warriors were in the ascendancy.

Phillip made a flying save to his left to keep out a Blackburn header in the 66th minute while, three minutes later, Escobar crashed a 22-yard effort off the bar. Blackburn was denied by Phillip’s legs in the 75th minute, after he spun Jack far too easily in the Trinidad and Tobago penalty area.

Bateau had a tame effort in the 84th minute while substitute Marcus Joseph crashed two late free kicks into the wall. But that was as good as it got for the Warriors who settled for getting through the lesson without significant embarrassment.

“We were not prepared for (the speed of the Panama team) but that is why we played this game,” said Hart. “There were a number of players who the intensity of the training was different for them and you heard them talk about it in the dressing room… It was a learning curve for them.”

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago teenagers Neveal Hackshaw (centre) and Shannon Gomez (left) track down Panama playmaker Anibal Godoy during international action at the Ato Boldon Stadium, Couva. (Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)
Photo: Trinidad and Tobago teenagers Neveal Hackshaw (centre) and Shannon Gomez (left) track down Panama playmaker Anibal Godoy during international action at the Ato Boldon Stadium, Couva.
(Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)

Panama jet off to play Ecuador in three days time while the Warriors will disband. Hart has requested three international warm-up matches before the July Gold Cup but none are confirmed. And, since the best teams are booked up to two years in advance, the Warriors must hope for cancellations or make do with whatever teams are on the market.

In the meantime, the Warriors have drafted in fitness trainer Tobias Ottley, who will create individual programmes for the players. Hopefully, they will be in better condition when next they wear national colours.

If yesterday’s exercise was about widening the player pool, Hart seemed fairly satisfied.

“I thought (Neveal) Hackshaw settled down nicely and had a good game,” he said. “… When we moved Gomez higher in the midfield, their left back never got forward again. So he can push.

“Mekeil also had an excellent game both aerially and on the ground…”

It is notable that the National Under-20 players, just two months after the 2015 CONCACAF Under-20 Championship, were among the best players in red. International experience matters.

Hopefully, the likes of Dwane James, Joseph and Charles will not have to long to wait for their next international outing.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago playmaker Kevin Molino (right) hurdles a tackle against Panama last night. (Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)
Photo: Trinidad and Tobago playmaker Kevin Molino (right) hurdles a tackle against Panama last night.
(Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)


Trinidad and Tobago (4-2-3-1): 1.Marvin Phillip (GK); 12.Shannon Gomez (19.Jomal Williams 76), 4.Sheldon Bateau, 17.Mekeil Williams, 2.Justin Hoyte; 18.Neveal Hackshaw (14.Dwane James 71), 8.Khaleem Hyland (captain); 7.Tyrone Charles (6.Jamal Jack 53), 11.Ataulla Guerra (16.Marcus Joseph 81), 10.Kevin Molino, 9.Willis Plaza (5.Akeem Garcia 63).

Unused substitutes: 21.Jan-Michael Williams (GK), 15.Uriah Bentick, 20.Hashim Arcia, 23.Johan Peltier.

Coach: Stephen Hart


Panama (4-2-3-1): 1.Jaime Penedo (GK), 13.Adolfo Machado, 3.Harold Cummings, 5.Roman Torres (captain), 17.Luis Henriquez, 6.Gabriel Gomez, 20.Anibal Godoy, 22.Rolando Escobar (19.Alberto Quintero 78), 21.Ricardo Buitrago (11.Armando Cooper 59), 14.Jorman Aguilar (9.Roberto Nurse 59), 16.Rolando Blackburn (8.Miguel Camargo 86).

Unused substitutes: 12.Oscar McFarlane (GK), 4.Chin Hormechea, 7.Blas Perez, 15.Eric Davis, 18.Luis Tejada,

Coach: Hernan Dario Gomez


Referee: Sherwin Moore (Guyana)

About Lasana Liburd

Lasana Liburd
Lasana Liburd is the managing director and chief editor at Wired868.com and a journalist with over 20 years experience at several Trinidad and Tobago and international publications including Play the Game, World Soccer, UK Guardian and the Trinidad Express.

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  1. Poor Primus is having a horrible time with injuries. Personally, I think those U23 players need to earn their spots and see if they can displace the likes of Jan-Michael Williams, Carlyle Mitchell, Ataulla Guerra, Andre Boucaud and Kenwyne Jones.
    No charity here. Prove you deserve it fellahs.

  2. I have always felt Las that the nucleus of our WC2018 squad should come from the U-17 & U-20 squads that qualified sequentially for those respective Youth Cups. I was very impressed with both Center backs and when you add Cyrus and possibly Primus to the mix we could have one POTENTIALLY of the best defences since Andrews/Lawrence/Sancho/Edwards/Gray/Avery

  3. It was asking too much too soon from Tyrone Charles I think.

  4. I was surprised Bentick got selected at all based on the games I saw him play this season. Not that he is a bad player but I can’t say that he is playing at that top level yet.
    My one concern is I felt some of the players selected were not displaying the level of excellence and consistency I would expect of national players at their clubs.
    I understand that Hart selected based on the potential of players. It is understandable. But I don’t think it worked.
    I do agree that it was a fair result and there were some positives from the game.

  5. I think Coach Hart got what he wanted out of this game, a 1-0 loss to a full-strength Panama team is creditable in the context of a few days prep with a core group of young untested ( at International level that is) players. I personally would have liked to see Bentick get a run out and I would def have subbed Charles earlier, but overall I was satisfied with what I saw Friday night.

  6. No coach can magically erase all the bad habits from his players and get them fit in a week’s practice. It is the start of a journey so I think there were things to be pleased with.
    It was not a good game for us. But I think it is more positive than negative.

  7. Debbie, actually that’s the same way I feel about supporting the West Indies Cricket coach.

  8. I am really would like for one of our local base Coaches to do well with respect to qualifying for a World Cup eh, but for some reason our players always have more respect for the foreign base Coaches and I think that it have to do with culture. Although Coach Hart have been in Canada for many moons but he is still a Trini, and I myself is still trying to understand what he is trying to accomplish so only time will tell and I am behind him 1000% and will always give him my support to take us to the next level but that TTFA really have to get their acts together.

  9. Earl I agree with you on the issue of Coaches…also too many force ripe coaches who have no idea of the history of the game, also agree on payment and football in the community. The community will bring discipline and passion back to the players.
    Debbie Espinal I am still looking to see what the Coach is trying to accomplish ,when I find it I will have to decide if that is best for the Country …then give my support.

  10. Trevor Bridglalsingh what she doesn’t understand is that (1) if Arthur Suite Was allowed to do when he started the semi professional league back in 80’s eh our football would have being far better today and it would have been in all our communities by now after he started it in PSA and many more players would have gotten professional contracts abroad in top leagues for sure. (2) The other problem is that most of the School teams and the Professional teams eh, the same coaches have been coaching these teams for a very long to time now even since the professional league started and other individuals are not given the chance to bring a better brand to the table and (3) if all the players on all the professional teams were getting a salary like my Soldiers and Police $10,000 a month eh, we might also see a better brand of football because some of the better players who are playing in the Super League because of the crowd support might have rather play in the Pro League because of the money and again as I have said when that corrupted TTFA removed our football from our communities eh that was the end of our football. Our football needs to be in the communities in order to get the real crowd support and in turn the standard of our players, coaches, and the sport will most definitely raise to a much higher standard. Them really good yes.

  11. Trevor as i alluded to in a prior post we must learn to take positives from every match even in the face of all the negatives. How else are we to move forward if we don’t throw our weight behind what the Coach is trying to accomplish. Nuff said.

  12. Just back from Vernons funeral ,a who’s who of TT football…De Leon,ken and Kent Murren, Finey,Buggy Haynes, Monty Douglas,Leon Carpette, Arnim David, Ron Ribeiro, Sam Jones,Lawrence Rondon,Lyle Jeffrey and many others easily a complete TT team

  13. Now you’re getting carried away Earl and starting to sound like a mad man’s rant. I DON”T support the TTFA and that hails from the day Jack Warner sold us out to the USA. I support our TEAMS. As for the COP/UNC statement i will chalk that up to ignorance.

  14. Debbie Espinal don’t be too hard in Earl but you have to convince me that we had a better second half. How did you assess that, because we had more ball possession? But what did we do with it? Or was this because Panama changed their midfield formation? Or did their Coach ask them to lay back a little after what happened at the end of the first half?

  15. So why you want my people to continue to support a corrupted TTFA organization after what Jack Warner did by selling out our sweet country to the USA in 1989 eh, and then again in 2006 when my well deserving Soca Warriors again had to finally get the balls to take them to court to get their millions of monies eh even if it took 10 yrs to do so eh, well you and your hussy continue to vote for that corrupted COP/ UNC in the up coming elections that doing a set of madness in our sweet country the same like that corrupted TTFA nah. Alyuh really good yes.

  16. It really saddens me Earl that you cannot find anything constructive to add to this thread. Appears as though you take a delight in what you perceive as our failure regarding the match last night. I agree i don’t know you but neither do you know me. Just to add a bit to your misconception after 1989 when the whole of TnT dissed our Strike Squad my Husband and I were two of the one hundred patrons who continued to support the footballers and still do to this day. Just come?? I know i really good yes!!

  17. Debbie Espinal I wouldn’t even waste my time to reply to what you said because you is then one who don’t have a clue who I am and what I know about our football and why it is in the state that it is in today it seems that you is a JC (Just Come) therefore you are excused meh dear. Alyuh really good yes.

  18. The second half performance was definitely much better than the first. The three U-2-0 players have also given Hart something the think about too. They did not look overawed to me.

  19. Earl Mango Pierre it just goes to show you don’t know the mechanics of how things work in this Country. Our players are not fit and the Pro League has a lot to answer but we also suffer from a lack of exposure which we desperately need but are suffocated by the TTFA who figure you could just hire a Coach and expect him to get results without providing him with the tools to do such. In essence a miracle worker. And!! From what i gather you didn’t see the match because you said quote” i was told that they just started to play possession football etc.” So what makes you the expert at deciphering last night’s game. Talk when you could assess for yourself.

  20. Buh A A so how come these players playing professional football in our sweet country eh, and they lack fitness as you stated eh, ah wonder what kind of professional fitness training they are doing with their teams eh and the only reason why Panama didn’t score more goals because I was told that they just started to play the possession ball and had our players just running around in circles. ent. and imagine we just took two shots at their goal eh 1 from Willis Plaza eh, so what kind of finishing/scoring goals drills that Hart and his staff I wonder is doing eh and that is the same thing I said when I was interviewed by George Scoreboard Mathison eh when I was there visiting our sweet country, we really have a finishing and scoring goals problem and we really have to work on that eh. Them really good yes

  21. But Hart said from the outset he was using this game to test the mettle of the players and was going to do some experimenting. How else is he going to build a good team if he doesn’t take a chance at throwing them to the wolves. Fitness was clearly lacking and that was one of his main concerns I agree a bad first half but we started to find some formation in the second and managed to hold on to the ball for longer periods. The players now see for themselves the calibre to which they must aspire if they’re to make the team. I think based on all the circumstances a 1 – nil wasn’t a bad result considering it was Panama, a well knit team which we played.

  22. Kirwin Weston the women’s team missed out on qualification because meh prolific goalscorer shudda passed the ball for her teammate to score and not want the glory fro herself and scoring on that bootleg Equadorian team first eh, they wudda get about two more goals and we wudda be preparing to go to their first ever Women’s World Cup just now eh. Them really god yes. hahahaha

  23. Eko Watts the women’s team missed out on qualification due to a lack of preparation.

  24. Was a very poor first half, but they came out fighting in the second. Think Jack may be a bir colour blind.We could have easily drawn the game. First half was very disjointed and coach Hart needs to settle on a squad and get them to play together more often so they’re all comfortable with each other

  25. Good the both players sent to play right back were wanting Kadion Gabriel is ideal for that position he is strong and speedy. He was the best in his time these young ones are eager to play young lobo was sent on too late as soon as he entered two chances. We cannot walk the ball into the goal nor can we sit and wait for Kevin to produce we all have roles on the park. I think Tyrone felt his first international he is much better than what i saw. Finally we ask players to play positions we must ask them to play to their strengths that central duo needs the ball at their feet from the midfield not to run from behind.

  26. I don’t know about elite player identification and selection, who does this? The last time I heard about this about five years ago about five of us were asked to form a group to do this,headed by Bobby Sookram, TTFF could not get their act together so it died.Players are selected on their performance in the local competitions or appearances for foreign teams they are not selected based on a need by the coach and developed to satisfy that need .that goes to elite player identification.

  27. Steeuuppss and meh foreign base coaches are only loosing eh because that corrupted TTFA isn’t putting the right things in place for them to be really successful eh, the Women’s coach have to come to the America and beg for money eh, to feed the women’s team and meh other coach Hart isn’t getting enough time with the local players and more international games against top teams in the World like what my Americans are doing eh, I don’t know why that corrupted TTFA don’t just continue to let our local coaches continue to coach our nationals team nah, because we really isn’t a real football country. Them really good yes.

  28. Both the womens’ coach and the mens’ coach have undoubtedly contributed to raising the level of elite player identification and selection with significantly less propensities to be guided by irrelevant considerations. Combined with their coaching experience and abilities to transfer knowledge to players they both now need to begin to enter the realm of creating a psychological cohesion in team efforts.

  29. Still trying to see some kind of philosophy for the National team. Hoped to see last night an overall strategy for these kind of opponents and players articulating some kind of group and team tactics. These game the results should not really matter but our organisation and review of players who could implement the system. We have to work on our potential international players ability to analyse and synthesize in a short space if time,it was quite obvious that the spatial awareness of our players was poor.

  30. Yeah and the women team had 4 chances to qualify eh. Them really good yes.

  31. The issue for me is chemistry, and chemistry is fostered by the coach in recognizing players’ inter-connectivity with each other and the ability to play for each other. The womens’ team missed out on qualification because that element of selflessness and teamwork has to be balanced psychologically with designated leadership and assigned roles and responsibilities.

  32. I think we struggled throughout the game and simply had to pace ourselves to make it a 90minute “contest”. I think our wing backs were poor (Gomez, Jack, Hoyte). Shannon was really fishing and guessing when to mark close, zone, pull out etc. But he showed resilience and fight.

  33. At one nil down…i wud have preferred to see marcus go on a bit earlier….prob for tyrone charles just to push back the team and make better use of the counter attacking opportunities…i think hyland needed that help to harry n pressure in midfield that boucaud provides…but hackshaw wasnt up to it….guerra is too easily thrown off his game when the chips are down…i think arcia physicality would have helped fight off the much larger panamians…good showing from marvin phillip….cb were excellent…good pool of bateau williams n mitchell to choose from…hoyte was willing but needed to take on d full back a bit more….n well maybe its my bias but i think had joseph been a straight swap for charles things might have been different

  34. The rebuilding started from 2006 so we have 14 more years to go to get things in order once more again and that was about the same margin that the Americans gave themselves when the corrupted Jack Warner and his cronies sold the 1989 game to them and look at them today eh, unbeatable, so until we can beat the Americans convincingly whenever we play against them eh, we won’t be going back to any World Cup unless we stop the madness and get really serious about the sport in our sweet country. Them really good yes.

  35. I agree with Hart. When Gomez was moved up he looked good. He’s full of running. A total change from T. Charles who refused to go wide. Instead chose to play tucked in, marked space when Panama had the ball, and limed with the left back when we were in possession. I liked Dwayne James (14) and Jack when they came on too. James in particular was confident and simple in possession. He seems to have a decent eye for players making runs off the ball too. His area of weakness seemed to be coming back. Too slow. Guerra was a disgrace. Waste of time. Lazy, poor body language. Ineffectual on the pitch. Should be dropped. The rest were aight.

  36. I would like to see Guerra return to the role of a play-maker, with Molino on the team Guerra’s killer pass can bring Molino and other attackers into play.

  37. Well done to the youngsters last night. It was good to see Gomez and Hackshaw step up from the u20 team. However as a team our decision making was to slow. Molino and others seemed frustrated at times at the lack of fluidity in T&T’s passing. Despite the negatives the coach can take ‘Heart’ from the debutants performance.

  38. Hannibal Najjar

    Quite frankly, what I saw in this game last night (thanks to a very good link feed) tells me two things: 1. something Stephen Hart himself said and that is, in spite of his concerns about the players’ fitness, he believes that in this one-game contest, it is hardly likely to be a factor (and I believe that he had factored in the thought that he was going to be allowed unlimited substitutes as well); 2. Coach Hart is able to attain and maintain the respect from players and coaching assistance – hats off to you Stephen and this is something I have noted from the outset. In addition, I have to also commend you on conducting matters such that you have kept pace with what is needed to have the media trust your leadership. On the game itself, I want to add that I thought our overall performance showed to be very admirable and encouraging as we too held substantial possession and pointed to some good and positive play especially when going forward and pursuing decisive penetrating passing opportunities – they were crisp, precise and as coaches always try to have their players learn, those passes were timely in their release, had the right weights (thumps to get them to the intended receivers) and, they followed concise angular paths. Overall, the skill level displayed gave me encouragement and the calm on the ball in times of close and multiple pressure, was unlike our customary play. Young men, congratulations! Stephen Hart, well done and good luck with efforts to secure preparations games of this nature as you gauge for the Gold Cup.