The Trinidad and Tobago National Under-23 Team set a new low point for local football last night as the “Soca Warriors” were eliminated from their 2016 Olympic qualifying campaign after just one match.
Technically, it took just 45 minutes to end any realistic hope of success for coach Zoran Vranes and his troops as they trailed St Vincent and the Grenadines 4-0 by the halftime interval in Puerto Rico.
By the final whistle, the Warriors halved the deficit—the final score read: St Vincent and the Grenadines 5, Trinidad and Tobago 3—but it was not nearly enough to avoid a humiliating exit from the Olympic Games at the first competitive rung.
Trinidad and Tobago now face Puerto Rico from 8 pm on Monday with no chance of advancing. The host nation, who drew 2-2 with “Vincey Heat” on Thursday night, will aim to whip the Warriors by a larger margin to snatch the sole qualification berth at stake.
It is a humbling indictment on the state of the local game at present.
The young Warriors would bear the stigma of this defeat. And five squad members—Alvin Jones, Jomal Williams, Xavier Rajpaul, Duane Muckette and Shackiel Henry—were on the National Under-20 Team that was also eliminated in the Caribbean preliminary round, three years ago.
However, Trinidad and Tobago’s Olympic qualifying campaign was always a disaster in the making, although probably more spectacularly than most may have envisaged.
On the day Vranes was unveiled as Under-23 coach, on 21 April 2015, he admitted he only learned of the team’s fixtures that very morning and was very unimpressed.
“If I knew (earlier) our qualifiers started in June, I would not have accepted,” Vranes told Wired868. “I had information that it was in August. I have a month to prepare the team but I will not say that we have no chance…
“We made plans for August and tomorrow is the first day of training. But I was told today that (the Olympic qualifiers will start in) June. Now, I have to sit down to make new plans.”
Vranes requested five different practice games against international opposition, including Panama. Every one was turned down for financial reasons.
Two weeks ago, the Warriors did snag a closed doors contest with Nicaragua at the Ato Boldon Stadium, which they lost 1-0. But by then the team was in disarray, as their failure to secure visas for an astonishing 15 members of their 20-man squad forced Vranes to recall players he had already let go.
Trinidad and Tobago only got 12 players to Puerto Rico in time for their first scheduled match against Suriname and just four of that number were in Vranes’ initial squad.
Suriname failed to show and was withdrawn from the competition. And Warriors manager David Muhammad cooed about the depth of his squad and the administrative effort of the support staff.
“The impression given is that the Trinidad and Tobago team was behind everyone else,” said Muhammad, on Wednesday, “but we are the only travelling team that is here and ready to play. So I am really proud of that…
“Now looking at how the other teams have fallen by the wayside thus far, it was a really impressive group effort by all of those persons and the staff out here.”
St Vincent had not arrived in Puerto Rico at the time. But they had little trouble in exposing the flaws in a Trinidad and Tobago team, which included players that Vranes deemed were not up to scratch over three weeks ago.
Within a 25-minute spell yesterday, the Vincentians scored four times in the first half. United States-based strikers Rundell Winchester pulled back one and Defence Force winger Akeem Roach grabbed a double. But it was not enough for the Warriors.
And Trinidad and Tobago was out.
(Trinidad and Tobago Under-23 Team in Puerto Rico)
Goalkeepers: Aaron Enill (San Juan Jabloteh), Montell Joseph (Unattached);
Defenders: Jesus Perez (North East Stars), Josiah Trimmingham (San Juan Jabloteh), Leland Archer (College of Charleston—USA), Alvin Jones, Martieon Watson (both W Connection);
Midfielders: Duane Muckette, Neveal Hackshaw (both North East Stars), Jelani Felix (Defence Force), Xavier Rajpaul (College of Charleston—USA), Jabari Mitchell, Jomal Williams, Aikim Andrews (both W Connection), Kadeem Corbin (St Ann’s Rangers), Akeem Roach (Defence Force);
Forwards: Rundell Winchester (Portland Timbers 2—USA), Ricardo John (Virginia Tech—USA), Adrian Welch (St John’s University—USA), Shackiel Henry (Point Fortin Civic).
Ineligible: Keane McIvor (Lindsey Wilson College—USA).
Staff: Zoran Vranes (coach), David Muhammad (manager), Gilbert Bateau (assistant coach/trainer), Michael Taylor (physio), Esmond O’ Brien (equipment manager), Nigel Neverson (goalkeeper coach).
2016 Olympic qualifying results
(Thu Jun 25)
Puerto Rico 2, St Vincent and the Grenadines 2
(Sat Jun 27)
St Vincent and the Grenadines 5, Trinidad and Tobago 3 (Akeem Roach 2, Rundell Winchester)
(Mon Jun 29)
Puerto Rico v Trinidad and Tobago, 8 pm.