The Trinidad and Tobago Senior National Team will hope to come flying out of the blocks in the “Windy City” this evening as the “Soca Warriors” kick off their 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup campaign against Guatemala from 7 pm (TT time) at Soldier Field in Chicago.
“I think they will be a difficult opponent for us,” head coach Stephen Hart told the TTFA Media. “We’ve had a look at them on tape and we also saw them against the US a couple days ago. The scoreline was flattering for the Americans (in a 4-0 win) because Guatemala also created a lot of scoring chances which they didn’t capitalise on.
“They have always been a decent team and I expect them to come at us. But I think we are also up for this challenge.”
At present, there is no word yet on whether Sport Minister Brent Sancho was successful in acquiring a feed for local football fans. So Cable station, Fox2, appears the best bet to follow the match live on television.
In truth, both nations are in the midst of a slump and the form book would suggest a low-scoring game at best and possibly a draw.
The Warriors failed to score in their last five full internationals and three of them were losses—this excludes a 1-0 win in a scrimmage match against Haiti last week, which was not a FIFA-recognised affair.
Guatemala scored just twice in seven internationals this year and needed 180 minutes of a two-legged World Cup qualifying tie to register a decisive but solitary goal against Bermuda.
History is relatively even between the Caribbean and Central American nation too.
From eight meetings in this millennium, the Warriors won three and lost while the last three encounters all finished with draws.
However, at an emotional level, the Warriors whipped Guatemala 4-2 in the 2000 Gold Cup en route to their highest ever finish in the semi-final round. And it was a thrilling 3-2 win over “La Azul y Blanco” in 2005 that revitalised Trinidad and Tobago’s historic 2006 World Cup qualifying campaign.
Kenwyne Jones was expected to make his first competitive start upfront for the Warriors against Guatemala in August 2005 but was ruled out through injury. And the then misfiring Stern John came good with a clinical double.
Jones, now the national captain, will hope for an inspired outing today if, as expected, he holds off the challenge from Central FC striker Willis Plaza.
Hart has a few big calls to make in his selection this evening.
Slovakia-based winger Lester Peltier only joined the squad on Tuesday, after visa issues, and was underwhelming in his last outing away to Jordan. Chicago Fire utility player Joevin Jones made a surprise appearance in midfield against Haiti—a position he operated in effectively at former club, DIRECTV W Connection—and Hart has the option of using him there so as to make room for versatile Connection defender Mekeil Williams at left back.
Columbus Crew combative midfielder Kevan George is trying to force his way into the midfield too ahead of either Khaleem Hyland or Andre Boucaud. And there is also the matter of whether the athletic Daneil Cyrus would start in his preferred central defence role or at right back, where he excelled at the 2013 Gold Cup.
Hart’s contract expires after the Gold Cup but there has been no suggestion that either the coach or the Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) are ready to part ways.
Still, he would know the importance of getting the right chemistry for his squad straight away. Hart’s use of Central playmaker, Ataulla Guerra, and whether he gambles on a new 4-3-3 system or returns to his tried and trusted 4-5-1 could also be key.
At the other end, Guatemala, coached by Argentine Ivan Franco Sopegno, will depend on 35-year-old veteran striker and record goal scorer Carlos Ruiz for offensive bite. Ruiz, who has 57 goals from 116 appearances, is the only squad member with more than 10 international goals to his name.
Guatemala will also expect much from Seattle Sounders midfielder Marco Pappa as well as Real Salt Lake defender Elias Vasquez, Minor Lopez from Atletico CP in Portugal and Comunicaciones playmaker Jose Manuel Contreras.
Whatever the line-ups, the Warriors aim for only their second opening win in a Gold Cup since Bertille St Clair’s 1998 team whipped Honduras 3-1.
Two years ago, Jones and Keon Daniel both scored in a 2-2 draw against El Salvador, which opened a campaign that saw the Warriors advance to the knockout round for only the second time.
“I thought in the last Gold Cup, even though we scored first, we were fortunate to come away with a point (against El Salvador),” said Hart. “This time we face a similar kind of opponent in Guatemala, which is a team that can always give you a good challenge.
“We will need to settle down and take charge of the match. I think the current squad has the potential to get it right and it’s going to be a good, well contested match.”
(Trinidad and Tobago Gold Cup team)
Goalkeepers: 21.Jan-Michael Williams (Central FC), 1.Marvin Phillip (Point Fortin Civic), 22.Adrian Foncette (Police FC);
Defenders: 6.Radanfah Abu Bakr (HB Koge—Denmark), 18.Yohance Marshall (Juventud Independiente—El Salvador), 4.Sheldon Bateau (KV Mechelen, Belgium), 17.Mekeil Williams (W Connection), 5.Daneil Cyrus (W Connection), 2.Aubrey David (Shakhter Karagandy—Kazakhstan), 3.Joevin Jones (Chicago Fire—USA);
Midfielders: 14.Andre Boucaud (Dagenham & Redbridge—UK), 8.Khaleem Hyland (KVC Westerlo—Belgium), 15.Dwane James (North East Stars), 19.Kevan George (Columbus Crew—USA), 11.Ataulla Guerra (Central FC), 20.Keron Cummings (North East Stars);
Forwards: 9.Kenwyne Jones (Cardiff City—UK), 13.Cordell Cato (San Jose Earthquakes—USA), 23.Lester Peltier (Slovan Bratislava—Slovakia), 10.Willis Plaza (Central FC), 16.Rundell Winchester (Portland Timbers 2—USA), 7.Jonathan Glenn (IBV—Iceland), 12.Kadeem Corbin (St Ann’s Rangers).
2015 Gold Cup results
(Tue Jul 7)
Panama 1 (Alberto Quintero 55), Haiti 1 (Duckens Nazon 85) in Dallas;
United States 2 (Clint Dempsey 25, 64), Honduras 1 (Carlos Discua 68) in Dallas;
(Wed Jul 8)
El Salvador 0, Canada 0 in California;
Jamaica 2 (Gareth McCleary 13, Jobi McAnuff 48), Costa Rica 2 (Roy Miller 33, David Ramirez 37) in California;
(Thu Jul 9)
Trinidad and Tobago v Guatemala, 7 pm, Chicago;
Mexico v Cuba, 9.30 pm, Chicago.