The Soca Warriors got a reality check about the level of competition that lies ahead, as they ended their semifinal World Cup qualifying group at the wrong side of a 4-0 trouncing by the United States in Jacksonville, Florida tonight.
It was a record defeat for the Trinidad and Tobago National Senior Team at the hands of the United States and, arguably, lent a sour end to an otherwise largely successful qualifying run by coach Stephen Hart’s men.
“The reactions to this is the good thing is that we are in the hex but I was extremely disappointed tonight,” Hart told TTFA Media. “I was very disappointed in the quality of our passing, our general lack of movement and we were second best to every ball tonight. And it showed with three of the goals [where] we gave away the ball with sloppy passing and United States were breaking with energy and numbers.
“And that’s the result you get when you make mistakes at this level.”
The Warriors were the only unbeaten team in Group C before kick off and needed only a draw to finish as group leaders. But they looked anything but regal by Costa Rica referee Ricardo Montero’s final whistle, after conceding four times within a 30 minute stretch at the EverBank Field.
Costa Rica will now be Trinidad and Tobago’s next World Cup qualifying opponent as the nations face each other in the opening affair of the hex on 11 November 2016 in Port of Spain.
The last time that Trinidad and Tobago beat Costa Rica on home soil was on 5 December 1971 when Steve David scored a double in a 3-1 triumph. To put that in context, Queen Elizabeth II was still head of the two island nation, nobody had heard of Hasely Crawford and, at two years old, Brian Lara had probably not seen a cricket bat yet.
In Costa Rica’s five subsequent visits here, the Central America nation left with three wins while Trinidad and Tobago’s two most famous teams, the 1989 Strike Squad and the 2005 Soca Warriors, only managed draws.
Still, even that record offers better reading than a list of the Warriors’ results away to the United States.
Tonight was Trinidad and Tobago’s 12th competitive fixture in Uncle Sam’s backyard. They lost 11 of those outings with their last point coming on 13 May 1989 when the Strike Squad struck in the 88th minute with a classy Hutson “Barber” Charles finish.
Charles was on the bench tonight in his role as assistant coach. He was unlikely to have seen anything to give him flashbacks.
The Warriors started brightly enough and Joevin Jones, whose dad, Kelvin Jones, was a Strike Squad fringe player, tested US goalkeeper Tim Howard with a low effort in the seventh minute and just missed the top corner in the 13th minute.
But the visitors were already showing signs of losing their concentration by then and should have fallen behind in the 18th minute, as midfielder Sacha Kljestan volleyed off from 12 yards, after the Trinidad and Tobago defence failed to deal with a long throw from Geoff Cameron.
The Warriors were lucky not to concede a penalty after a wild Mekeil Williams tackle on Cameron in the 25th minute, as the US right back was fouled inside the box but fell outside of it.
And, in the 31st minute, 17-year-old US wonder boy Christian Pulisic saw his effort hit both posts and rebound to safety, after bustling forward Jozy Altidore had gotten goal-side of Williams from another Cameron throw.
One minute before the break, the pressure finally told as an attempted clearance from Khaleem Hyland slammed into an opponent inside Trinidad and Tobago’s 18-yard box and Kljestan responded quickly to stab home the loose ball.
The Warriors were still in the match and playmaker Kevin Molino released his captain Kenwyne Jones in the 54th minute, only for the forward to blaze a potential equaliser wide.
There was no looking back after Altidore doubled the hosts’ advantage in the 58th minute from the edge of the area, as he collected a left side cross from Fabian Johnson and turned Williams before applying a neat finish.
The big American striker struck again, four minutes later, as Pulisic ghosted behind T&T right back Aubrey David with a simple wall pass and had time and space to deliver a raking low cross that Altidore finished at the far post.
And the rout was truly on when the United States conjured up a fourth in the 71st minute.
Again, Pulisic was involved as he stripped Joevin in central midfield to initiate counter-attack. Phillip denied the teenager’s close ranged effort but substitute Paul Arriola was on hand to convert the loose ball.
By then, Hart had already replaced Kenwyne and 18-year-old Levi Garcia, who were both ineffective, with Shahdon Winchester and Jomal Williams respectively. And Kevan George came on for Andre Boucaud in the 75th minute.
They were all like for like changes that neither presented a new offensive spark nor addressed their defensive frailties. But then Hart had vowed to give some new players a chance to showcase their ability. None took that opportunity.
Hyland forced a sharp low save from Howard in the 79th minute after a Joevin feed. But it could just as easily have been 5-0 when Pulisic sent Altidore clear in the 90th minute only for the striker to chip the ball over Phillip but just over the bar as well.
It was the last action of the game. Ironically, Trinidad and Tobago had 51 percent of the ball possession, as opposed to 21 when they two teams met last November. And T&T had five shots on target compared to six by the USA, while the Warriors did not muster a single one when the two nations squared off in Port of Spain.
Yet, in that Port of Spain meeting, they played to a goalless draw while, tonight, it was a record mauling.
“We were looking okay in the first half but I would not say we very good,” said Hart. “We were’t getting any shots on net and then we gave up a sort of unfortunate goal.
“We made way too many errors tonight.”
Still, Warriors fans have been here before, as Trinidad and Tobago looked abysmal in a 3-0 friendly loss away to Jordan on 16 June 2015, before going on to advance to the CONCACAF Gold Cup quarterfinal, a month later, with wins over Guatemala and Cuba, a 4-4 draw with Mexico and a penalty shoot-out loss to Panama.
Yet, this was the first time that Hart’s team had lost a competitive match by more than a single goal since their 2-0 loss to Haiti on 12 July 2013—in just his second game in charge.
Hart and the Warriors will have an opportunity to regain their confidence next month when they face the Dominican Republic and Martinique in Trinidad for Caribbean Cup action on 5 and 11 October respectively.
“We have the Caribbean Cup in October [and] I think I have to look very closely at the selection going into the Caribbean Cup,” said Hart, “and we have to realise that we have some soul searching to do. Tonight some of the big players would have to answer for it because our leaders tonight…
“Far too many of them disappeared.”
The Warriors should have no illusions about the difficulty of their qualifying mission when they face Costa Rica in Port of Spain on Friday 11 November.
Trinidad and Tobago (4-2-3-1): 1.Marvin Phillip (GK); 2.Aubrey David, 6.Radanfah Abu Bakr, 12.Carlyle Mitchell, 17.Mekeil Williams; 8.Khaleem Hyland, 14.Andre Boucaud (19.Kevan George 75); 3.Joevin Jones, 10.Kevin Molino, 16.Levi Garcia (23.Jomal Williams 56); 9.Kenwyne Jones (captain) (11.Shahdon Winchester 67).
Unused substitutes: 21.Adrian Foncette (GK), 22.Gregory Ranjitsingh (GK), 5.Daneil Cyrus, 7.Hughtun Hector, 13.Cordell Cato, 15.Neveal Hackshaw, 18.Yohance Marshall, 20.Trevin Caesar.
Coach: Stephen Hart
United States (4-4-2): 12.Tim Howard (GK); 20.Geoff Cameron, 3.Omar Gonzalez, 21.Steve Birnbaum, 23.Fabian Johnson; 11.Alejandro Bedoya (14.Paul Arriola 65), 16.Sacha Kljestan (13.Caleb Stanko 73), 4.Michael Bradley, 10.Christian Pulisic; 7.Bobby Wood (8.Jordan Morris 59), 17.Jozy Altidore.
Unused substitutes: 1.Brad Guzan (GK), 22.Ethan Horvath (GK), 2.Kellyn Acosta, 5.Michael Orozco, 6.Darlington Nagbe, 9.Rubio Rubin, 15.Kyle Beckerman, 18.Chris Wondolowski, 19.Graham Zusi.
Coach: Jurgen Klinsmann
Referee: Ricardo Montero (Costa Rica)
Man of the Match: Christian Pulisic (USA)
World Cup qualifying semifinal round
(Tuesday 6 September)
USA 4 (Sacha Kljestan 44, Jozy Altidore 58, 62, Paul Arriola 71), Trinidad and Tobago 0 in Jacksonville, Florida;
Guatemala 9, St Vincent and the Grenadines 3 in Guatemala City, Guatemala.