If the boys in red, black and white strip are ready to do any and everything for the flag, then now is the time to show it.
If the Trinidad and Tobago National Senior Team do not leave Costa Rica with a point tonight, when they battle the host nation from 10pm (TT time) in San José, qualification for the Russia 2018 World Cup will only be a mathematical possibility.
Barring an unlikely meltdown by either Panama or the United States, the Soca Warriors will need 13 points to finish fourth and so keep alive for another two matches the World Cup dream of securing the FIFA play-off berth, But, should they fail to pick something up away to Costa Rica, captain Kenwyne Jones and his troops will be forced to pull off wins against Panama, Honduras and the United States in the second round and—and this is the clincher—leave the Azteca Stadium unbeaten.
Mexico City is such a formidable arena and requires such meticulous planning that United States coach Bruce Arena made a secret pact with Major League Soccer (MLS) clubs in January 2017, which allowed him over two weeks to acclimatise for the fixture at high altitude.
Even then, Arena needed some good fortune as the June date meant the major European leagues were closed and he was allowed extra time with the likes of Christian Pulisic and DeAndre Yedlin.
Despite all those advantages and that happenstance, the United States had to settle for a solitary point against Mexico.
In stark contrast, Trinidad and Tobago coach Dennis Lawrence will have at best four or five days with his own players before they head to Mexico City in October. Good luck with that.
It is San José or the highway for the Warriors.
“We don’t expect any favours or any easy moments because we have always found ourselves in a position where we have to pull ourselves out from difficult situations,” said Kenwyne, “and it’s no different at the moment. We have to make it right for ourselves.
“History shows that we never get anything when we play here. But history is the past and we have to focus on pulling out everything for a chance of taking away at least a point from here. But winning is the main thing, of course.”
Trinidad and Tobago have never won a World Cup qualifier in Costa Rica while their last point there was more than 30 years ago on 28 April 1985. That day, Nevick De Noon scored the vital goal in a 1-1 draw for the two-island republic while Kelvin Jones—the father of current players Joevin and Alvin Jones—played the full 90 minutes.
It is worth noting that the tie came four days after Trinidad and Tobago lost 3-0 to the “Ticos” at the same venue. Then Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) general secretary Jack Warner agreed, at the time, to play his nation’s entire qualifying campaign on hostile territory.
The difference between the two results in San José arguably gives further evidence of the benefits of acclimatisation to the testing conditions, nearly 4,000 feet above sea level.
In that regard at least, the current Warriors outfit are better equipped than any Trinidad and Tobago team that headed to Costa Rica before. Their outing against the United States, after all, was played over 1,000 feet higher than the San José venue.
But question marks remain over other areas of this team’s make-up—not least their belief, attitude and personality.
Would winger Cordell Cato really have abandoned the team camp without a second look if he really believed that he might be sharing the field with the likes of Argentina’s Lionel Messi or Brazil’s Neymar in a year’s time?
Would others have been as flippant about team rules if they felt Trinidad and Tobago were on the verge of history?
Trinidad and Tobago are on their third coach in eight months and none of these managers can honestly claim to be totally satisfied with the application of even half their squad, let alone the full contingent.
After tonight, though, it should not be the Warriors coach who is looking through his email for a dreaded invitation to Ruby Tuesday’s from his employers; it should be the players.
There is no shame in failing to qualify for the World Cup—not for a team with the limited resources and player pool like Trinidad and Tobago. The disgrace is in lacking the self-discipline and self-worth to put everything into what is already a reward of competing at a level that 98 percent of the squad will only see on television.
In truth, it is a shame that Stephen Hart is not here to lead the rebuilding process after all he accomplished with the Warriors in three years at the helm. But Lawrence has done little wrong so far and deserves the chance to continue.
It would be a mistake to sacrifice know-how and select the squad for the rest of the campaign based on the players’ date of birth. Trinidad and Tobago does not have a reservoir of talent deep enough for such wholesale changes. Besides, mediocre performances at national youth level in recent years do not suggest there is a golden generation in the wings just yet.
But what the Warriors can do without are the players who lack the stomach for the fight and are not committed to the team and the cause.
Tonight, Trinidad and Tobago enter the lion’s den; the real Warriors will relish that challenge.
Whatever cute tactical alterations Lawrence comes up with it on the backboard, they will count for nought unless at least six Warriors win their individual battles with the Costa Rican players facing them. There is no room for excuses.
Go hard or go home. It is now or never.