Trinidad and Tobago will need to come from behind to advance from their Concacaf preliminary group, after dropping two points today in a 1-1 draw away to Puerto Rico at the Mayaguez Athletics Stadium in Mayaguez.
Flanker Joevin Jones got the opening goal in the 55th minute, only for the hosts to equalise through substitute Ricardo Rivera in the 71st minute.
The result left the Soca Warriors two points shy of Group F leaders St Kitts and Nevis, who defeated the Bahamas 4-0 on Saturday night. It is a must-win scenario now for Trinidad and Tobago, who play table proppers Bahamas in Nassau on 5 June before hosting St Kitts and Nevis on 8 June.
There is no venue listed yet for Trinidad and Tobago’s clash with the ‘Sugar Boyz’ but, if the current Covid-19 protocols stand, they may again play in the Dominican Republic.
If St Kitts and Nevis defeat Guyana on 4 June, they would only need a draw in the final match of Group F.
For Puerto Rico, their World Cup ambitions ended today as they have one point from two games—after losing 1-0 to the Sugar Boyz last Wednesday. But then was the Puerto Rican Football Federation ever serious about the Qatar 2022 World Cup qualifying campaign?
The Puerto Rican administrators only hired Dave Sarachan to lead the ‘Huracán Azul’ on 24 February 2021 and the new coach was still holding screening sessions in the middle of this month.
Arguably, Puerto Rico’s elimination was no worse than they deserved. But what does it say that they created so many problems for the Soca Warriors?
Trinidad and Tobago’s World Cup dreams remain in their own hands, but that did not always look like being the final outcome today. At the interval, Puerto Rico had outshot the Warriors by seven attempts to one with 17-year-old Wilfredo Rivera shining brightly in his first senior international start.
Wilfredo, who has just agreed professional terms with MLS team Orlando City, terrorised Trinidad and Tobago left back Neveal Hackshaw all evening, with the defender eventually being booked in the 51st minute after the winger’s flawless ‘Cruyff turn’ momentarily left him chasing shadows.
Of course, the Warriors also had a gifted flanker who liked to tuck in off the right flank: Levi Garcia.
But while Sarachan’s players, so assured in possession, was able to get the ball to Rivera in areas of the field where he could be dangerous, T&T struggled to offer Garcia a similar platform in the first 50 minutes of the contest.
And instead, Terry Fenwick would be grateful to Warriors goalkeeper Nicklas Frenderup, who was his best performer in the first half.
The 28-year-old Frenderup, who was born in Copenhagen, made a terrific low save in the 18th minute to deny a header from opposing captain Sidney Rivera, off a free kick from his namesake, Wilfredo. And, 10 minutes later, Frenderup dived to his right to keep out a free kick from Isaac Angking, after Wilfredo was tripped by T&T captain Khaleem Hyland.
Frenderup was just a spectator in the 41st minute but the visitors were let off the hook as opposing midfielder Devin Vega made a horrible slice of his shot from 10 yards. It was the last action of the first half.
Trinidad and Tobago had just one shot by that stage, which was struck by midfielder Daniel Phillips but comfortably held by custodian Codi Laurendi.
Fenwick replaced Phillips with Duane Muckette for the start of the second half and the Warriors immediately looked more assured in possession.
A cross-cum-shot from Garcia, off his own free kick, needed a flying save from Laurendi in the 48th minute. And, seven minutes later, the Warriors opened the scoring, as the Puerto Rico defence failed to deal with a left side Ryan Telfer cross and Jones made no mistake with the loose ball from close range.
It was Jones’ fifth career World Cup qualifying goal, which put him joint 12th on Trinidad and Tobago’s all-time scoring chart alongside Warren Archibald, Arnold Dwarika, Marvin Andrews and Keon Daniel.
The hosts were stunned and Trinidad and Tobago had two chances to increase the lead, within a storming 10 minute spell. Jones shot wide from on top of the opposing box in the 57th minute, while a devilishly inswinging Garcia corner kick in the 66th minute stuck the far upright before rebounding into play.
Jones was off by then, as he was replaced with an apparent thigh injury in the 63rd minute. The 29-year-old is due to meet up with David Beckham and his new MLS employers, InterMiami CF, later this week. Sadly, he might have to head straight for the treatment room.
His mood would have darkened further when Puerto Rico equalised in the 71st minute, as substitute Ricardo Rivera—yes, a third Rivera!—headed in from close range off a left side Raúl Gonzáles III cross.
It was a maiden international goal for Ricardo, who plays in Spain’s sixth division with Vilamarxant CF.
The game swung wide open, as Puerto Rico chased the second goal needed to keep their own World Cup dreams alive, while, at the other end, Trinidad and Tobago substitute Willis Plaza twice came within a whisker of snatching all three points on the break.
But the eventual draw was a fair result on the balance of play—and certainly the Warriors could scarcely deserve better.
At the final whistle, Puerto Rico had four teenagers on the field and just one player over 25 years of age: 32-year-old goalkeeper Cody Laurendi. They are ranked 179th in the world and 25th from 35 Concacaf countries, but there is no reason why, with Sarachan, they cannot aim for more respect within the region.
For all of his early claims of promoting youth and criticism of his predecessor Dennis Lawrence’s ‘old guard’, Fenwick ended the match with just three players under 25 years of age on the field: Garcia (23), Jabari Mitchell (23), and Michel Poon-Angeron (19).
And, when Hyland limped off in the 85th minute, Fenwick opted for the experience of 36-year-old veteran Andre Boucaud ahead of the more dynamic 20-year-old Judah Garcia.
Twenty-four-year-old attacker Sean Bonval, who started in Trinidad and Tobago’s 7-0 loss to USA in January, has fared even worse as he failed to make the bench for either qualifier so far.
Trinidad and Tobago need six points from their final two outings and a high-scoring win over Bahamas on 5 June would do nicely. Fenwick will hope to have ace attacking midfielder, Kevin Molino, back in his fold by then.
St Kitts and Nevis could be stronger in the next match window too, should West Brom midfielder Romain Sawyers be included. Bizarrely, Sawyers was not called up in this match window because, according to a reliable source on the island, the Sugar Boyz felt he was not needed against Puerto Rico and the Bahamas.
From their perch at the top of the table, it is hard to criticise the judgment of their rookie Argentine coach Claudio Caimi.
But let’s see which coach gets it right in June.
Trinidad and Tobago (4-2-1-3): 21.Nicklas Frenderup (GK); 2.Aubrey David, 12.Robert Primus, 4.Sheldon Bateau, 15.Neveal Hackshaw; 18.Michel Poon-Angeron, 8.Khaleem Hyland (captain) (14.Andre Boucaud 85); 19.Daniel Phillips (10.Duane Muckette 46); 11.Levi Garcia, 7.Ryan Telfer (9.Willis Plaza 72), 3.Joevin Jones (23.Jabari Mitchell 65).
Unused substitutes: 1.Marvin Phillip (GK), 22.Adrian Foncette (GK), 5.Leland Archer, 6.Radanfah Abu Bakr, 13.Brent Sam, 16.Marcus Joseph Jr, 17.Justin Garcia, 20.Judah Garcia.
Standbys: Denzil Smith (GK), Sean Bonval.
Coach: Terry Fenwick
Puerto Rico (4-1-4-1): 12.Codi Laurendi (GK); 2.Darren Ríos, 21.Daniel Rosario, 3.Nicolás Cardona, 4.Raúl Gonzáles III (22.Eli Carr 87); 6.Juan O’Neill; 7.Wilfredo Rivera, 11.Devin Vega (16.Giovanni Padron 87), 10.Isaac Angking (8.Alec Diaz 70), 23.Gerald Diaz (19.Jaden Servania 61); 9.Sidney Rivera (captain) (5.Ricardo Rivera 61).
Unused substitutes: 1.Angel Molinari (GK), 18.Joel Serrano (GK), 13.Jordan Saling, 14.Jan Mateo, 15.Rodolfo Sulia, 17.Kevin Hernández, 20.Joshua Calderon.
Coach: Dave Sarachan
World Cup qualifying Group F
(Wed 24 March)
St Kitts and Nevis 1 (Vinceroy Nelson 42), Puerto Rico 0 at Estadio Panamericano, Santo Domingo;
(Thu 25 March)
Trinidad and Tobago 3 (Levi Garcia 8, Sheldon Bateau 16, Ryan Telfer 43), Guyana 0 at Estadio Panamericano, Santo Domingo
(Sat 27 March)
Bahamas 0, St Kitts and Nevis 4 (Keithroy Freeman 25, 65, Kimaree Rogers 53, Omari Sterling-James 82) at Thomas Robinson Stadium, Nassau;
(Sun 28 March)
Puerto Rico 1 (Ricardo Rivera 71), Trinidad and Tobago 1 (Joevin Jones 55) at Mayaguez Athletics Stadium, Mayaguez;
(Tue 30 March)
Guyana vs Bahamas, 8pm/ET, National Track & Field Centre, Leonara.