Trinidad and Tobago’s Fifa 2022 Women’s Under-20 World Cup campaign came to an abrupt and humiliating end today after just two matches, the junior Women Soca Warriors routed 7-2 by St Kitts and Nevis at the Estadio Panamericano in the Dominican Republic.
The signs that something was horribly wrong with coach Jason Spence’s team were there on Friday when they lost 3-0 to El Salvador, although the score summary did not quite reflect the size of the mismatch. Today, at the same venue, the goals came as well.
Three of the four teams in Group G will advance to the knockout round of the competition, which means it is arguably more difficult to be eliminated than to progress.
Not for Spence’s outfit, though, a team whose construction was started two months ago by the Robert Hadad-led Fifa-appointed normalisation committee and then offered no warm-up matches and barely 48 hours together before their first match.
Two years ago, Hadad declared to a team of coaches that he was ‘here to fix football’ with his big business ideas.
Presumably, preparing a football team without a technical committee is not as straightforward as picking off bankrupt nature parks or ‘winning’ a juicy government contract.
In football, unlike with private sector life for well-heeled families, opponents fight back while referees are a sight more efficient than public sector tendering processes.
Spence’s reputation might be the one at stake while the Under-20 women may be crying themselves to sleep tonight. But the role of the normalisation committee, which comprises Hadad, Nigel Romano and Trevor Nicholas Gomez, their employers Fifa and the tie-tongued local football stakeholders ought not to be forgotten—even though they are a safe distance from the Dominican Republic and probably flipped the channel long before the final whistle.
Hadad might have picked up the remote from as early as eight minutes into the contest. Already, implausibly, Trinidad and Tobago were two goals down by that point.
Remarkably, the Women Warriors had two decent scoring opportunities within the first 63 seconds of the contest. Attacker Tori Paul tore away down the left flank before crossing to captain Maria-Frances Serrant, who headed across the face of the goal after just 15 seconds.
Then, after one minute, St Kitts and Nevis goalkeeper Solleessh Rawlins comically dived over a straightforward ball over the top and Paul pounced, only to hit wide of an unattended goal with her angled effort.
St Kitts and Nevis, remember, lost their opening outing 7-0 to Canada on Friday. Undoubtedly, there would be goals in this match too.
Surprisingly though, they started coming at the other end.
Trinidad and Tobago goalkeeper Akyla Walcott offered a safe pair of hands against El Salvador. Yet, in the fifth minute of today’s decisive encounter, the US-based custodian inexplicably did her best impression of a T&T Red Force slip fielder, failing to gather a straightforward Jahzara Claxton free kick and the dreadlocked Iyanla Bailey-Williams headed home from the ensuing scramble.
Bailey-Williams, incidentally, was one of six players who started for St Kitts and Nevis when these two nations last met at the 2020 Concacaf U-20 tournament. Trinidad and Tobago had five starters today from that contest.
Two years ago, Trinidad and Tobago won 6-0 against St Kitts and Nevis. But that was before Hadad took control of the TTFA with his own ideas about team preparation; and, perhaps just as crucially, before he froze out coach Richard Hood, who took that 2020 team to the quarterfinal round.
Still, at this stage, there was no reason to expect the worst. St Kitts and Nevis seemed just as open defensively as the Women Warriors—SKN’s pass accuracy stood at a scrappy 64% today, yet T&T’s was even worse at 61%—and were no better off between the uprights.
Spence might have barely had time to console himself with that information before the deficit was doubled in the eighth minute.
Claxton swung a cross into the penalty area and Trinidad and Tobago were again left exposed, as Bailey-Williams controlled before stroking home at the near post.
There might have been a third goal in the 20th minute, as Walcott twice dropped long-range efforts from opposing captain Cloey Uddenberg that really ought to have offered nothing more than catching practice.
The Under-20 Women were wilting under largely self-inflicted pressure, even as Spence offered unhelpful instructions from the sidelines with pearls of wisdom like ‘pass’ and ‘get back the ball’.
In the 22nd minute, it became 3-0 as Claxton, despite being surrounded by red shirts, surprised Walcott with a firm, low left-footer from inside the penalty area.
It was now time to press the panic button.
At the half-hour mark, the ‘Sugar Girlz’ got their fourth from the penalty spot after Mexican referee Katia García punished an awkward challenge from T&T left-back Chrissy Mitchell on pint-sized opponent Zania Williams—after a tip-off by Costa Rican VAR official Benjamin Pineda.
It was a 50-50 call, but the floodgates were already opened and, sadly, nobody wastes goodwill on ‘lost causes’.
Bailey-Williams took the gift with aplomb for her hat-trick.
Serrant pulled a goal back in the 33rd minute, after a defensive error by Eve Richards and a weak attempted save by Rawlins. And Trinidad and Tobago might have narrowed the gap further but for Rawlins’ blocks off Serrant and then Paul in the 35th and 43rd minutes respectively.
Then, in the fourth minute of first-half stoppage time, Walcott erred again with a misplaced throw that Bailey-Williams promptly crossed for Claxton to convert from close range.
The halftime score was 5-1 and the fat lady had already left the venue. Spence, though, had not given up. He made three halftime changes, with two attackers, Shurelia Mendez and Ternia St Clair, joining the fray.
If it was going to be a shootout, he might have said to himself, then we might as well have more marksmen on the field.
But today’s affair was less Art of War and more Murphy’s Law. Within seconds of the restart, Trinidad and Tobago defender Lathifa Pascall was stretching to block a goal-bound effort from Bailey-Williams. And, two minutes later, the sixth goal came anyway, as stopper Derisha Bristol apparently dozed off in defence to keep Claxton onside, and the striker finished with a spanking left-footed strike.
St Kitts and Nevis got their seventh in the 60th minute from another penalty, Walcott having taken out Claxton and Ellie Stokes did not pass up the chance to get her name on the scoresheet.
It is worth noting here that St Kitts and Nevis’ good fortune against the two-island republic did not start today.
In 2019, the Sugar Girlz whipped Trinidad and Tobago 4-1 at the Ato Boldon Stadium in Couva to dump the Women Warriors—then coached by Stephan De Four—out of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic qualifying series at the first hurdle.
And, in 2021, the St Kitts and Nevis men were the only qualifiers from a group that included coach Terry Fenwick’s troops, even though T&T won 2-0 in the meeting between the two nations.
Reality check: Trinidad and Tobago cannot throw together a football team on the fly and win in the Caribbean anymore. But 7-1 to St Kitts and Nevis?!
In the 66th minute, Spence swapped goalkeepers with Aaliyah Alexander replacing Walcott.
It was not immediately clear what prompted the change but Alexander, who represents Tobago’s Jewels FC, was not interested in making friends and enjoying the sights.
Claxton received another free run at goal in the 87th minute and got the ball around Alexander but the lanky goalkeeper uprooted her like a sweet potato. García flashed a red card at Alexander, which meant her 21-minute cameo would not be recorded as a cap since she did not finish the game as a substitute.
FC Ginga attacker Aaliyah Trim, who had barely been on the field for two minutes, took over the gloves. But St Kitts and Nevis did not score again.
By then, Trinidad and Tobago had mustered a second item through Mendez, who flicked home after good wing play by Serrant.
The humiliation ended at 7-2. Trinidad and Tobago allowed 22 shots from St Kitts and Nevis today with 12 on target, while themselves managing 14 and 7 respectively. In just over 180 minutes of football in the ongoing Concacaf Championship, the Women Soca Warriors faced 65 shots with 30 on target—according to the ESPN stats team.
Before today’s encounter, Spence said he hoped to see improved organisation by his outfield players against St Kitts and Nevis. It might be redundant to ask him how that went.
Can it get worse than this for the under-prepared, beleaguered Under-20 Women?
Well, they play Canada on Tuesday night.
Trinidad and Tobago (4-2-1-3): 1.Akyla Walcott (GK) (18.Aaliyah Alexander [GK] 66); 11.Charlize Hood (2.Ashante Wilson-Campbell 46), 4.Latifha Pascall, 5.Derisha Bristol, 6.Chrissy Mitchell; 20.Darrianne Henry (19.Shurelia Mendez 46), 8.Marley Walker; 7.Sarah De Gannes; 14.Lillian Selvon (15.Ternia St Clair 46), 10.Maria-Frances Serrant (captain), 9.Tori Paul (13.Aaliyah Trim 85).
Unused substitutes: 3.Moenesa Mejias, 12.Celine Loraine, 17.Jhelysse Anthony.
Coach: Jason Spence
St Kitts and Nevis (4-2-1-3): 1.Solleessh Rawlins (GK); 20.Trishanie Warner, 17.Christi-anne Mills, 11.Eve Richards, 6.Kayla Uddenberg; 5.Cloey Uddenberg (captain), 7.Jasonna Williams (8.Kayzg Boyles 46); 9.Ellie Stokes; 19.Zania Marshall (2.Shenica Francis 78), 10.Jahzara Claxton, 14.Iyanla Bailey-Williams.
Unused substitutes: 18.Tatyanna Daley (GK), 3.Glenecia Battice, 4.Hadassah St Juste, 15.Sequia Williams.
Coach: Earl Jones
Referee: Katia García (Mexico)
Concacaf Women’s Under-20 Championship results
St Kitts and Nevis 7 (Iyanla Bailey-Williams 6, 8, 30 (pen), Jahzara Claxton 22, 45+4, 48, Ellie Stokes 61 (pen)), Trinidad and Tobago 2 (Maria-Frances Serrant 33, Shurelia Mendez 75) at Estadio Panamericano, San Cristóbal;
El Salvador 0, Canada 4 (Miya Grant-Clavijo 26, Olivia Smith 53, Serita Thurton 63, 77) at Estadio Panamericano, San Cristóbal.
(25 February 2022)
Trinidad and Tobago 0, El Salvador 3 (Lesly Calderón 23, Josseline Uribe 43, Linda Guillén 86) at Estadio Panamericano, San Cristóbal;
Canada 7 (Nikayla Small 9, 33, Olivia Smith 17, 30, Holly Ward 21, 44, Keera Melenhorst 89), St Kitts and Nevis 0 at Estadio Panamericano, San Cristóbal.
El Salvador v St Kitts and Nevis, 4pm, Estadio Panamericano, San Cristóbal;
Trinidad and Tobago vs Canada, 7pm, 1 March, Estadio Panamericano, San Cristóbal.