“It was a welcome sight to see the crowd we had in the stadium,” said Trinidad and Tobago Men’s National Senior Team head coach Angus Eve. “It means we are making some kind of progress when people want to come see you play.”
There was silverware too for the Soca Warriors, as a stoppage time equaliser by Levi Garcia saw them pip Guyana to the Courts Caribbean Classic exhibition trophy—after both teams played to a 1-1 draw at the Hasely Crawford Stadium in Port-of-Spain last night.
Beyond that? It was probably a glass half-full sort of thing, open to a variety of interpretations.
Trinidad and Tobago have now played eight times under Eve and lost just twice, which is definitely good. But then they managed only two regulation time wins—against Montserrat and Barbados—which is probably not so good.
The Warriors showed character and heart in clawing their way to a result, which was a positive sign. But then on the last occasion that the two nations met, under Eve’s predecessor Terry Fenwick, Trinidad and Tobago won 3-0.
Despite the fact that the Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) got Courts to stump up for a trophy for the tri-nation exhibition games, it is best to remember that these outings were just warm-up matches.
Last year, Eve’s job was to get the Warriors into the group stage of the Concacaf Gold Cup tournament. Mission accomplished. Come June, he will start his second assignment, which is to win promotion back to the top tier of the Concacaf Nations League.
In between both events, there are signs of progress. Upfront, Levi Garcia looked an upgrade and consistently threatened Barbados and Guyana, Noah Powder appears more assured—though often isolated—in central midfield while left-back Keston Julien and substitute John-Paul Rochford offer more offensive fizz.
Add the likes of Khaleem Hyland, Sheldon Bateau, Kevin Molino, Marcus Joseph and Joevin Jones to the mix and you have the makings of a decent squad. Eve will be eventually judged on what he is able to extract from that dressing room.
Today, though, he could not get the better of a less gifted but well drilled Guyana team, coached by compatriot Jamaal Shabazz.
“I am really proud of my team and how we pressed,” said Shabazz. “Credit to Trinidad and Tobago, I didn’t expect them to withstand it. They did much better than I thought.
“But I am very impressed with the way our guys kept their discipline. It’s not easy to get Caribbean people—if you are not [a coach] from outside of the Caribbean—to play with that discipline and that tenacity.
“I feel very, very proud tonight. It is a big statement from Guyana.”
Before last night’s encounter, Shabazz had dared Eve to have his team put the ball on the ground and tried to pass through their high press. Did Shabazz mean it? Or was he trying to get Eve to try a different tactic entirely?
“We did want to play the ball from the back,” said Eve. “We knew if we played [the ball], they will come [to press] and we can get between the lines but we played right into their hands.
“They have four big fellahs at the back and they wanted us to play it long so they could win it [in the air]—that is what they were trying to do. Our players kinda [got] sucked into that.”
Trinidad and Tobago midfielder Neveal Hackshaw confirmed that Eve wanted the Warriors to be brave in possession.
“The game plan was to let them come to us so we can play in behind [their midfield lines] to Levi [Garcia] and work off of Levi,” he said.
However, some early misplaced passes unnerved the Warriors—including a loose ball from Judah Garcia in the third minute that led to the first shot of the night by Guyana forward Tyrell Ondaan.
“Guyana nicked a couple balls off them and the confidence went,” said Eve, “and we started to go long.”
A potential glitch in Eve’s tactics, though, was a starting midfield trio of Hackshaw, Kevon Goddard and Powder—none of whom would describe themselves as playmakers. Was it wise to try to play from the back without genuine ball-handlers?
Eve noted that Andre Fortune II was recalled by his employers in Estonia while Duane Muckette is carrying a knock and was deemed only fit to play for 20 minutes. And, for the second successive match, he overlooked his former Naparima College playmaker Justin Sadoo.
“We thought that we would keep the continuity,” said Eve, when asked about his decision not to use Sadoo or central defender Leland Archer. “We are meant to have another game [in April] and those guys will definitely play.”
Trinidad and Tobago failed to really impose themselves in the first half and Guyana gradually pegged them back.
“For long periods, we thought they would buckle under the pressure,” said Shabazz. “[…] I thought we were in Georgetown the way we were living by them…”
The score remained goalless at the interval, though, with neither team getting a clear look at the opposing goal. Garcia and Ondaan did have half-chances while Trinidad and Tobago twice threatened from set pieces.
In the stands, the crowd had swollen from 3,500 at kick-off to roughly 10,000 by halftime. The game would be decided after the break.
Eve swapped Ryan Telfer with Reon Moore, after the former sprained his knee, and the sub almost made an immediate impact. Guyana failed to clear a lofted Powder free kick into the area and the ball broke for Moore.
Somehow, Guyana custodian Akel Clarke managed to come up with a decisive save.
Then, in the 57th minute, the visitors had another bit of good fortune as referee Crystal Sobers generously whistled for a penalty after a tackle by Warriors right-back Jesse Williams on opposing full-back Samuel Cox.
Another Guyanese veteran, Neil Danns, made no mistake from the spot, sending Marvin Phillip the wrong way to open the scoring.
Eve introduced John-Paul Rochford and Mekeil Williams and then Muckette. Shabazz opted not to bring on playmaker Javier George and attacker Pernell Schultz, who had both shone in their 5-0 rout of Barbados. He got far less impact from his own changes.
“We have so many players […] we have to give time in these games,” said Shabazz, who used 20 players in the two matches—Eve used 18. “Too many times, the Caribbean coach feels fear for the journalist, so he doesn’t want to try different things. He doesn’t want to experiment because he thinks what will they say.
“[…] So my time to be daring and to be brave in terms of making switches and choices has come and I have to set the example for the coaches in the region because I am no longer a young coach. I am a senior now and that kind of rotation allows all the players in the squad to feel ‘I have a chance’.
“It is a friendly, we came to play two games […] and I regret not being able to play more players.”
By the 75th minute, it was clear that Guyana had run out of gas, though. It was not altogether unexpected since the Golden Jaguars had had barely 48 hours rest before their last game, while Trinidad and Tobago had not played since Friday night.
The Warriors should have equalised in the 80th minute, when Rochford ran on to a precise lofted pass from Aubrey David and rounded the opposing goalkeeper—only to be denied on the goalline by retreating defender Jeremy Garrett.
A last-gasp challenge from Garrett’s defensive partner, Quincy Adams, kept out an angled Garcia shot in the 86th minute while roars for a penalty after a sliding tackle by Clive Nobrega on Moore was waved away by Sobers in the the 88th minute.
A minute later, Rochford dribbled past Guyana right-back Leo Lovell and fell over the latter’s attempt at a recovery tackle. This time, Sobers pointed to the spot.
“I thought the two penalties were soft to be honest,” said Eve.
Clarke flung himself to his right to block Garcia’s kick. There were only seconds left to full time with an additional four minutes of stoppage time.
“I knew we had time left and I was just trying to get on the score sheet,” said Garcia. “No matter if it was a goal or an assist, I had to be involved in the [next] goal.”
One minute into stoppage time, Garcia rose to head home a Rochford corner kick. It was his second headed goal from a set piece in this competition.
Some patrons ran on to the cycling track to celebrate the equalising goal with Garcia. A field invasion for a friendly match? The emotions were high at the Hasely Crawford Stadium—and, with locals preparing for Wednesday’s Spiritual Baptist holiday, so was the alcohol consumption.
Shabazz and Eve hugged at the final whistle.
There was no announcement regarding how the trophy would be decided and it wasn’t immediately clear if there would be penalty kicks. However, the Warriors were declared champions on goal difference.
“I wasn’t aware [of the rules to decide the competition] but we didn’t come to play for the trophy,” said Shabazz. “We came to play for the hearts of our people and to get them to love the football again, after not playing for so long. And our last result made Trinidad and Tobago feel they gone past Guyana. You ent gone no way, star!”
It was hard not to feel that Guyana had improved under Shabazz, from the mostly disastrous tenure of Brazilian coach Márcio Máximo. Shabazz credited Eve too for grinding out a result last night.
“I am very proud of Angus; he has done a really, really good job in a short time,” said the Golden Jaguars coach. “It shows our time has come. We have carried the bag for the South American and the European coaches, we have shined their shoes, we have put down the cones for them.
“But now our time has come in the region to get the big jobs—because we won’t get the big jobs in Europe, we certainly won’t get the big jobs in North America.
“And when you see the work that Angus and his staff have put down, it shows our time has come.”
But for Garcia’s late equaliser, it would have been a difficult result for Eve to sell. Trinidad and Tobago deserved the draw, though, and the Warriors head coach pointed to the positives.
“They showed a lot of character to keep fighting,” he said. “[…] We showed that we played for 90 minutes every time in this tournament.”
It has been a fair start by Eve, although the progress remains gradual. Tougher and more meaningful tests will come.
Trinidad and Tobago (4-2-3-1): 1.Marvin Phillip (GK) (captain); 23.Jesse Williams, 3.Kareem Moses, 2.Aubrey David, 18.Triston Hodge; 24.Kevon Goddard (10.Duane Muckette 68), 15.Neveal Hackshaw (17.Mekeil Williams 63); 12.Judah Garcia (14.John-Paul Rochford 63), 19.Noah Powder (9.Nicholas Dillon 84), 7.Ryan Telfer (13.Reon Moore 46); 11.Levi Garcia.
Unused substitutes: 21.Denzil Smith (GK), 4.Leland Archer, 5.Samory Powder, 6.Radanfah Abu Bakr, 8.Marvin Waldrop, 16.Alvin Jones, 20.Jabari Mitchell, 25.Justin Sadoo.
Coach: Angus Eve
Guyana (4-4-1-1): 1.Akel Clarke (GK); 2.Leo Lovell, 19.Quincy Adams, 4.Jeremy Garrett, 8.Samuel Cox; 10.Omari Glasgow (11.Kelsey Benjamin 60), 23.Daniel Wilson (captain), 16.Neil Danns (9.Clive Nobrega 76), 20.Trayon Bobb (5.Shemar Fraser 76); 6.Nathan Moriah-Welch; 17.Tyrell Ondaan (14.Jamanine Beckles 66).
Unused substitutes: 18.Ronaldo Blair (GK), 3.Kevin Layne, 7.Jobe Caesar, 12.Pernell Schultz, 13.Jamal Pereira, 15.Marcus Wilson, 21.Javier George.
Coach: Jamaal Shabazz
Referee: Crystal Sobers
Courts Caribbean Classic
(29 March 2022)
Trinidad and Tobago 1 (Levi Garcia 90+1), Guyana 1 (Neil Danns 59 pen) at the Hasely Crawford Stadium.
(27 March 2022)
Guyana 5 (Quincy Adams 11, Pernell Scholtz 37, Omari Glasgow 40, 60, Neil Danns 49 pen), Barbados 0 at the Hasely Crawford Stadium.
(25 March 2022)
Trinidad and Tobago 9 (Levi Garcia 27, 35, 40, Ryan Telfer 29, 59, Nicholas Dillon 68, 77, Reon Moore 79, John-Paul Rochford 81), Barbados 0 at the Hasely Crawford Stadium.