The Trinidad and Tobago Men’s National Senior Team were second best in a Caribbean derby at the 2023 Concacaf Gold Cup tonight, as they fell 4-1 to Jamaica in Group A action at CityPark in Missouri.
The Soca Warriors could have advanced to the knockout stage for the first time in eight years with a win tonight, but it was always going to be a tough task against a star-studded Jamaican team. And, in the end, it was a comfortable and comprehensive result for the “Reggae Boyz”.
Coach Angus Eve got a win and a draw against Jamaica in friendly action earlier this year and, after a 3-0 win in their tournament opener against Saint Kitts and Nevis, vowed to go after all three points in Missouri.
Eve made four changes to his team that gunned down Saint Kitts and Nevis, as captain and playmaker Kevin Molino, flankers Ryan Telfer and Kaïlé Auvray, and left back Triston Hodge were replaced by midfielder Ajani Fortune, forward Malcolm Shaw, right back Shannon Gomez and defender Aubrey David.
There was a change in shape too, as the Warriors moved from a 4-2-3-1 formation to 5-4-1 with Gomez used at left wing back.
“Triston Hodge had a tight hamstring, Molino was tired and didn’t think he could start and Auvray had some knocks and bruises,” said Eve, in the post-game press conference.
So all of Trinidad and Tobago’s changes were due to injury concerns rather than tactical tinkering? When all three players came on in the game, including Hodge at halftime? And Eve himself said he had a fully fit squad in the pre-game press conference?
Eve’s follow-up remark was easier to swallow.
“I tried to keep the game as tight as possible in the first half,” he said, “so we could go out and express ourselves in the second half. But we didn’t defend well.”
Most of Trinidad and Tobago’s early issues surely had little to do with tactics.
Defender Kareem Moses was caught dilly-dallying on the ball by powerful Jamaica forward Michail Antonio within the first two minutes and it was only a woeful display of finishing by busy midfielder Bobby Reid that spared the Warriors’ blushes.
Clean through on goal, Reid hit the ball into the side netting.
It was merely a temporary reprieve though. In the 14th minute, Trinidad and Tobago were caught in a transition and, although Sheldon Bateau and Aubrey David blocked Antonio’s path to goal, right back Alvin Jones was slow to return to his post—leaving Demarai Gray with a straightforward chance at goal, after the ball was relayed to him via Antonio and Leon Bailey.
It was a rare misstep by Jones in an otherwise solid performance against two high profile flankers in Gray and Bailey, who play their football for Everton FC and Aston Villa respectively. But it was costly.
Jones apart, Trinidad and Tobago were not winning many one-on-one battles. And Jamaica midfielder Joel Latibeaudiere had time and space to lift his head from inside the centre circle and release Bailey with a lofted pass for their second goal in the 17th minute.
Jamaica were still in first gear, yet the Warriors were in disarray.
Eve tried to return to his default 4-2-3-1 shape without making substitutions, which saw Gomez pushed into left midfield with David at left back and Shaw, nominally a centre forward, started at right wing.
Trinidad and Tobago were totally disjointed and, not surprisingly, conceded a third. Again, it was an avoidable error.
Fortune was the one caught in possession in his own half on this occasion and bullish midfielder Kevon Lambert muscled the ball off him before passing to Antonio who in turn teed up Gray for his second item on the occasion of his 27th birthday.
All around the field, Trinidad and Tobago shoulders slumped and the boys in red, black and white were in danger of being thumped.
In first half stoppage time, Jamaica central defender Di’shon Bernard strolled into the opposing penalty area and attempted a scissors kick off an Antonio cross. Trinidad and Tobago had not even had a shot on goal yet.
Those two footnotes probably summed up the first half.
Eve made three changes at the break, with Joevin Jones, Auvray and Hodge replacing Fortune, Shaw and David respectively. Jamaica subbed off injured left back Kemar Lawrence and, with their other left-sided full back Amari’i Bell already rested with a knock, coach Heimir Hallgrimsson asked Latibeaudiere to deputise on the left of their defence.
Within minutes, Levi Garcia charged down the left side of Jamaica’s defence and twisted Bernard inside-out before whipping in a cross, and midfielder Andre Rampersad beat opposing defender Damion Lowe to the ball to narrow the deficit.
Trinidad and Tobago had scored with their first attack.
“I formulated a plan and we got the goal,” said Eve, who insisted that he took responsibility for the final result. “Unfortunately, we seemed to be a bit nervous tonight. Names seemed to have scared us.
“[…] I thought in the second half we were way more positive… I thought in the second half we were really in the game and we created a lot of chances.”
Hallgrimsson did not quite see it that way.
“I don’t think Trinidad created a chance except for that goal, that shows how good a defensive game we played today,” said the Icelandic head coach, who suggested that the result might have been eye-watering if Jamaica—rather than T&T—got the game’s fourth goal.
“I think we created about 15 goal scoring opportunities… [But] you tend to get cautious after conceding. Football is a game of momentum.”
Bailey missed an open goal in the 54th minute, after a low cross by Antonio. At the other end, Rampersad headed over from an Auvray cross in the 56th minute.
Then Jamaica had three more glorious chances in the 64th minute. Substitute Shamar Nicholson was thwarted by a fine save from Trinidad and Tobago custodian Nicklas Frenderup with Antonio missing the rebound. And, within seconds, Bailey again made a remarkable miss from close range after a cross by Lowe.
Improbably, Trinidad and Tobago might have reduced the deficit to a single goal in the 68th minute when Mexican referee Fernando Guerra whistled for a hand ball against Lowe off a long ball by Jones (A) into the opposing box.
“It looked from where we were that the hand was high in an unnatural position,” said Eve.
Lowe did not touch the ball with his hand though and, on the prompting of Costa Rican VAR Benjamin Pineda, Guerra reversed his decision.
As the game petered out, Eve sent on 19-year-old Molik Khan, a former Naparima College student who now represents Minnesota United II in the US second tier, for his Gold Cup debut in the 75th minute.
Not to be outdone, Hallgrimsson sent on 17-year-old Dujuan “Whisper” Richards, who was announced as a Chelsea FC player earlier this week. And, not for the first time, it was the Jamaica coach that reaped the rewards.
One minute into stoppage time, a speculative effort by Richards took a devious deflection off Moses to fly past a wrong-footed Frenderup for Jamaica’s fourth item.
“I was criticised for picking the kid and he only needed 10 minutes to score a goal—the youngest goal scorer in the history of the Gold Cup,” said Hallgrimsson, in the post-game press conference. “That shows why we selected him… He is a guy who defies the odds a little bit. He has a lot to learn but he can still do a lot [now] and he did a lot today.”
In eight games as Jamaica head coach, Hallgrimsson had not won a single game—until tonight.
“It did not affect me at all—I was not counting,” said the Reggae Boyz coach. “I have not lost a competitive game for Jamaica and that’s what counts.”
Hallgrimsson only keeps check of favourable statistics then. Tonight’s result was certainly one of those.
Jamaica and United States finished the night joint top of Group A with four points each, although the hosts are likely to finish with a superior goal difference.
Trinidad and Tobago, on three points, can still advance with a win over USA on Sunday night. In reality though, the host team are likely to be seeking a big win to stay ahead of Jamaica, who will tackle Saint Kitts and Nevis at the same time.
At the 2021 Gold Cup, Eve helped the Warriors to a remarkable goalless draw against Mexico. Ironically, there were seven domestic-based players in his starting team in that affair—and Jones (A) and substitute goalkeeper Marvin Phillip are the only survivors from that night in his current 23-man squad.
Eve would do well to give another example of his ability to punch above his weight this weekend.
Trinidad and Tobago (5-4-1): 21.Nicklas Frenderup (GK); 16.Alvin Jones, 4.Sheldon Bateau, 2.Aubrey David (18.Triston Hodge 46), 12.Kareem Moses, 14.Shannon Gomez (23.Molik Khan 75); 19.Malcolm Shaw (20.Kaïlé Auvray 46), 17.Andre Rampersad (10.Kevin Molino 63), 15.Neveal Hackshaw, 8.Ajani Fortune (3.Joevin Jones 46); 11.Levi Garcia (captain).
Substitutes: 1.Marvin Phillip (GK), 22.Denzil Smith (GK), 5.Leland Archer, 6.Luke Singh, 7.Ryan Telfer, 9.Kadeem Corbin, 13.Real Gill.
Coach: Angus Eve
Jamaica (4-3-3): 1.Andre Blake (GK) (captain); 21.Javain Brown (8.Daniel Johnson 61), 6.Di’shon Bernard, 17.Damion Lowe, 20.Kemar Lawrence (2.Dexter Lembikisa 46); 3.Kevon Lambert, 15.Joel Latibeaudiere, 10.Bobby Reid (11.Shamar Nicholson 61); 7.Leon Bailey (14.Dujuan Richards 81), 18.Michail Antonio (9.Cory Burke 75), 12.Demarai Gray.
Unused substitutes: 13.Coniah Boyce-Clarke (GK), 23.Jahmali Waite (GK), 4.Amari’i Bell, 16.Kaheem Parris, 19.Adrian Mariappa, 22.Jonathan Russell.
Coach: Heimir Hallgrimsson
Referee: Fernando Guerra (Mexico)
Concacaf Gold Cup
(28 June 2023)
Jamaica 4 (Demarai Gray 14, 30, Leon Bailey 18, Dujuan Richards 90+2), Trinidad and Tobago 1 (Andre Rampersad 49)
United States 6 (Djorde Mihailovic 12, 79, Bryan Reynolds 14, Jesus Ferreira 16, 25, 50), Saint Kitts and Nevis 0