The Trinidad and Tobago national football started its 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup campaign with a 2-2 draw against El Salvador tonight in the opening Group B match-up at the Red Bull Arena in New Jersey.
Kenwyne Jones and Keon Daniel scored in each half for the “Soca Warriors” in a thrilling encounter although, at the final whistle, new head coach Stephen Hart may have been grateful to goalkeeper Jan-Michael Williams for a stunning save in the dying seconds to deny El Salvador substitute Mark Blanco.
The Warriors will now travel to Miami where they will face Haiti in their second Group B assignment at the Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens. A win against Haiti should assure Trinidad and Tobago of a berth in the knockout round with a game to spare since four points is likely be enough for at least one of two available spots for the best third placed teams.
There are 12 participating teams in the 2013 Gold Cup finals and only four will be eliminated in the first round. The Warriors would always have fancied their chances of progression, especially as they avoided heavyweights like United States, Costa Rica and Mexico in the group draw. But Hart’s men gave more tangible reason for optimism tonight.
Hart spoke of the need to make a quick impression on Trinidad and Tobago’s Central American opponent and the Warriors did not let him down.
In the tenth minute, Carlos Edwards cut inside from the left on a mazy dribble through the El Salvadorian midfield and tried to thread the ball through to Jones on his left. The opposing defence kept the ball away from the intended recipient but it deflected into Daniel’s path and the Philadelphia Union midfielder reacted quickly to steer home at the near post.
So far, so good. But a cheap free kick conceded by Kevon Carter offered El Salvador a half-chance in the 21st minute and Rodolfo Zalaya responded with a curling effort that didn’t quite find the corner but zipped past Williams and into the back of the net.
Williams was beaten again in the 42st minute as Rafael Burgos drove goalwards from an outrageous angle but saw his effort rap the heel of the far post before rebounding harmlessly away.
The second half saw both nations threaten as Burgos and Edwards went close before El Salvador struck again through Zalaya who forced a header past Williams from close range off a right side cross.
Zalaya, who turned 25 last week, is becoming a regular source of goals for El Salvador. That was his 15th international goal from 35 appearances.
In contrast, Jones had just seven goals from 50 full international games before tonight. But the Stoke City man gave a reminder as to why he has been on the books of three England Premier League clubs with a fine individual effort to pull the Warriors back level.
There were two defenders in attendance when his namesake, Joevin Jones, played a long ball into his path. But Jones (K) chested the ball down and spun around El Salvador captain Victor Turcios in one fluid movement and held off Steven Purdy before lashing left footed past goalkeeper Dagoberto Portillo and into the far corner.
Turcios, incidentally, plays for RoPS in the Finland Premier League alongside Trinidad and Tobago playmaker Ataullah Guerra who is absent because the Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) waited too long to apply for his visa. Another talented young defender, Sheldon Bateau, is absent as a request was not sent to his Belgium employer, KV Mechelen, in time.
Perhaps such cock-ups are the difference between three points and one at this level.
The Warriors, who fluctuated between steady and sloppy in midfield, did seek out a winner as Daniel and Edwards failed to beat Portillo with two half-chances.
But, in the end, the Trinidad and Tobago team was thankful for the solitary point as Osael Romero stepped inside Power but struck his effort off the heel of Williams’ post again. And Williams, who captained the Warriors through the qualifying rounds, saved the day with a brilliant one-handed save after a cushioned Romero header was met by a stunning overhead kick by substitute Mark Blanco from close quarters.
In 10 meetings with El Salvador over the last three decades, Trinidad and Tobago won four and drew three but two of their three losses came in this competition. Both teams might have been satisfied with a draw at the final whistle.
It has been 13 years since Trinidad and Tobago won a match at the Gold Cup and then, under coach Bertille St Clair, the boys in red, white and black went on to storm their way into the semifinals.
Hart can dream of doing at least as well if he can help his troops outwit Haiti on Friday. Trinidad and Tobago and Haiti played to a goalless draw at the Caribbean Cup tournament last December and the Warriors have significantly enhanced their team since then with the inclusion of Khaleem Hyland, Justin Hoyte, Darryl Roberts, Edwards, Daniel and Jones (K).
Hart and new director of football, Leo Beenhakker, were supposedly brought in to strengthen Trinidad and Tobago’s technical staff. A result against Haiti would arguably be a step in the right direction for the new coaching duo.
Trinidad and Tobago (4-2-3-1/ 4-4-2): 21.Jan-Michael Williams; 17.Justin Hoyte, 5.Carlyle Mitchell (6.Daneil Cyrus 83), 20.Seon Power, 3.Joevin Jones; 18.Densill Theobald (Captain), 8.Khaleem Hyland; 16.Kevon Carter (12.Darryl Roberts 70), 19.Keon Daniel (23.Jamal Gay 83), 11.Carlos Edwards; 9.Kenwyne Jones.
Unused substitutes: 1.Marvin Phillip, 7.Chris Birchall, 10.Kevin Molino, 13.Cornell Glen, 14.Andre Boucaud, 22.Cleon John, 25.Aubrey David, 26.Curtis Gonzales, 32.Radanfah Abu Bakr.
Coach: Stephen Hart
El Salvador (4-4-2): 1.Dagoberto Portillo; 2.Moises Xavier Garcia, 3.Victor Turcios (Captain), 4.Steven Purdy, 16.Jaime Alas, 14.Dustin Corea (12.Andres Flores 62), 8.Osael Romero, 7.Darwin Ceren, 6.Richard Menjivar, 11.Rodolfo Zelaya, 9.Rafael Burgos (17.Mark Blanco 78).
Unused substitutes: 5.Jose Granadino, 10.Kevin Santamaria, 13.Alexander Larin, 15.Darwin Bonilla, 18.Benji Villalobos, 19.Gerson Mayen, 20.Josue Flores, 21.Nestor Renderos, 22.Derby Carrillo, 23.Jose Gutierrez.
Coach: Agustin Castillo
Gold Cup 2013 finals
(Mon July 8)
Trinidad and Tobago 2 (Keon Daniel 10, Kenwyne Jones 73), El Salvador 2 (Rodolfo Zalaya 21, 69)
Honduras 2 (Rony Martinez 3, Marvin Chavez 77), Haiti 0
Editor’s Note: How do you think Trinidad and Tobago did against El Salvador? And how far can we go in this Gold Cup tournament?