Can we play you every week, Honduras?
The Trinidad and Tobago national football team weathered a tricky opening 10 minutes to brush aside an inexperienced 10-man Honduras outfit 2-0 last night in Houston and, in the process, qualified for the knockout stage of the CONCACAF Gold Cup for only the second time in its history.
New Trinidad and Tobago head coach Stephen Hart made five changes to his starting team with Cornell Glen, Kevin Molino, Radanfah Abu Bakr, Daneil Cyrus and Andre Boucaud replacing Keon Daniel, Carlos Edwards, Seon Power, Justin Hoyte and captain Densill Theobald respectively. Only Hoyte’s absence was owing to injury.
The “Soca Warriors 2.0” pressed high up the field and were quicker in transition from defence to offence while Molino and Glen added quality to the team’s attacking play.
It did help that Honduras, who entered a weakened team in the competition to start with, chose to give a run-out to its bench last night. Six of the starting XI for “Los Catrachos” had five international appearances or less under their belts.
Haiti needed a Honduran win to have any chance of advancing from Group B while, in Group C, Cuba and Belize’s chances of sneaking into the knockout stage would have also improved if the Warriors lost. None of those nations could have been impressed with Honduras coach Luis Fernando Suarez’s starting team.
The Warriors still had to find a way to beat them, though. Their opponents were all professional players after all and still boasted of the exciting 23-year-old Seattle Sounders attacker Mario Martinez on the field.
Trinidad and Tobago spent the first 10 minutes defending a flurry of set pieces. But eventually Glen, whose name was farcically misspelt on his team shirt, got a hold of the ball and his twists and bursts gained valuable space for the Warriors and slowly turned the momentum of the match.
Kenwyne Jones, who took over the captaincy duties from Theobald, was certainly getting more opportunities although his finishing was generally wayward. The Stoke City forward did get the opening goal though although Glen was at least as influential in Trinidad and Tobago’s advantage.
In the 38th minute, Glen lured Jose Velasquez into a wildly mistimed challenge and Mexican referee Marco Rodriguez had no hesitation in flashing the red card. Then, two minutes into the second half, he drew contact from Honduras left back Orin Peralta while trying to run on to a free kick and Rodriguez pointed to the penalty spot.
Jones calmly sent Honduras goalkeeper Kevin Hernandez the wrong way for his second goal of the tournament and the first of the night.
Twenty minutes later, the Warriors doubled their lead through the lively Molino as the Caribbean team cut through the Central American backline like a hot knife through butter.
Khaleem Hyland played a firm, accurate pass into Jones who flicked the ball expertly into Molino’s path for the 23-year-old midfielder to finish precisely into the far corner.
Hart harped about the importance of good partnerships on the field in the build-up to this tournament. Well, Hyland, Molino and left back back Joevin Jones played together as schoolboys for Mucurapo and then on Trinidad and Tobago’s national youth teams.
Last night, their understanding on the left flank was crucial. Jones (J) and Molino confused their markers by constantly varying their attacking movements. Sometimes, Jones (J) went wide and Molino tucked inside to work wall passes with Hyland. At other times, they switched roles with both players adept at delivering a good final ball from a central or wide position.
On the right flank, Darryl Roberts must have felt like the outside child although he was tidy when he did get possession and almost conjured a goal for Glen, only to be whistled for an infringement.
Glen, another former Mucurapo pupil but from a different era, was replaced by Jamal Gay in the 67th minute after succumbing to cramp while Roberts eventually made way for Carlos Edwards.
There were some cameos from the athletic and defiant Daneil Cyrus too that should have removed any doubt regarding his worth to the team. Cyrus and Jones (J), both DIRECTV W Connection employees, were the only outfield Pro League players used last night. But they were not there to fill up spaces.
In truth, everyone pulled his weight in a fine team display.
It meant for a relatively simple night for St Ann’s Rangers goalkeeper Jan-Michael Williams, who became the first Trinidad and Tobago custodian to ever record a clean sheet in the Gold Cup. It is a feat that Michael Maurice, Ross Russell, Clayton Ince, Shaka Hislop and Kelvin Jack all failed to manage.
Ten years have passed since Honduras defeated the Warriors in this CONCACAF competition and T&T will go on enjoying these meetings if the Central American nation continues to send out teams like that one.
The Warriors can expect no such favours on Saturday July 20 when they face Mexico in a quarterfinal assignment at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.
Trinidad and Tobago (4-4-2): 21.Jan-Michael Williams; 6.Daneil Cyrus, 32.Radanfah Abu Bakr, 5.Carlyle Mitchell, 3.Joevin Jones (25.Aubrey David 79); 12.Darryl Roberts (11.Carlos Edwards 70), 14.Andre Boucaud, 8.Khaleem Hyland, 10.Kevin Molino; 9.Kenwyne Jones, 13.Cornell Glen (23.Jamal Gay 67).
Unused substitutes: 1.Marvin Phillip, 7.Chris Birchall, 16.Kevon Carter, 17.Justin Hoyte, 18.Densill Theobald, 19.Keon Daniel, 20.Seon Power, 22.Cleon John, 26.Curtis Gonzales.
Coach: Stephen Hart
Honduras (4-4-2): 18.Kevin Hernandez; 13.Nery Medina, 5.Jose Velasquez [Red Card], 4.Jhonny Palacios (6.Juan Garcia 50), 12.Orlin Peralta; 8.Gerson Rodas (21.Roger Rojas 62), 19.Wilmer Fuentes, 15.Mario Berrios, 16.Alexander Lopez, 10.Mario Martinez, 9.Jerry Palacios.
Coach: Luis Fernando Suarez