Trinidad and Tobago’s chances of advancing to the New Zealand 2015 FIFA Under-20 World Cup were extinguished tonight in Montego Bay after a 1-0 defeat to Panama followed by Jamaica’s 1-0 loss to the United States meant that progress was virtually impossible.
It would take a five goal triumph over the United States on Wednesday evening to give the “Soca Warriors” a chance to get out of Group A and into the play off round. And that mathematical equation is only possible on paper.
Not for the first time, Trinidad and Tobago’s efforts to keep its World Cup dream alive were dashed by the eccentric goalkeeping of American-born custodian Johan Welch.
But, in truth, the foundation for the Warriors’ collapse came from two red cards issued by Honduran official Armando Castro, which reduced the two-island republic to nine players before Panama’s breakthrough came in the 77th minute.
For Trinidad and Tobago National Under-20 team head coach Derek King, the biggest jerk in Jamaica today was not served in foil paper with a Red Stripe beer. It was holding a whistle.
That is one way to look at it, of course. The other is that a careless late challenge from Kadeem Corbin followed by an injudicious use of the elbow by his annoyed teammate Akeem Humphrey left Trinidad and Tobago up the proverbial creek minus a paddle.
“We had a plan and it went off until we went down a man,” said King, in the post-match press conference. “We held our shape and we were disciplined. (Kadeem) Corbin was ejected but we held our own even down to nine men.
“We allowed a soft goal but the refereeing today was poor. Poor, poor refereeing.”
In the heat of the moment, it was easy to empathise with King. It was, after all, a Central American referee making game changing decisions in favour of a Central American football team.
Perhaps King might feel different after he views the replays tonight, though.
Whether CONCACAF erred in not assigning a North American referee to the match is another story.
The Panamanian team, already vastly more experienced than the Warriors, was certainly at a huge advantage by being on the same cultural wavelength as the official. They knew what he would be tempted to punish, what he wouldn’t and how far he would go.
Corbin, who did not play with this team at the under-17 phase in 2013, had no such experience of Latin officiating, particularly in a match involving a Central American team.
His first tackle was clumsy in the 14th minute. Castro whistled for a free kick but the Panamanians were not satisfied. They protested loudly. And the referee obliged with a card. It might have been harsh but it was bookable.
Nine minutes later, Panama captain Chin Hormechea shaped to make a clearance from his own half. The ball was between both players and Corbin decided to challenge. But he did not get it and took a piece of the defender instead.
Hormechea is built like a truck and, even with both hands tied behind his back, it would take Corbin a whole day to floor him if they were playing in someone’s backyard. But the Panamanian knew an opportunity when he saw one and he looked as though the St Ann’s Rangers had taken a hacksaw to his leg up.
Once Castro showed the red card, Hormechea bounced back to his feet. The Trinidad and Tobago contingent was incensed.
Up until that point, Panama had enjoyed the lion’s share of the ball without ever getting close enough to the opposing goal to see the whites of Welch’s eyes.
“The three matches we saw of Trinidad and Tobago here and in the Caribbean Cup, we did not expect them to play the way they did today,” said Panama’s Argentine coach Leonardo Pipino, via a translator. “The way they played was nothing what we expected.”
Oddly enough, Pipino meant it as an insult.
“When a team like Trinidad locks itself in the back like they did today,” said Pipino, as his voice trailed off and he bore a look of contempt.
Had Dutchman Leo Beenhakker or Brazilian Rene Simoes been in charge of the Warriors today, they would have been hailed as geniuses. The truth is that Trinidad and Tobago, tired and low from a heartbreaking loss to Guatemala, came out in a compact block and played with discipline, energy and passion.
Panama shuffled the ball from one flank to the other in search of a gap to exploit. On most occasions, there was a Trinidad and Tobago player confronting him and one covering against the quick one-twos.
Pipino ordered his full backs up the flanks as if orthodox wingers to stretch Trinidad and Tobago. But the Warriors ignored them and stuck to Panama’s attacking quintet. And, by and large, it was the right tactical decision.
There have been mistakes made by the Trinidad and Tobago squad in Jamaica. But, by and large, the 34-year-old King showed an ability to compete at this level; even if he, like his players, could do with more games to hone their craft.
Whatever Pipino might say, the Warriors continued to threaten even with 10 players although, without a midfield conductor, there was a hit-and-miss feel about their athletic surges on the break. And it was not quite good enough to dismantle an opponent as capable as Panama.
By the hour mark, the Warriors were effectively camped at the edge of their own penalty area but Panama was still struggling to create chances. The uneven playing surface did not help the Central Americans as it made slick, early ball movement difficult.
In the 64th minute, Pipino withdrew striker Carlos Small as Panama switched to Plan B. Two minutes later, Trinidad and Tobago gave him more to think about as Levi Garcia tore through the centre on the break and slipped to substitute Aikim Andrews whose angled shot was wide at the near post.
Pipino did not have to worry for too long, though. In the 68th minute, Castro flashed his red card again.
Humphrey, a Super League player with Club Sando, got ahead of Samms to win possession only for the stocky attacker to tug at him to neutralise the Trinidadian’s advantage. And, instinctively, the frustrated Humphrey threw an elbow.
Both players went over as though struck and it would have difficult for King or anyone else to be sure about what transpired. But replays proved that Castro got it right.
And now the Warriors were down to nine players.
There was sarcastic applause for the Honduran official by some Trinidad and Tobago players and staff members. But King made a more level headed response.
This time, he sacrificed Garcia and introduced rugged utility player Brendon Creed as the Warriors maintained a back four behind a midfield trio of Neveal Hackshaw, Creed and Andrews and Akeem Garcia upfront.
And, try as they might, the Panama players found determined, unbowed opponents in their way. The Warriors did not surround the official to protest or seek revenge with rash tackles. They worked even harder to suffocate CONCACAF’s supposed second best youth team.
But then, in the 77th minute, came the cruelest blow of all. And, again, it was self-inflicted.
The Warriors, as mentioned earlier, had allowed space to the Panama full backs so as to stay tight on their attacking players. There was a cruel irony that this decision was proven right and wrong at the same time.
Only right back Murillo knew if he attempted a shot or cross but it should have been a regulation catch if Welch was guarding his near post. He was not, though. And, trying to claw away the ball while facing his own goal, he only succeeded in palming it into his own net for the opening goal.
King was so certain that Murillo’s effort did not present any danger that he had turned his back to have a quick word with assistant coach Hutson Charles. He will have to see that replay too tonight.
The coach made a final change as the giant figure of Leland Archer, who performed admirably at the back, was sent upfront as a target man. Archer got Trinidad and Tobago’s only effort on target today with a headed flick off a Hackshaw long throw in second half stoppage time, which was easily caught by Panama goalkeeper Jaime De Gracia.
“I have to applaud the guys,” said King. “They fought for the team and they held their discipline. Panama didn’t really get much clear chances.”
Jamaica’s 2-0 loss to the United States, in a subsequent affair in Montego Bay tonight, meant Trinidad and Tobago was as good as out. The Warriors will have to beat the “Yankees” by at least five goals on Wednesday.
And King would have a better chance of picking the winning lottery ticket next weekend.
The New Zealand dream is over.
Trinidad and Tobago (4-2-3-1): 1.Johan Welch (GK); 2.Shannon Gomez (captain), 3.Martieon Watson, 5.Leland Archer, 4.Jesus Perez; 8.Neveal Hackshaw, 17.Akeem Humphrey [Red Card: 68]; 11.Levi Garcia (13.Brendon Creed 71), 9.Kadeem Corbin [Red Card: 23], 7.Akeem Garcia (12.Kishun Seecharan 83); 16.Ricardo John (15.Aikim Andrews 54).
Unused substitutes: 21.Javon Sample (GK), 6.Duane Muckette, 10.Jabari Mitchell, 14.Matthew Woo Ling, 18.Kevon Goddard, 19.Maurice Ford.
Coach: Derek King
Panama (4-2-3-1): 12.Jaime De Gracia (GK); 4.Michael Murillo, 2.Chin Hormechea (captain), 6.Fidel Escobar, 3.Kevin Galvan, 8.Luis Pereira, 10.Jhamal Rodriguez, 7.Julian Velarde (11.Ervin Zorrilla 46), 9.Ismael Diaz (20.Ruben Barrow 89), 16.Edson Samms, 18.Carlos Small (19.Richard Rodriguez 64).
Unused substitutes: 1.Pedro Campos (GK), 13.Jomar Diaz, 14.Jesus Araya, 15.Fabian Salcedo, 17.Justin Simons.
Coach: Leonardo Pipino
Referee: Armando Castro (Honduras)
CONCACAF Group A results
(Sunday January 18)
Trinidad and Tobago 0, Panama 1 (Johan Welch OG 77) at Montego Bay;
Guatemala 2, Aruba 0 at Montego Bay;
Jamaica 0, United States 2 at Montego Bay.
(Wednesday January 14)
Guatemala 2 (Martieon Watson OG 24, Hugo Portillo 87), Trinidad & Tobago 0 at National Stadium, Kingston;
United States 8 (Romain Gall 16, 23, 32, Bradford Jamieson IV 18, 48, Thomas Thompson 26, Emerson Hyndman 30, Amando Moreno 84), Aruba 0 at National Stadium, Kingston;
Jamaica 0, Panama 2 (Edson Samms 56, Ismael Diaz 86) at National Stadium, Kingston.
(Sunday Jan 11)
Trinidad and Tobago 5 (Jabari Mitchell 3, 78 pen, Aikim Andrews 15, Kadeem Corbin 28 pen, Duane Muckette 58), Aruba 1 (Duncan Homoet 90) at Kingston;
Panama 1 (Carlos Small 78), United States 0 at Kingston;
Jamaica 0, Guatemala 1 (Steven Robles 27) at Kingston;
(Friday January 9)
Jamaica 2 (Donja Smith 67, Junior Flemmings 90+3), Trinidad and Tobago 2 (Aikim Andrews 6, Kadeem Corbin 15)
United States 1 (Cameron Carter-Vickers), Guatemala 1 (Jose Ruiz)
Panama 4 (Ismael Diaz 19, 50, Ervin Zorilla 30, Edson Samms 36), Aruba 0