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No change for Warrior squad; Hart reveals highs and lows of G/Cup campaign

“Soca Warriors” coach Stephen Hart has opted not to replace injured goalkeeper Jan-Michael Williams as the Trinidad and Tobago National Senior Team heads into the knockout phase of the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup in the United States.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago goalkeeper Jan-Michael Williams is helped on to the stretcher by physio Saron Joseph during their 2-0 Gold Cup win over Cuba. (Courtesy CONCACAF)
Photo: Trinidad and Tobago goalkeeper Jan-Michael Williams is helped on to the stretcher by physio Saron Joseph during their 2-0 Gold Cup win over Cuba.
(Courtesy CONCACAF)

The Warriors face Panama from 4.30 pm on Sunday July 19 and all teams have the option to change three players with alternatives from their 35-man shortlist. The United States, Jamaica, Haiti and Costa Rica took advantage of the opportunity.

But Hart explained that, with the Pro League in its off season and his stand-by players on vacation, it made little sense to alter his squad.

“It is hard to introduce anyone else,” Hart told Wired868. “It is not like we have a league home and people are playing. That is one of the reasons I wanted people training with me, even if they were not selected.

“I have two goalkeepers here I trust, so I will take a chance.”

Hart’s decision appears to rule out a call-up for North East Stars goalkeeper Cleon John, whose last competitive game was two months ago. At present, Point Fortin Civic custodian Marvin Phillip is first choice with Police FC’s Adrian Foncette as deputy.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago goalkeeper Marvin Phillip. (Courtesy CONCACAF)
Photo: Trinidad and Tobago goalkeeper Marvin Phillip.
(Courtesy CONCACAF)

Hart denied that his squad had any special motivation against Panama, although the Central American nation reneged on a pre-arranged international friendly against the Warriors last month to play two games against Ecuador.

It forced the Warriors into a hastily arranged friendly away to Curaçao, which they lost 1-0.

However, the Trinidad and Tobago claimed there were no hard feelings and suggested that Panama is one of the hardest opponents in the knock out stage, although “Los Canaleros” drew all three group stage matches against the United States, Haiti and Honduras respectively.

“The past is the past,” said Hart. “Panama looked the best out of the third placed teams we could have faced. Costa Rica is certainly struggling and not at their best moment…

“To end up (drawn against) last Gold Cup’s finalist is going to be a challenge.”

Even as football fans swoon over Trinidad and Tobago’s performances at the Gold Cup, the pragmatic Hart admitted his own feelings were mixed.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago head coach Stephen Hart gives instructions during a 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup fixture against El Salvador. (Copyright AFP 2014/Rich Schultz)
Photo: Trinidad and Tobago head coach Stephen Hart gives instructions during a 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup fixture against El Salvador.
(Copyright AFP 2014/Rich Schultz)

In emotional terms, the Warriors are in a fantastic place.

“Their response has been tremendous,” said Hart, who also took Trinidad and Tobago to the 2013 Gold Cup quarterfinals. “It is as if something inside them has been awakened and they now recognise their potential.”

But, after spending the last six weeks trying to implement a 4-3-3 formation, Hart said that, for periods against Guatemala and Cuba and for the entire Mexico match, he returned to the 4-2-3-1 system, which was tailor-made for the absent Kevin Molino.

“We were losing shape and balance too easily,” said Hart, “so we reverted back to what players felt more comfortable with.”

Hart admitted to being frustrated at a lack of international friendlies, which meant less time to prepare his players. And, despite being unbeaten at the Gold Cup, he is dissatisfied with their tactical play thus far.

“Tactically, we have a long way to go,” he told Wired868. “We need to possess the ball better to attack the weak side of opponents. We also need to press more effectively when the ball is in wide areas, denying easy crossing opportunities.”

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago midfielder Keron Cummings (left) challenges Mexico midfielder Hector Herrera during CONCACAF Gold Cup action. (Courtesy CONCACAF)
Photo: Trinidad and Tobago midfielder Keron Cummings (left) challenges Mexico midfielder Hector Herrera during CONCACAF Gold Cup action.
(Courtesy CONCACAF)

As football fans cheered during Trinidad and Tobago’s 4-4 draw with Mexico, which was described as the greatest Gold Cup game ever, Hart was going berserk on the touchline.

At halftime, he waded into North East Stars midfielder Keron “Ball Pest” Cummings who had received specific instructions to stay tight on Mexico midfielder Jonathan Dos Santos in defence and get close to captain Kenwyne Jones on offence.

But Cummings did neither sufficiently well in the first half.

“I said if you get closer to Kenwyne something will fall for you,” said Hart.

Cummings did just that and scored twice in the second half; and both goals were assisted by Jones. But it was an emotional roller coaster and, once the adrenalin subsides, Hart will have words with his squad.

“I was a little upset (because) we did so much video analysis of Mexico,” said Hart. “We warned them that Mexico would get the ball wide and then look to attack the back post and pick out players early with crosses.

Photo: Mexico wing back Paul Aguilar celebrates scoring the opening goal against Trinidad and Tobago in their CONCACAF Gold Cup meeting. (Courtesy CONCACAF)
Photo: Mexico wing back Paul Aguilar celebrates scoring the opening goal against Trinidad and Tobago in their CONCACAF Gold Cup meeting.
(Courtesy CONCACAF)

“And then to literally give them three of their four goals… I was a little upset because it shows our concentration (is still lacking) in playing at this level…

“But when you listen to players like Cummings talking (to his teammates) about how fast they take away their space and close them down (at the Gold Cup). And Mekeil (Williams) saying how he felt like he was under pressure all the time.

“You know they will learn from it.”

Hart’s six changes against Mexico, he explained, was an attempt to ensure that none of his booked players miss the quarterfinal and also to give a breather to some squad members.

Now, he has to calm his players down and help them to recover for their hardest challenge yet.

This is Hart’s fifth Gold Cup as a head coach and he has been to the knockout stage four times while he took Canada to the semifinals once in 2007. He knows what he is doing.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago coach Stephen Hart takes questions during the 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup. (Courtesy CONCACAF)
Photo: Trinidad and Tobago coach Stephen Hart takes questions during the 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup.
(Courtesy CONCACAF)

“The key to the tournament format is understanding that each stage is different,” he told Wired868. “To get out of the group, you have to be as detailed as possible. Then, at the business end, your mentality changes because here you (either) win or go home.

“My big concern is (the Mexico match) was an emotionally and physically draining game, so recovery is now a big issue. You see it all the time in the (UEFA) Champions League when a team plays a draining game and then struggles in their next match, which is also a must win…

“We worked very hard on our fitness (in the pre-tournament camp). It is not where it should be but hopefully it will get us through.”

Hart’s two-year contract with the Warriors expires at the end of this tournament. He recently received a new proposal from the Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) but said now is not the time for such discussions.

“It will only be a distraction at this point,” said Hart. “The TTFA has put forward a contract but now is not the time to deal with that.”

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago defender Sheldon Bateau (centre) celebrates the opening goal against Guatemala with teammates Radanfah Abu Bakr (left) and Khaleem Hyland. (Copyright Jonathan Daniel/AFP 2015)
Photo: Trinidad and Tobago defender Sheldon Bateau (centre) celebrates the opening goal against Guatemala with teammates Radanfah Abu Bakr (left) and Khaleem Hyland.
(Copyright Jonathan Daniel/AFP 2015)

The Warriors have had their issues this year, which affected the serenity of the camp.

In a previous interview, Hart told Wired868 that it sometimes felt as if he was coaching in the dark ages, as he has no data analyst on staff or access to statistical data or even heart monitors or GPS systems for his team.

“Right now, I do all the analysing of my team and my opposition for myself and I don’t have that kind of time,” said Hart, last month. “I have to watch the opposition and break down how their team plays and put it on video as a head coach. I can bet you a million dollars that there is no one else doing that kind of work as a head coach…

“Our opponents have played five more games than us this year… We have a public that demands results but everyone else prepares (while we are) finding out the night before that you are travelling to Jordan or Curaçao.

“And big men with families have to find someone to pick up their children and so on… Who operates like this? There is no (other) team in the Gold Cup that plans that way.”

Yet, the Warriors, who—for the first time—do not have win bonuses at a Gold Cup tournament, are improvising and defying the odds.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago midfielder Andre Boucaud volleys home the second goal in their 2-0 win over Cuba in the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup. (Copyright Christian Peterson/AFP 2015)
Photo: Trinidad and Tobago midfielder Andre Boucaud volleys home the second goal in their 2-0 win over Cuba in the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup.
(Copyright Christian Peterson/AFP 2015)

Hart spent long periods working with his squad on set piece delivery in the pre-tournament camp. And there must have been an immense feeling of pride when midfielder Joevin Jones charged through falling water bottles and beer cans to execute a pinpoint corner kick for Yohance Marshall’s last gasp headed equaliser against Mexico.

The Warriors are giving it everything they have, said Hart, so do not give up on them.

“We really appreciate the support,” said Hart, whose mother, Monica Hart, passed away on June 24. “For me personally, it has been a tough time with a death in the family and so on and I appreciate all the support I got from people inside and outside the football fraternity.

“I just want to ask our fans to continue to support the players. They have been through a lot and sacrificed so much to make their country proud.”

If Trinidad and Tobago defeats Panama, it will only be the second time that the Warriors have advanced to the Gold Cup semifinal round. Bertille St Clair took Trinidad and Tobago there in 2000.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago captain Kenwyne Jones (left) congratulates scorer Sheldon Bateau (right) after his Gold Cup goal against Cuba. Looking on is Andre Boucaud who scored the Soca Warriors' second goal in a 2-0 win in Phoenix. (Courtesy CONCACAF)
Photo: Trinidad and Tobago captain Kenwyne Jones (left) congratulates scorer Sheldon Bateau (right) after his Gold Cup goal against Cuba.
Looking on is Andre Boucaud who scored the Soca Warriors’ second goal in a 2-0 win in Phoenix.
(Courtesy CONCACAF)

Hart hopes to equal St Clair’s feat on Sunday by eliminating a Panama squad which, just over a month ago, felt that Trinidad and Tobago was less than adequate match practice for the Gold Cup.

Anything is possible for the “Red, White and Black” outfit these days.

About Lasana Liburd

Lasana Liburd
Lasana Liburd is the CEO and Editor at Wired868.com and a journalist with over 20 years experience at several Trinidad and Tobago and international publications including Play the Game, World Soccer, UK Guardian and the Trinidad Express.

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34 comments

  1. I like the fact that Coach Hart is cognizant that Panama were finalist in the last Gold Cup

  2. Roles and functions is what makes tactical formations work, rather than the structure itself. We could play the Dutch 4-3-3 which is essentially 4-2-3-1 or 4-2-1-3, it just depends on what the coach requests of his charges.

  3. Keep in mind that it was H. Hector and Molino’s absence that forced a change in style of play.

  4. And thats the problem. Funding !! It is really sad that most likely it would be a struggle to get the support that is required.

  5. Yeah. Different teams might have different demands I guess. Or maybe his Chicago coach would make similar points.
    Generally speaking, Hart is very pleased with the mentality and response from his squad. But he is still trying to get them to fully grasp what he wants tactically.
    So I think we are going to need every available FIFA date to get team ready for World Cup qualifiers. And we will need camps and games outside the FIFA dates for the local players because the Pro League won’t start before the World Cup games.
    So potentially Jan-Michael Williams, Marvin Phillip, Adrian Foncette, Daneil Cyrus, Mekeil Williams, Dwane James, Keron Cummings, Ataulla Guerra, Willis Plaza, Kadeem Corbin and other players he might want to bring in like Leston Paul, Shannon Gomez, Neveal Hackshaw, Sean De Silva, Kaydion Gabriel… Maybe Devorn Jorsling if he makes himself available…
    They will all badly need match practice and fitness if we are to do well.

  6. Curtis he releases some pressure when he picks up the ball

  7. I like his direct style, that is something we had been missing.

  8. Yet Lasana Liburd he plays outside Back for his club lol

  9. Brian Manswell I couldn’t use all of my interview with Stephen Hart because of the length that story would be. But we did talk about Joevin too. He credited him for his effort and athleticism. But he did say he is work in progress in terms of his positioning, particularly in defence.
    But he is happy that Joevin is trying and improving.

  10. Yeah lasana James is meh brethren!!!

  11. So far Joevin Jones has been fantastic on the left wud’ve liked to see Kevin Molino on the right if only this injury didn’t happen. IMHO If that were the case this team even more trouble with those two on either side of the attack…………….

  12. Bird boy you know the middle of the park was my heartbeat …hahahahaha

  13. James Saunders, Curtis Charles was a fellow midfielder back in our youth days eh. Don’t feel the man doesn’t know what he is speaking about when he talks about the middle of the park! 🙂

  14. James Saunders a 4-2-3-1 is actually 5 midfielders. The 2 wingers are not forwards like in a 4-3-3. The wingers in a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-5-1 are midfielders ,don’t get confused. High pressing is another topic , I was concerned with us playing a 4-4-2 or 4-3-3 like in the other games because it would have left us with less midfielders against a team that would have a lot more ball possession than us and know mexico they would play with 3 central midfielders at all times whether it be in the form of 4-3-3, 5-3-2 or 4-2-3-1. Lasana Liburd

  15. Hart knows his stuff. Trust him.

  16. That’s not necessary any more in modern football Curtis, the team has to defend together, as high up the pitch as possible with sufficient pressure and cover as soon as the ball is lost, I think Mexico gave a expert demonstration of that in the early portions of the game against us clearly they did there homework.

  17. At the risk of being disgustingly repititious……#5thworldliving

  18. Saw that Coach Stephen Hart is looking for a data/video analyst. Let him know I’m willing to do the job for free!

    • I have first dibs on that position when that post went up. I have no problem working with a battery of persons. I don’t have to see the players nor Coach Hart in person to do it.

  19. WHAAATTTT!!! WHAAATTT!!! YEAAAAHHHHH!!!,lol Ijust had to do it,lil john was there,lol

  20. I was saying before the game that we should have played with 5 midfielders . we need more men in midfield so that we can have better possession and still have our wingers tracking back to cover the attacking fullbacks.

  21. I remember that as well Stephen, and I suspect had the Warriors been expected to have done this well the same thing would have happened at the Gold Cup.

    Watch and see what happens at their next competition.

  22. I thought you were comparing Kevan George to Sergio Busquets the other day James Saunders? You don’t get a better ball handler than that. Lol

  23. I am very glad that he is honest. I also concur we still lose the ball easily and don’talways track opposing players properly (sleeping). I remember the dark ages comment sad that we are in that position still. I mean I remember the current TTFF president bumping players of the flight to Argentina for friends and family, when the players should be the priority. But we supporting still. Sunday here we come red white and black…

  24. It was easy to tell that we reverted to a 4-2-3-1 formation which in itself is a by product of the 4-3-3 to play the raw 4-3-3 system more effectively we have to have better handlers of the ball in midfield and be able to move it quicker but spot on assessment from Hart

  25. It wasn’t hard to see.
    Sometimes I get the impression Kenwyn is sleep-running, he looks uninterested! LOL

  26. So what happens if another goalkeeper gets injured?

  27. It is always good when can someone (in this case the coach) can identify exactly where improvement is needed.

  28. Coaching in the Dark Ages……

  29. “Tactically, we have a long way to go,” he told Wired868. “We need to possess the ball better to attack the weak side of opponents. We also need to press more effectively when the ball is in wide areas, denying easy crossing opportunities.”

    I completely agree, while I was pleased with the Mexico result it hasn’t been lost on me that we could actually have won.

    We need to improve aggression, too often we get caught watching the ball approach as it is passed to us while an opposing player chases it instead of going towards it. We also tend to relax when we’re in the lead or even equal and only coming alive when we find ourselves behind.

  30. So based on what I read, if the team had followed instructions we should’ve been winning 4/0 then? Or maybe 4/1 lol!

  31. Good to see that the coach is firmly sensible in his team and their performances to date. I would have been worried if he was getting carried away and not seeing the realities. Shameful that we really operating in the stone ages for match preparation though. What is the TTFA doing to address these issues?

  32. Sherron Charles

    Someone please let Coach Hart know that I’m willing to take that data analyst job for free! Dead serious.