Trinidad and Tobago captain Kenwyne Jones believes the “Soca Warriors” are capable of a surprise away win to one of CONCACAF’s most formidable teams, Panama, when the two nations clash in an international friendly tonight from 9.30 pm (TT time) at the Estadio Romel Fernandez in Panama City.
The game will be broadcast live on Flow channel 99.
The Warriors have lost their last three successive matches against Panama including a penalty shootout defeat in the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup quarterfinals.
Jones, who celebrated his 31st birthday with his teammates on Monday, told the TTFA Media that he thinks the “Red, Black and White” can come away from Central America with a result.
“I was part of the team that beat them here in 2005 but history will show that the results didn’t look too good for us since then,” said Jones. “Things are a bit different now, the team is performing at a higher level and we will be looking to reverse the results.”
In truth, Panama’s supposed superiority over the Warriors might have been overstated a tad.
Eleven years ago, then Trinidad and Tobago captain Angus Eve was withering in his assessment of the Panamanian threat when he analysed the 2006 World Cup qualifying route.
“Teams like Guatemala and Panama aren’t special,” said Eve, “and we can certainly get points from the others.”
The Warriors went on to beat Panama home and away in 2005, en route to the Germany 2006 World Cup, with record scorer Stern John doing the business in both legs.
There was another straightforward 2-1 triumph for the Warriors in an exhibition match in 2006, just before the Trinidad and Tobago Football Federation’s dreaded blacklist in which coach Wim Rijsbergen was banned from using World Cup players and some of the remaining stars refused to join a substandard team.
In the next nine years, the two nations met five times and Trinidad and Tobago won only once—off a Cornell Glen penalty kick in 2007.
The most scarring defeat came on 7 September 2010 when coach Russell Latapy, near the end of his reign and no doubt against his wishes, took a squad of only Pro League players to the Estadio Romel Fernandez and was spanked 3-0.
Tonight will be the Warriors’ first visit to Panama City since then and current coach Stephen Hart has a stronger hand to play. Fourteen of Trinidad and Tobago’s 18 outfield players ply their trades overseas.
Jones, an England Championship League player with Cardiff City, scored the last time these two teams met and should be motivated. Attacking midfielders Joevin Jones and Keron “Ball Pest” Cummings are in fine form while Hart is spoiled for choice in defence and between the uprights—although England lower league defender Gavin Hoyte will be making only his third senior international appearance.
“I think the present team has come a long way over the past two years as was evident at the CONCACAF Gold Cup and the last friendly with Mexico,” Jones told the TTFA Media.
The Warriors continue to operate with minimal support from corporate Trinidad and Tobago and their own FA. But the team is balanced, competitive and astutely led by the pragmatic Hart.
Trinidad and Tobago’s “Road to Russia” starts next month when the Warriors travel to Guatemala on November 13. Tonight will be the rehearsal and there is an air of quiet confidence and defiance within the camp.
“I don’t play a game to get a draw,” said Hart, before the Warriors left Trinidad. “For me, that is the most difficult thing out. You play to get a win but you have to manage the game and understand that you are playing away from home and there are difficulties involved in that.
“So your approach sometimes might be different. But I have never played a game to draw.”
Mexico-based central defender Yohance Marshall said tonight’s outing and next Tuesday’s clash against Nicaragua in Port of Spain can add more confidence to the Red, Black and White.
“There are a couple new faces coming into the squad and it’s good for us to get that unity and chemistry going again,” said Marshall. “We know the kind of opposition Panama is and they will present us with a good test. The mentality of our preparation and hopefully the results will build the confidence of the team heading into the two qualifiers in November.”
The Warriors will lack an experienced figure on the right flank tonight, due to the unavailability of foreign-based wingers Cordell Cato, Lester Peltier and Rundell Winchester as well as Central FC playmaker Ataulla Guerra.
Instead, Hart will have to choose between teenaged DIRECTV W Connection flanker Aikim Andrews or United States-based forward Trevin Caesar.
Or, he might tinker with his squad’s formation and use three holding midfielders with Cummings and Jones (J) playing either side of the captain.
Either way, the Warriors are expected to show the resilience and determination that has characterised their play ever since co-coaches Hutson “Barber” Charles and Jamaal Shabazz took them to the 2012 Caribbean Cup final in Antigua.
“We are on the brink of going either way,” said Jones, who urged potential sponsors to help fund their campaign. “Either doing very well or going into the opposite direction. Coming out of the Gold Cup, at least you can see the progress of the team after two years with the coach. And now we are looking very positive going into the qualifiers.
“There is a very positive feeling about our qualifying chances but it is really important that we get support to be able to help the team prepare properly.”
The Warriors will have another chance to show what they are capable of tonight. And, from 9.30 pm, Panama will know they are not facing the makeshift team that they hosted in 2010.
Three months ago, an abnormality in the Gold Cup fixtures meant that Trinidad and Tobago had to play Panama in a decisive quarterfinal match with barely 48 hours recovery time after a thrilling but draining 4-4 tie with Mexico. The Panama squad had five days rest.
Even so, the match went to penalties as the Central American team failed to deliver a knock out blow in regulation or extra time.
Now, we will see what damage a fresh Trinidad and Tobago team can do to Panama, albeit on foreign soil.
Goalkeepers: Jan-Michael Williams (Central FC), Marvin Phillip (Morvant Caledonia Utd);
Defenders: Gavin Hoyte (Barnet—England), Radanfah Abu Bakr (HB Koge—Denmark), Yohance Marshall (Murcielagos FC—Mexico), Sheldon Bateau (KC Krylia Sovetov—Russia), Mekeil Williams (Antigua GFC—Guatemala), Daneil Cyrus (Chicago Fire—USA), Aubrey David (Shakhter Karagandy—Kazakhstan);
Midfielders: Andre Boucaud (Dagenham & Redbridge—England), Khaleem Hyland (KV Westerlo—Belgium), Kevan George (Columbus Crew—USA), Neveal Hackshaw (North East Stars);
Attacking Midfielders: Joevin Jones (Chicago Fire—USA), Keron Cummings (North East Stars), Aikim Andrews (W Connection), Willis Plaza (Central FC);
Forwards: Trevin Caesar (Austin Aztex—USA), Jonathan Glenn (Breioablik—Iceland), Kenwyne Jones (Cardiff City—Wales).
Coach: Stephen Hart.