A gutsy Kennya “Yaya” Cordner item and a stunning strike from playmaker Tasha St Louis propelled Trinidad and Tobago to a hard-fought 2-1 triumph last night over Guatemala in their opening CONCACAF 2016 Olympic Group B contest in Houston, Texas.
The “Women Soca Warriors” started brightly and totally overran Guatemala in the opening 15 minutes but found themselves trailing to a highly contentious penalty kick in the 17th minute.
But, in the end, captain Maylee Attin-Johnson and her troops were able to grind out a result, which gives the Women Warriors an excellent chance of advancing to the semifinal round.
Trinidad and Tobago face Canada next from 5 pm on Sunday before they meet Guyana at 7 pm on Tuesday in their final group outing.
Canada, who are the second highest ranked team in CONCACAF after the United States, whipped Guyana 5-0 last night.
Attin-Johnson was satisfied with the three point haul, although not especially pleased with their performance.
“We made it extremely hard on ourselves by not putting away our chances,” Attin-Johnson told Wired868. “Most importantly, we didn’t execute the game plan as we wanted to. We allowed them to have too much time on the ball and didn’t defend in groups, so it put a lot of pressure on us from early.
“Good teams play poorly and still find ways to win and we did just that.”
For new Trinidad and Tobago head coach Richard Hood, it was a nerve wracking but ultimately successful CONCACAF debut.
Hood’s last international match was memorable for all the wrong reasons as Trinidad and Tobago lost 1-0 to the Dominican Republic in Jamaica. It was the first and only time that the two island republic was eliminated from a senior women’s tournament in the Caribbean qualifying stage.
In Houston, there was atonement for the promising coach, who also steers Pro League club Police FC.
“My immediate reaction is a certain amount of relief because the game didn’t go the way we planned,” said Hood. “We didn’t intend to be chasing the game up to the 74th minute after (conceding) the most ridiculous penalty decision and after missing so many easy chances.
“It brought back memories of losing to the Dominican Republic 1-0 when I last coached although we didn’t concede a single shot on goal and they scored from a back pass that beat our goalkeeper…
“It was very similar and it was a great relief to come back and win the game with Yaya finally getting the ball in the back of the net and Tasha scoring a tremendous goal.”
In the opening 15 minutes, though, it was not so much a question of if Trinidad and Tobago would win as it was by what margin.
In one two minute spell, Guatemala goalkeeper Yoselin Franco saved two shots from Cordner and one from striker Mariah Shade—all from close quarters—while the former attacker could not keep her header down off a raking Ahkeela Mollon cross at the far post.
“We were creating and we were creating and we were creating,” said Hood, “but we just were not finishing.”
Then, in the 17th minute, midfielder-cum-central defender Karyn Forbes tackled Guatemala winger Jennifer Munoz just at the edge of the 18 yard box. Not only did Forbes get all of the ball and none of her opponent but the impact occurred just outside the penalty box.
Forbes picked up the ball and jogged away to prepare for a goal kick. Remarkably, United States referee Margaret Domka pointed to the penalty spot instead.
“I was right there (and) the referee was right there,” said Attin-Johnson. “I was waiting to see whether she (would) point for a goal kick or a corner kick and she pointed to the penalty spot.
“The ball was out and Karyn Forbes was off the field when she picked up the ball. It was a very bizarre call.”
Ana Lucia Martinez finished smartly, as she sent Forbes’ sister, Kimika Forbes, the wrong way to put the Central American team ahead.
It was the first and last shot on goal that Guatemala had for the entire match. But the Women Warriors were temporarily knocked off their stride and, apart from a wayward Janine Francois effort from another Mollon cross, they did not look as menacing for the rest of the first half.
Attin-Johnson shared some harsh words with her teammates at the break.
“I told the girls if we can’t beat Guatemala,” said Attin-Johnson, “we don’t really deserve a chance to qualify for an Olympics.”
The Women Warriors coach did not hold back either.
“We didn’t stick to the game plan,” Hood told Wired868. “We planned to press the ball aggressively to win possession and then counter as quickly as we could. Also, we tried to play the ball through the midfield lines and hold up the ball but our attackers were trying to turn and losing the ball.
“I had a very stern half time talk and in the second half we were much better.”
Hood might lack international experience but not nerve. Despite being a goal down, his first act after the interval was to withdraw Mollon, who has created more scoring opportunities than anyone else over the last two years.
Tactically, the Trinidad and Tobago coach wanted his wingers to cut inside whenever possible and get closer to their striker while creating space for their fullbacks to exploit.
Mollon preferred to hog the touchline.
And, 10 minutes into the second half, Hood decided to chase the result without the former Europe-based professional.
“I want my wide players to come inside and create space to free up my full backs and become strikers themselves,” said Hood. “But she wanted to play only on the flanks and she wasn’t doing the job I wanted…
“As much as she is one of my better players, we have a team plan and she has to execute the team plan or she wouldn’t play.”
It was a bold gamble from Hood but one that he did not live to regret.
There were just 16 minutes left in the contest when Trinidad and Tobago finally drew level as Cordner, who never needs to be asked twice to cut inside off the opposite flank, got her head on to a deep right side cross to flick the ball over the Guatemala goalkeeper. Yaya then threw herself at the ball for a second time to force it over the line for a scrappy but vital equaliser.
Three minutes later, the Women Warriors went ahead, as St Louis collected a cross from debutante Kayla Taylor—Mollon’s replacement—and danced around an opponent before unleashing a screaming strike that whizzed into the top near corner.
The rout might have still materialised as Taylor and substitute Jo Marie Lewis both missed presentable late opportunities. And Cordner spurned another glorious chance, as she leaned back and skied a left footed volley after an Attin-Johnson effort deflected into her path.
“Finishing has been a nightmare for us and it haunted us today again,” said Attin-Johnson. “(But) we never hung our heads or thought for a second we were ever out of the game. It was a gutsy win tonight…
“We are glad to start the tournament off on a good note and we will work on our recovery for the next couple of days and be ready to go again against Canada.”
By the final whistle, Trinidad and Tobago had outshot Guatemala with 15 shots to four and six attempts on target to none from open play by the Central Americans.
Hood hopes for more composure in the final third against Canada, who would be an altogether more demanding opponent.
Trinidad and Tobago lost 4-0 to Canada last December in an exhibition match in Brazil. Hood was not on the bench yet. In fact, he is so new to his post that he has had only two sessions with his centre forward, Shade.
Hood is hoping for more clinical precision in opposition territory on Sunday in his toughest job yet as an international coach.
“We have issues in scoring goals in that we lack composure,” said Hood, who did not get a single international practice match before the tournament. “It is something that we have to fix. I don’t know if we can fix it in time to beat Canada but we have to try.”
A win against Guyana next week will assure Trinidad and Tobago of a place in the semifinal round, regardless of Sunday’s result against Canada. But an upset this weekend will almost certainly mean that the Women Warriors would avoid the United States in the next round.
For now, though, the Women Warriors are happy to sleep on three points.
“I am grateful to get off the blocks with a three points,” said Hood. “We attained our objective which was another three points. Now we have to build on that.”
Trinidad and Tobago (4-2-3-1): 1.Kimika Forbes (GK); 6.Khadidra Debesette, 14.Karyn Forbes, 5.Arin King, 2.Jenelle Cunningham (16.Jo Marie Lewis 75); 9.Maylee Attin-Johnson (captain), 11.Janine Francois (15.Liana Hinds 65); 12.Ahkeela Mollon (7.Kayla Taylor 56), 10.Tasha St Louis, 19.Kennya Cordner; 3.Mariah Shade.
Unused substitutes: 18.Shalette Alexander (GK), 20.Saundra Baron (GK), 4.Danielle Blair, 8.Victoria Swift, 13.Naomi Guerra, 17.Anastasia Prescott, Chevonne John.
Coach: Richard Hood
CONCACAF 2016 Women’s Olympic qualifying series
Puerto Rico 0, Mexico 6 (Maribel Dominguez 18, 51, 89 pen, Alina Garcia Mendez 22, Nayeli Rangel 54, Katlyn Johnson 90), Group A, Toyota Stadium, Frisco;
United States 5 (Alex Morgan 1, 62, Carli Lloyd 9 pen, Crystal Dunn 15, Christen Press 83), Costa Rica 0 in Group A at Toyota Stadium, Frisco;
Guatemala 1 (Ana Martinez 18 pen), Trinidad and Tobago 2 (Kennya Cordner 74, Tasha St Louis 78) in Group B at BBVA Compass Stadium, Houston;
Canada 5 (Deanne Rose 25, 40, Ashley Lawrence 29, 46, 48), Guyana 0 in Group B at BBVA Compass Stadium, Houston;
(All kick offs given in TT time)
Costa Rica v Puerto Rico, 2.30 pm, Group A, Toyota Stadium, Frisco;
Mexico v United States, 5 pm, Group A, Toyota Stadium, Frisco;
Guyana v Guatemala, 2.30 pm, Group B, BBVA Compass Stadium, Houston;
Trinidad and Tobago v Canada, 5 pm, Group B, BBVA Compass Stadium, Houston;
Mexico v Costa Rica, 7 pm, Group A, Toyota Stadium, Frisco;
United States v Puerto Rico, 9.30 pm, Group A, Toyota Stadium, Frisco;
Trinidad and Tobago v Guyana, 7 pm, Group B, BBVA Compass Stadium, Houston;
Canada v Guatemala, 9.30 pm, Group B, BBVA Compass Stadium, Houston.