Coach Stephen Hart’s nationality was, curiously, listed as Canadian on the team sheets for Trinidad and Tobago’s 2018 World Cup qualifier against Costa Rica last Friday at the Hasely Crawford Stadium in Port of Spain.
Hart has lived in Canada for the past three decades, after he left Trinidad as a young man for a marine geographer degree at St Mary’s University in Halifax. But, in a previous interview, he bristled at any suggestion that he was not a ‘Trini to the bone’.
“If a cat climbed in an oven and made kittens,” Hart asked, “would you call it bread?”
He might feel especially sensitive about his Canadian experience tomorrow at the Estadio Olimpico in San Pedro Sula, as the Soca Warriors face Honduras from 6.05pm in their second outing of the CONCACAF Hex.
Both teams lost their opening home outings last week—Honduras lost 1-0 to Panama while T&T fell 2-0 to Costa Rica—and will be desperate to get the first points of their Hex campaign.
Bizarrely, Hart is already felt to be playing for his job, despite just two losses from seven qualifiers so far—and the first defeat came in a dead rubber away to the United States.
But it might not help that he would be forced to revisit the trauma of his trip in San Pedro Sula, four years ago, when he led Canada, who were one point away from qualifying for the hex, to a humiliating 8-1 defeat.
Hart offered the Canada Football Association his resignation after that loss and it was accepted. Tomorrow, the Warriors must ensure that history does not repeat itself. Trinidad and Tobago, according to Hart, must be ready for war.
“[Honduras] are very dynamic [and they play with] lots of hard running [and] hard tackling,” Hart told the TTFA Media. “They just put you under pressure all the time. So we have to counter that by playing quicker, playing deeper and doing the same to them.
“It’s just a matter of the mindset and the attitude towards doing what is necessary to be done.”
Trinidad and Tobago gave Costa Rica few sights of their goal at the Hasely Crawford Stadium. But, at the other end, they managed just one shot on goal and ended without a point to show for their efforts.
In San Pedro Sula, the Warriors hope to be more proactive, despite playing away from him.
“We know very well that we need to improve in the attacking third [and] how we combine our movement off the ball needs to be a lot more dynamic,” said Hart. “We will need to close down Honduras effectively. Not just close them down but try to win the ball in crucial areas of the pitch and get on top of them because that is what they are going to try to do to us in the opening minutes…
“At times we have a sort of a laid-back attitude to things, especially on the defensive end. We are not dynamic enough and aggressive to go win the ball and disrupt their style of play.”
Honduras, mind you, are seeking their third straight World Cup finals berth. And Trinidad and Tobago’s last two trips there—in 2007 and 2009—ended in defeats with two goals scored and seven conceded.
It is 15 years since the Warriors prevailed in Honduras and even then there was a huge slice of luck involved.
Trinidad and Tobago, just days after the untimely death of national attacker Mickey Trotman in a vehicular accident, went down to 10 men in the 20th minute after Brent Rahim was ejected for two yellow cards. And, remarkably, Honduras hit the bar six times without scoring before Trotman’s best friend, Stern John, banged home a second half winner.
The Warriors could surely do with some good fortune tomorrow.
Hart’s memories of facing Honduras are not all bad. In his first tournament as Trinidad and Tobago coach, at the 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup, his troops started off with a 2-2 draw against El Salvador before crumbling to a 2-0 defeat to Haiti.
But, staring elimination in the face, the Warriors downed a weakened Honduras team 2-0 in the final group outing to qualify for the quarterfinal stage. And Hart never looked back.
Tomorrow, Trinidad and Tobago must again impose themselves on Honduras—but, this time, on hostile territory against the Central American team at full strength and desperate for a result as well.
It should be a gripping affair.