Trinidad and Tobago National Senior Team head coach Dennis Lawrence cooed about the performance of goalscorer Jamille Boatswain and his teammates yesterday, after the Soca Warriors marked his first outing in charge with a 2-0 win over Barbados at the Ato Boldon Stadium in Couva.
But, Lawrence pointed out, his praise should not be interpreted as a suggestion that the core of last night’s team would remain intact when Trinidad and Tobago host Panama and Mexico later this month in crucial Russia 2018 World Cup qualifiers.
And the former Everton FC assistant coach followed the lead of his predecessors, Stephen Hart and Tom Saintfiet, by sending a ‘come and join us’ plea to England-born midfielder John Bostock, who is eligible to represent Trinidad and Tobago but has not yet chosen to do so.
“John, the door is open,” said Lawrence, at last night’s post-game press conference. “You are welcome to come and play for Trinidad and Tobago.”
Of course, there was plenty in Lawrence’s present dressing room to satisfy him after a comfortable win last night. And speedy 23-year-old Defence Force striker Boatswain, who scored twice in his first taste of international football, was prominent among the pluses at Couva.
“I’m delighted for him,” Lawrence told the media, after Boatswain registered a brace of opportunist first-half goals—within minutes of coming on as a substitute—to settle the match. “I decided that I wanted the three strikers to play 30 minutes each and knew that the second 30 minutes was going to be the most difficult.”
Adding that he is “a boy that wants to learn, [who] is willing,” Lawrence declared: “I’m very pleased for him. For him to come on and react the way he did […] shows that he is doing something positive.”
Lawrence explained his instructions to his players and the new philosophy of the national team, which he described as “possession with purpose.”
“I was quite pleased with a lot of the things and also displeased with some of the things,” said the former 2006 World Cup hero. “The boys tried to implement some of the things that we tried to worked on, in particular, trying to maintain possession of the ball.
“[But] In the second half, in the last 25 to 30 minutes, we lost a bit of direction with regards to keeping the ball with purpose and we just started to keep the ball for keeping it sake. But that will come with time.
“We have to have purpose with our possession, because once you start keeping the ball in that [negative] manner, you only invite pressure on yourselves.”
The 156th-ranked Barbados—a late replacement for Suriname after the South Americans pulled out of the friendly encounter scheduled for Paramaribo on the same date—are neither Panama nor Mexico. Mindful of that, Lawrence still sought to keep the focus on the positive and he congratulated his charges on maintaining their solidity at the back.
“I was very, very pleased that we showed good concentration to ensure that we keep a clean sheet because that’s something that we need to have going into the next fixtures.”
Prior to yesterday’s kick-off, the last time that the T&T National Senior Team kept a clean sheet was against the Dominican Republic on 5 October 2016—seven matches ago. It is likely to be a detail that will not escape the attention of assistant coach Sol Campbell, who was finally present and accounted for at Ato Boldon last night.
Five previously uncapped players were also used against Barbados last night as Lawrence gave debuts to Jameel Perry, Jared London, Jesus Perez, Jomoul Francois and Boatswain—although Boatswain’s outing will not count as a cap since he was replaced as a substitute.
But Lawrence admitted that several of the players who faced Barbados last night would give way to foreign-based professionals when the Warriors go on to face Panama and Mexico in the 24 and 28 March qualifiers.
“I think the most important thing is understanding that we still have the boys that are going to come from abroad,” he said. “If we were talking about just this local group going to play Panama, obviously we still got a way to go in terms of our technical ability, our fitness levels. But I think with the boys coming in, it will put us on par.”
Elaborating, he added: “The idea is for them to come in and improve on what we’ve got at the moment. Hopefully with the experience and the ability that these guys are going to bring, it’s going to enhance the group.”
Lawrence said he already has an idea of 99% of the foreign-based contingent that wants to face Panama. And, pending required approvals, he promised one or two surprise additions.
He admitted that Bostock is one foreign-based player who will not be lining up for the “Red, White and Black” at the end of the month, though. According to Lawrence, he has had numerous conversations with Bostock recently but the RC Lens midfielder is not in a position to commit himself internationally.
The former England National Under-17 captain leads Lens in appearances this season with 28 while his employers sit third on the table in France’s second tier at present—only three points off leader Stade de Reims.
Hart first called Bostock up for World Cup qualifiers against St Vincent and Grenadines, 12 months ago, only to discover—on the eve of the outing—that he had not yet received FIFA clearance and could not be involved.
Bostock was then invited to play Guatemala and USA in September but was a no-show while, two months later, he claimed his passport was stolen and did not turn up for World Cup fixtures against Honduras and Costa Rica.
But Lawrence is not prepared to give up on Bostock yet, although the coach will focus on the resources at his disposal.
“At this point in time,” he declared, “we’ve just got to work with the group that we have. […] I have to accept John’s decision and I have to think about the group that I’m going to work with.”