Trinidad and Tobago were well beaten but not disgraced in Guayaquil tonight as the Soca Warriors were undone by two late strikes in a 3-1 loss to South American hosts Ecuador.
Ecuador scored first through forward Juan Luis Anangonó in the 21st minute only for Carlyle Mitchell to equalise with a brilliant header in the 41st minute. Midfielder Fernando Gaibor put the home nation back in the driver’s seat with a successful penalty kick in the 73rd minute before substitute Jacob Murillo settled the friendly contest with a stoppage-time insurance item.
It was the third straight loss and fifth successive outing without a win for Trinidad and Tobago National Senior Team head coach Dennis Lawrence although he is likely to see the bright side of a loss away to a nation ranked 31st in the world by FIFA—47 places higher than the two-island republic.
Both teams were not at full strength as the exhibition game was played outside the FIFA international match window although Ecuador used four players from their last Russia 2018 World Cup qualifying match.
The Ecuadorians are sixth in CONMEBOL at present and two points shy of a FIFA Play-off berth. They next travel to Brazil on 31 August before hosting Peru on 5 September.
The Warriors host Honduras on 1 September and then head to Panama on 5 September—although Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) president David John-Williams suggested there might be two more friendlies before then.
John-Williams has already confirmed that their upcoming World Cup qualifier against Honduras will be played at the smaller Ato Boldon Stadium in Couva and pointed to diminishing enthusiasm from local fans as the main reason for ditching the Hasely Crawford Stadium in Port-of-Spain.
The local football body might find further justification for the venue change in the local television stations’ apparent lack of interest in broadcasting tonight’s match even at an alleged cut-price deal that would have seen them only concede airtime—rather than cash—to the TTFA.
In Trincity Mall, for instance, the Bootleggers Sports Bar management refused to allow even one screen to show the Trinidad and Tobago contest, all five of their television sets instead beaming a pre-season friendly between Manchester United and Barcelona.
DirecTV did offer the game on its own channel 617 after it turned out that—despite an earlier Wired868 report—Flow Sports had not committed to broadcast the friendly.
The Warriors had their own problems as they fell behind after just 21 minutes, Mitchell failing to decisively deal with a cross and Anangonó pouncing on his loose touch to open the scoring.
Unsurprisingly, Trinidad and Tobago spent long periods chasing the ball but midfielders Jomal Williams and Nathan Lewis did offer an attacking threat in the first half and the former player almost conjured up an equaliser with an outrageous curling effort in the 27th minute after eluding one defender.
Mitchell, who was also booked in the first half, then atoned for his earlier error with a splendid flicked header off a Hughtun Hector free-kick that zipped into the corner for the equaliser.
The India-bound defender was replaced at half-time—and it is worth remembering that tonight’s affair in Guayaquil was his first high-level game since a muscular injury five months ago.
The young men in red, white and black gear might have conjured up an unlikely go-ahead item in the 66th minute, when striker Keron Clarke reacted smartly to latch on to a clever Hector pass only to be denied by the legs of Ecuador custodian Esteban Dreer.
A full-time employee at WASA and lower-league player with FC Santa Rosa, Clarke has already caught the attention of the football public after his assertion that, as a Seventh Day Adventist, he would rule himself out of the Honduras qualifier which it is carded to be played on the Sabbath.
Clarke struggled at times tonight—as did most of the squad with the possible exceptions of Hector, utility player Curtis Gonzales and defender Triston Hodge—but there were some glimpses of the sharpness of body and mind that earned him a starting place ahead of India-based striker Willis Plaza.
At 1-1, though, the scoreline did flatter Trinidad and Tobago as Ecuador created at least two clear scoring opportunities before they were offered a late penalty kick. Right-back Alvin Jones complained bitterly that he had got the ball but he took a piece of opposing attacker Ayrton Preciado as well.
And Phillip, who was not blameless in the sequence that led to the spot kick, was well beaten by Gaibor.
Lawrence made four late changes to give his bench a taste of the atmosphere but Ecuador benefitted as Murillo blasted home from inside the area after a dizzying exchange of passes.
The friendly affair was followed by the 2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup final, which pitted T&T’s Caribbean rivals Jamaica against tournament hosts the United States. Jamaica eventually succumbed 2-1 after a 88th minute winner by US midfielder Jordan Morris.
Trinidad and Tobago did not even qualify for the competition. But then it is the Warriors and not Jamaica who are four games away from a possible World Cup place—even though the ‘bandwagonists’ might have already averted their attention.
Trinidad and Tobago (4-1-4-1): 1.Marvin Phillip (GK) (captain); 15.Alvin Jones, 5.Carlyle Mitchell (8.Nathaniel Garcia 46), 3.Triston Hodge, 2.Kevon Villaroel; 6.Curtis Gonzales; 7.Nathan Lewis (20.Tyrone Charles 84), 23.Leston Paul (17.Jared London 83), 13.Hughtun Hector (14.Hashim Arcia 83), 10.Jomal Williams (11.Sean De Silva 64); 9.Keron Clarke (19.Willis Plaza 71).
Unused substitutes: 22.Andre Marchan (GK), 18.Maurice Ford, 12.Neil Benjamin Jr.
Coach: Dennis Lawrence
Ecuador (4-1-3-2): 12.Esteban Dreer (GK), (22.Hamilton Piedra [GK] 81); 6.Pedro Velasco, 14.Darío Aimar, 5.Fernando León, 4.Christian Cruz; 15.Pedro Quiñónez (captain) (16.Francisco Cevallos 63); 8.Fernando Gaibor (20.Jordan Sierra 80), 10.Gabriel Cortéz (11.Matías Oyola 46), 7.Ayrton Preciado (9.Jacob Murillo 80); 19.Erick Castillo, 13.Juan Luis Anangonó.
Unused substitutes: 1.Máximo Banguera (GK), 2.Luis Cangá, 3.Luis Segovia, 8.Luis Ayala, 17.Romario Caicedo.
Coach: Gustavo Quinteros