“We’ve lost too many games; we need to start changing the results.”
Trinidad and Tobago head coach Dennis Lawrence knows that tomorrow’s crucial 2018 World Cup qualifier against Honduras at the Ato Boldon Stadium in Couva is a make-or-break encounter for his team. But as the Soca Warriors prepare for the epic battle, he is not allowing himself or his men to think break.
Lawrence is only too well aware that the team has already suffered numerous setbacks and he believes that the power of positive thinking will work to put an end to the negatives.
“We intend to try and put that right on Friday,” he told the assembled media yesterday. “It’s a must-win. We need to start getting the results. We’ve had a couple issues and what has happened in the US has affected us.”
The ill winds of Hurricane Harvey, which left the US Gulf Coast under many inches of water, have indeed blown the National Senior Team no good. According to Lawrence, delays and cancellations of flights in and out of the US have robbed many members of the squad of critical training time as well as, in some cases, spots on the team altogether.
“Trevin Caesar was unable to make a flight because of the hurricane,” Lawrence said. “Some of the boys had delays and had to arrive at later dates and later times. It is a bit of a hindrance.”
Caesar’s last international appearance came during the brief tenure of short-lived ex-coach Tom Saintfiet in a 4-3 loss to Haiti in the Caribbean Cup in January. With six goals in 20 matches for United States third division team Sacramento Republic, Caesar was expected to provide cut and thrust in an attacking unit that has proven to be uninspired in front of goal in qualifying so far.
Caesar thus joins captain Kenwyne Jones, who will also be watching the clash from afar as Lawrence ruled him out because of injury.
“Kenwyne Jones has been injured since the Costa Rica incident,” Lawrence announced. “He is being rehabilitated at his football club Atlanta and has not been involved in competitive football so at this moment in time he is unavailable.”
Their absences leave Lawrence with just Willis Plaza and Jamille Boatswain to choose from on top. Neither is in a rich vein of form at present.
Boatswain is yet to start for new Costa Rican employers, Alajuelense, while he did not even make their match day squad last weekend. And the Times of India reported that Plaza was booed by his own supporters, earlier this month, after a couple of underwhelming performances for East Bengal.
The Warriors will not have the services of Holland-based winger Levi Garcia either, who was excluded from the final provisional squad. Lawrence explained that the young attacker was simply not in the right frame of mind to be selected at this time.
“Levi was originally selected in the provisional squad,” Lawrence told the media. “He then reached out to me with a few concerns—he was now coming off of an injury and is in the last year of his contract with his club and it was a bit of a concern to him with coming and being fully fit and being part of it.
“I felt like if he wasn’t mentally prepared to be here [and so] I had to make that adjustment.”
The good news for the coaching staff and the T&T fans is that ace attacker Joevin Jones is available and fully fit. Recently, in the lead-up to the 24 July friendly against Jamaica, which the visitors won 2-1, Jones was the centre of national attention after he allegedly left his Seattle Sounders club without permission.
Lawrence said he had not had the club’s permission to use the player in that game and he was unwilling to chance it. For tomorrow’s do-or-die encounter against the Hondurans, however, there is no issue about Jones’ availability.
Whoever the final who take the field tomorrow, the lanky head coach stressed, the really important thing is that all the players are fit and firing and that the T&T public comes out and drives them on with vocal support.
“The boys need the support,” Lawrence emphasised. “[We moved] to a smaller stadium to try and generate some sort of atmosphere. The thinking behind it is that, If we put a small crowd in a small stadium, it gives us a better atmosphere.”
“What we are looking for,” the optimistic former national defender continued, “is marginal gains, any gain that we can get to put Honduras under a bit of pressure.”
Lawrence also sought to explain what assistant coach Sol Campbell, a former Arsenal and England stand-out, brings to the team despite joining the Warriors just seven days prior to a match.
“[Sol] has been used very wisely in terms of what he has to offer,” he commented. “I think our defenders are going to learn very quickly off of him and, in general, Sol is here to give us that immediate impact that we are looking for.”
Following the coach’s pleas for support, TTFA Communications Director Shaun Fuentes revealed that the Ato Boldon Stadium’s seating capacity will be increased to just under 11,000 for tomorrow’s clash. The stadium is built to seat just under 10,000 patrons.
Tickets, priced at $350 (covered) and $200 (uncovered), are available at all NLCB Lotto locations and additional parking will be available at the nearby National Cricket Centre.
(Trinidad and Tobago squad)
Goalkeepers: Jan Michael Williams (Juticalpa FC—Honduras), Adrian Foncette (Police FC), Marvin Phillip (Point Fortin Civic Centre);
Defenders: Aubrey David (PS Khemi—Finland), Alvin Jones (W Connection), Mekeil Williams (Colorado Rapids—USA), Carlyle Mitchell (East Bengal—India), Radanfah Abu Bakr (Sūduva Marijampolė—Lithuania), Sheldon Bateau (FC Kairat—Kazakhstan), Daneil Cyrus (Juticalpa FC—Honduras), Triston Hodge (W Connection), Kevon Villaroel (North East Stars);
Midfielders: Curtis Gonzales (Defence Force), Leston Paul (CD Pasaquina—El Salvador), Khaleem Hyland (Al-Faisaly Harmah—Saudi Arabia), Kevan George (Jacksonville Armada—USA), Hughtun Hector (W Connection);
Attacking midfielders: Joevin Jones (Seattle Sounders—USA), Kevin Molino (Minnesota United—USA), Cordell Cato (San Jose Earthquakes—USA), Jomal Williams (Murciélagos FC—Mexico), Nathan Lewis (San Juan Jabloteh), Tyrone Charles (Club Sando);
Forwards: Jamille Boatswain (Alajuelense—Costa Rica), Willis Plaza (East Bengal—India).