Trinidad and Tobago still have a mathematical chance of getting to the Russia 2018 World Cup through the FIFA Play-off route but it seems naive to the point of unrealistic to expect it now.
At home, the Soca Warriors just were not good enough and, in a bottom-of-the-table CONCACAF Hex clash, contrived to finish 2-1 losers to Honduras at the Ato Boldon Stadium in Couva.
The Warriors must win all three remaining matches now and those include a trip to Mexico City and the dreaded Azteca Stadium. But, judging from tonight, you would not feel confident about T&T’s chances even if they played all their remaining matches right in Trinidad.
It was a shambolic end to a World Cup qualifying campaign that started so brightly last October with a 2-1 win away to Guatemala. Less than half of the starting team from that qualifier played tonight.
Captain and centre-forward Kenwyne Jones missed out through injury, winger Lester Peltier has I retired, playmaker Keron Cummings suffered an astonishing loss of form after being shot and defenders Radanfah Abu Bakr and Mekeil Williams and midfielder Andre Boucaud have been overlooked by current coach Dennis Lawrence.
It would be a brave man to say that Lawrence has improved on the squad he inherited, based on the performances tonight—individually or collectively. But the issues are far more wide-ranging than the lack of cohesion and technical flaws evident tonight.
There were just over 3,000 fans at the Ato Boldon venue tonight at kick-off and still barely 5,000 by the time Mexican referee Fernando Guerro blew his whistle for the last time—in stark contrast to the 22,000 supporters who turned out for the last Trinbago Knight Riders CPL T20 affair at the Queen’s Park Oval in Port of Spain.
Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) president David John-Williams masterminded the venue change from the Hasely Crawford Stadium in Port-of-Spain to Couva and was publicly supported by Lawrence.
The idea, according to both men, was to create a better atmosphere by packing in a smaller ground while also benefitting from better facilities at the newer venue. There were even four extra temporary stands constructed to house the expected additional supporters in a stadium built for 10,000 patrons.
Instead, farcically, barely half the supporters who backed the team in Port-of-Spain turned up tonight while one of the light towers went out before kick-off and never came back on.
The Couva venue, as stated repeatedly in Wired868, is the most difficult venue to reach for travelling fans and not much better in terms of traffic and parking for those who drive themselves.
Throw in the fact that the game was on a week night, the stadium has no nearby ‘night life’, the TTFA did not think of offering a discount for children on the last day of the schools’ vacation and the Warriors have not won a match in almost six months and you’d conclude that there were just too many reasonable excuses for all but the most die-hard supporters to stay away.
As the Trinidad and Tobago starting team stood at attention for the national anthems, the incompetence of their administrators was unmistakeable in the form of empty seats.
Still, the lack of visible support hardly justified what followed as the Warriors put in one of the worst 45-minute spells of the qualifying series.
“I don’t understand exactly what went on with the boys,” said Lawrence, at the post-match media conference. “I don’t know if the occasion got to them but it was not a first half that we expected.”
Within the first 30 minutes, the game already looked beyond the Warriors. Honduran playmaker Alexander Lopez scored after seven minutes as the home defence failed to clear a straightforward diagonal left-side cross—with the usually reliable goalkeeper Jan-Michael Williams and defender Sheldon Bateau both culpable.
It got worse in the 16th minute as a Romell Quito squared left-side cross beat the entire defence and Alberth Ellis turned it in at the far post with a side-footed volley.
You could hear a hairpin drop at the Ato Boldon Stadium.
Bateau might have pulled a goal back but headed wide from a promising position off a Joevin Jones free-kick while Cordell Cato forced opposing goalkeeper Luis Lopez into a sprawling, low save early on. But at halftime, the Warriors looked dead and buried.
Lawrence responded by changing right-backs as Alvin Jones, Joevin’s younger brother, replaced Aubrey David. It was the first time that the Jones boys shared the field at National Senior Team level. But the family affair lasted barely 11 minutes.
In the 56th minute, Alvin lunged into a tackle on Honduras midfielder Alfredo Mejia and Guerro showed him a straight red card. The Warriors were two goals and a man down.
If it were not for bad luck, Lawrence would have no luck at all.
It should have been 3-0 in the 61st minute as Honduras left-back Emilio Izaguirre picked out Ellis at the back post only for the attacker’s headed attempt to ricochet off the upright.
But then, in the 64th minute, out of nothing came a sliver of hope for the hosts. Joevin and Kevin Molino combined on top the opposing penalty area and the latter set Khaleem Hyland up with a shooting opportunity from 10 yards out.
As Hyland screwed his shot wide, Guerro ruled that Izaguirre had caught him with a late tackle and the Mexican pointed to the penalty spot and flashed a second yellow card and a red at the Honduran left-back.
Joevin converted neatly and in one swoop Trinidad and Tobago had halved the deficit and offset Honduras’ numerical advantage.
It might have been a different story if Molino had done better with a left-side Joevin cross in the 71st minute but the MLS playmaker could not disentangle his feet in time and hit woefully wide. And the Warriors could not take advantage of their improved second-half showing.
In fact, Honduras could have still easily stretched their advantage. Substitute Carlo Costly missed a free opportunity after a blunder by Trinidad and Tobago left-back Kevon Villaroel while, after ghosting past Bateau, Quito also hit over the bar from the edge of the area.
The final whistle put fans out of their misery and, almost certainly, signalled time on the Warriors’ campaign.
After today’s sorry showing—from administrators to supporters to players—the prevailing emotion might have been relief.
Trinidad and Tobago (4-1-4-1): 21.Jan-Michael Williams (GK) (captain); 2.Aubrey David (16.Alvin Jones 46), 5.Daneil Cyrus, 4.Sheldon Bateau, 13.Kevon Villaroel; 19.Kevan George; 7.Cordell Cato (16.Nathan Lewis 77), 8.Khaleem Hyland, 10.Kevin Molino, 3.Joevin Jones; 20.Jamille Boatswain (9.Willis Plaza 56).
Unused substitutes: 1.Marvin Phillip (GK), 22.Adrian Foncette (GK), 6.Radanfah Abu Bakr, 11.Tyrone Charles, 12.Carlyle Mitchell, 18.Hughtun Hector, 15.Curtis Gonzales, 17.Mekeil Williams, 23.Leston Paul.
Coach: Dennis Lawrence
Honduras (4-3-3): 1.Luis Lopez (GK); 2.Felix Crisanto, 3.Maynor Figueroa, 4.Henry Figueroa, 7.Emilio Izaguirre; 20.Jorge Claros, 8.Alfredo Mejia, 10.Alexander Lopez (14.Boniek García 77); 17.Alberth Ellis (23.Jhonny Palacios 68), 9.Anthony Lozano (13.Carlo Costly 46), 12.Romell Quioto.
Unused substitutes: 18.Ricardo Canales (GK), 5.Ovidio Lanza, 6.Carlos Discua, 11.Eddie Hernandez, 15.Carlos Sanchez, 16.Jhonny Leveron, 19.Oliver Morazan, 21.Sergio Peña.
Coach: Jorge Luis Pinto
Referee: Fernando Guerro (Mexico)
CONCACAF World Cup qualifying results
(Friday 1 September)
Trinidad and Tobago 1 (Joevin Jones 64 pen), Honduras 2 (Alexander Lopez 7, Alberth Ellis 16) at Couva;
United States 0, Costa Rica 2 (Marco Ureña 30, 82) at New Jersey;
Mexico 1 (Hirving Lozano 53), Panama 0 at Mexico City;
Costa Rica 7-4-2-1-11-4-14
United States 7-2-2-3-11-10-8