The Trinidad and Tobago National Senior Team came within three minutes of a famous result in Mexico last night but, at the final whistle, it was a seventh successive loss for coach Dennis Lawrence’s men.
West Ham United striker Javier “Chicharito” Hernández was the man to break the hearts of the visiting team with a typically predatory finish in the 87th minute while a late free kick from Hector Herrera added some arguably undeserved gloss to the scoreline.
Mexico ended the game as 3-1 winners, although it was a much tighter affair than the score summary suggested.
Sure, “El Tricolor” dominated possession throughout—67 percent to 33 in each half—while the count of successful passes read 319 for the hosts and 93 for the visitors. But with Defence Force utility player Curtis Gonzales in top form in central defence and Police FC goalkeeper Adrian Foncette up for the challenge between the uprights, Mexico rarely looked like scoring.
And, in the 65th minute, Trinidad and Tobago suddenly looked capable of pinching more than just a point as, against the run of play, Shahdon Winchester scored with a neat finish.
The Soca Warriors could not hold on, though, as substitute Hirving Lozano levelled in the 78th minute before Hernández and Herrera spared Mexico the blushes.
Lawrence would no doubt prefer to focus on the positives and there were a few. The lanky rookie coach has already proven to be an unorthodox squad selector but it took his team’s elimination from the campaign to really bring out his inner “Tinkerman.”
Not only did Lawrence leave out 12 players from his last match-day squad—including his two main goalkeepers, two team captains and all three forwards—but he sprang another surprise with his available players in Mexico as his two most high-profile players, Kevin Molino and Joevin Jones, started the contest on the bench alongside Canada-born goalkeeper Greg Ranjitsingh.
Just over a week ago, Lawrence said he omitted Jan-Michael Williams and Marvin Phillip to give Ranjitsingh a shot. So, presumably, the United States-based goalkeeper did not suitably impress on the training ground. After all, Foncette has been in the squad all along—languishing as third choice behind the veteran pair of shot-stoppers.
Foncette’s first chance in the spotlight came under former head coach Tom Saintfiet in January and he did not cover himself in glory on that occasion, when Trinidad and Tobago conceded six goals in two matches against Suriname and Haiti in the CONCACAF Gold Cup Play-offs.
But he looked steady enough at the Estadio Alfonso Lastras—some 6,070 feet above sea level—and made two impressive first-half saves to deny Chicharito and opposing captain Andrés Guardado.
Defender Kareem Moses, called up up of the blue once Lawrence realised that right-back Alvin Jones was unavailable through suspension, played out of position on the right side of the defence and struggled at times. But it was Moses’ alert defending at the back post to deny Hernández that was the most outstanding play of the first half and ensured that both teams went in at the interval on level terms.
If Trinidad and Tobago fans felt it could not get better than that, they were wrong.
Twenty minutes into the second half, Winchester, who is on the roster at Murciélagos FC in the Mexican Second Division, reacted sharply to a Levi Garcia’s headed flick-on and then produced a finish to match, steering the ball home off the inside of the far post.
It might even have been 2-0 but for a low save from Mexico goalkeeper Jesus Corona off Trinidad and Tobago winger Nathan Lewis, another Warrior who did himself justice on the night.
In central midfield, team captain Khaleem Hyland—Trinidad and Tobago’s most capped player yesterday with 73 appearances before kick-off—was the glue in the team, using his wit and experience to keep his team compact, slow the game down and frustrate the hosts on the small ground.
Mexico coach Juan Carlos Osario pushed players forward in search of an equaliser. Lawrence countered by introducing the fresh legs of Molino and Joevin.
Molino ran hard for the team—Joevin not so much—but his touch was not there and Trinidad and Tobago never looked better off for the changes. And Lawrence might have felt short-changed when Mexico’s substitute, Lozano, grabbed the equaliser from close range after Joevin failed to pressure a left-side cross from opposing wing-back Miguel Layún.
It could easily have been 2-1 to Mexico in the 82nd minute but Foncette produced a good reflex save to deny Hernández off a Carlos Vela pass. And the Warriors looked to be on course for a famous point in Mexico.
Trinidad and Tobago’s five previous World Cup qualifying trips to Mexico all ended in defeat with 17 goals conceded and one Hayden Tinto strike to show for their time. Notably, though, the Warriors briefly looked like stealing a point on their last trip to the Spanish-speaking North American nation before stumbling to a 2-1 loss on 9 June 2009.
Would Lawrence’s men go one step further than Russell Latapy’s team had done eight years ago?
The final answer was ‘no.’ In the 87th minute Corona ran into space down the right side of the Trinidad and Tobago box and, although Foncette parried his firm effort, Chicharito latched on to the rebound to score with a swivelled header.
And, three minutes into stoppage time, Mexico added an unnecessary insurance item when Herrera beat Foncette from a set piece.
At least Lawrence has something to build on when the Warriors end their campaign against the United States on Tuesday night at the Ato Boldon Stadium in Couva.
For all the talk of fresh blood, there were a respectable 277 caps in Lawrence’s starting team in Mexico. Although, at the other end, in their first XI, Mexico boasted a remarkable 726 international appearances.
The United States need a win in Couva to be sure of automatic qualification for Russia although, their 4-0 win against Panama last night means that, if Honduras and Panama both lose on their final day, a draw or even a loss might still see them sneak through.
If United States coach Bruce Arena feels he has some clear idea of what team Lawrence might put out to face the “Stars and Stripes,” he might not find another person in the two-island republic who shares his confidence.
Trinidad and Tobago (4-2-3-1): 22.Adrian Foncette (GK); 2.Kareem Moses, 13.Curtis Gonzales, 5.Daneil Cyrus, 4.Kevon Villaroel; 19.Kevan George, 23.Leston Paul (10.Kevin Molino 60); 7.Nathan Lewis, 8.Khaleem Hyland (captain), 16.Levi Garcia (3.Joevin Jones 72); 9.Shahdon Winchester (20.Trevin Caesar 86).
Unused substitutes: 1.Glenroy Samuel (GK), 21.Greg Ranjitsingh (GK), 6.Josiah Trimmingham, 11.Neil Benjamin, 12.Kathon St Hillaire, 14.Akeem Roach, 15.Jared London, 18.Triston Hodge.
Coach: Dennis Lawrence
Mexico (4-1-4-1): 1.Jesus Corona (GK); 3.Carlos Salcedo, 15.Hector Moreno, 5.Diego Reyes (19.Oribe Peralta 70), 7.Miguel Layun; 16.Hector Herrera; 20.Javier Aquino (8.Hirving Lozano 55), 18.Andre Guardado (captain), 10.Giovani Dos Santos (11.Carlos Vela 61), 17.Jesús Corona; 14.Javier Hernandez.
Unused substitutes: 12.Rodolfo Cato (GK), 13.Guillermo Ochoa (GK), 2.Edson Álvarez, 4.Hugo Ayala, 6.Jonathan Dos Santos, 9.Raul Jimenez, 18.Elias Hernandez, 21.Elias Hernández, 22.Erick Gutiérrez, 23.Oswaldo Alanis.
Coach: Juan Carlos Osorio
Referee: Kimbell Ward (St Kitts and Nevis)
CONCACAF 2018 World Cup qualifying results
(Friday 6 October)
USA 4 (Christian Pulisic 8, Jozy Altidore 19, 43 pen, Bobby Wood 63), Panama 0 at Orlando;
Mexico 3 (Hirving Lozano 78, Javier Hernandez 87, Hector Herrera 90+3), Trinidad and Tobago 1 (Shahdon Winchester 65) at San Luis Potosí
(Saturday 7 October)
Costa Rica v Honduras at San Jose.