The Trinidad and Tobago National Senior Team began life after the Russia 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign in unconvincing fashion at the Ato Boldon Stadium in Couva tonight as they were forced to settle for a 2-2 draw with Grenada.
It might easily have been worse too, as the “Spice Islanders” were leading 2-0 when fourth official Cecile Hinds signalled four minutes of stoppage time. Somehow, the Soca Warriors engineered a late recovery with substitute Jamille Boatswain and stand-in captain Kevin Molino grabbing the vital goals.
It was some climbdown for the Warriors who stunned the United States and CONCACAF on their last outing here—on 10 October—with a 2-1 win that eliminated the North Americans for the first time in three decades.
Grenada are ranked 165th in the world and, last month, they were crushed 5-0 by a Panama ‘B’ team consisting mainly of home-based players. Tonight, they almost missed the fixture altogether as the starting time of the game had to be deferred to accommodate the delay in the arrival of their flight—reportedly as a result of an industrial relations issue at LIAT.
The Grenada squad essentially headed straight from Piarco to the Ato Boldon Stadium with barely 30 minutes to shake off the effects of an entire day spent at the airport. Yet, it was the visitors who struck first tonight.
Grenada forward Kairo Mitchell won space in the opposing penalty area and his crisp drive was fended away by Trinidad and Tobago custodian Adrian Foncette but straight into the path of midfielder Shandon Baptiste, who opened the scoring.
The 20-year-old Mitchell, who led the line admirably, is a former Leicester City youth player—although he is unattached now—while Baptiste, 19, plays in England for third-tier team Oxford FC.
It got worse for the Warriors in the 71st minute as Ricky Modeste, a semi-professional player in England with Billericay FC, doubled Grenada’s advantage with a flicked finish off a Baptiste corner.
By then, another familiar face, Trinidad-born San Juan Jabloteh utility player Kennedy Hinkson, had been substituted after playing 67 minutes in central midfield.
It might be an understatement to say that Grenada coach Ashley Folkes spread his net far and wide in selecting his 18-man squad, which was a combination of lower league professionals, semi-pros and a few university students.
The Warriors bossed ball possession for much of the night without creating too many problems for Grenada and W Connection goalkeeper Jason Belfon. And Netherlands top-flight winger Levi Garcia faded badly after an encouraging opening half-hour.
“Allyuh see why the stadium empty?!” a frustrated fan shouted, at nobody in particular. “Allyuh see why?!”
There were about 2,000 patrons in attendance although at least a quarter of those had come to support the Spice Men.
Both coaches had turned to their bench by then and Trinidad and Tobago head coach Dennis Lawrence got more joy from his changes.
Central defender Curtis Gonzales won possession near the centre circle and immediately played it into the channel for Boatswain, his former Defence Force colleague, to chase. Boatswain’s finish was wonderful, as he allowed the ball to run before arrowing an angled effort—first time—into the far corner.
The clock showed 88 minutes.
The local fans roared their approval—a retort aimed at the increasingly feisty Grenadian contingent in the covered stands. And, two minutes into stoppage time, Molino gained parity for the hosts as he controlled another perceptive long pass from Gonzales before burying past Belfon for the equaliser.
Grenada players slumped to the ground in disappointment at the final whistle and some buried their heads in their jerseys.
Lawrence promised to make Trinidad and Tobago champions of the Caribbean again; on this evidence, they certainly aren’t taking the shortcut.
Trinidad and Tobago (4-2-3-1): 22.Adrian Foncette (GK); 17.Alvin Jones (20.Jamille Boatswain 77), 13.Curtis Gonzales, 18.Triston Hodge, 3.Kevon Villaroel; 19.Kevan George, 26.Jared London (7.Nathan Lewis 71); 12.Kathon St Hillaire, 10.Kevin Molino (captain), 16.Levi Garcia; 9.Akeem Roach (15.Ricardo John 84).
Unused substitutes: 1.Marvin Phillip (GK), 21.Glenroy Samuel (GK); 2.Aubrey David, 6.Josiah Trimmingham, 8.Neveal Hackshaw, 11.Neil Benjamin, 14.Hashim Arcia, 23.Nathaniel Garcia.
Coach: Dennis Lawrence
Grenada (4-4-2): 1.Jason Belfon (GK); 18.Ethan Francois-Ravalier, 16.Alec Andall, 15.Irvin Smith, 4.Leaon St John; 17.Alexander McQueen (19.Kwazim Theodore 63), 3.Kennedy Hinkson (7.Rickson Phillip 67), 6.Shandon Baptiste, 20.Ricky Modeste (13.Rickey Sayers 82); 11.Kairo Mitchell (10.Saydrel Lewis 76), 21.Shavon John-Brown (9.Marcio McQueen 90+1).
Unused substitutes: 22.Shemel Louison (GK), 5.Kemron Marshall, 8.Chad Mark, 14.Tahj Joseph.
Coach: Ashley Folkes
Referee: Daneon Parchment (Jamaica)
International friendly result
(Saturday 11 November)
Trinidad and Tobago 2 (Jamille Boatswain 88, Kevin Molino 90+2), Grenada 2 (Shandon Baptiste 48, Ricky Modeste 71) at Ato Boldon Stadium;
(Tuesday 14 November)
Trinidad and Tobago vs Guyana, 7.30pm, Ato Boldon Stadium, Couva.