The Trinidad and Tobago National Senior Team ended their 2017 schedule tonight in much the same manner as they began it: uncertainly and unconvincingly.
For the second time in four days, despite playing on home turf against unfancied regional opposition, the Soca Warriors had to come from behind to secure a draw. On Saturday, the Warriors salvaged a 2-2 draw with Grenada in stoppage time and, tonight, it was the turn of Guyana, who managed a 1-1 tie with the host nation at the Ato Boldon Stadium in Couva.
Almost 11 months ago, then head coach Tom Saintfiet led Trinidad and Tobago out at this same venue and got pretty much the same results. The record shows defeats to Suriname and Haiti but both games were also level at full-time with the hosts eventually succumbing in extra-time.
Unlike Lawrence, Saintfiet did not have his full team available—it was not a FIFA international match day—and was playing against stiffer opposition. Yet, immediately after the competition, the Belgian jumped before he could be pushed.
In contrast, Lawrence has not been shy to point out that he is under no pressure to hold on to his job. But should the team’s performances over his 10 months at the helm really afford him such comfort?
The stats read three wins against Barbados, Panama and the United States, three draws against Grenada (twice) and Guyana, and eight defeats to Mexico (twice), Panama, Honduras, USA, Costa Rica, Ecuador and Jamaica.
But it was not so much what is evident in black and white. Tonight, the Warriors—as was the case under Saintfiet—appeared to lack conviction and did not look altogether at ease with their game plan.
To be fair, Neveal Hackshaw, Nathaniel Garcia, Josiah Trimmingham and Neil Benjamin Jr all made their first starts under Lawrence and it was inevitable that team cohesion would be affected. But the football itself was so basic—not just in what was executed but what was attempted in the first place—that it almost appeared as if the team was regressing.
The Warriors tried to move the ball quickly around the back four in the hope that the opposing full-back had failed to stay close to either of the Trinidad and Tobago wingers. And, if that did not work, either of stand-in captain Sheldon Bateau, Hackshaw, Nathaniel or Trimmingham took the ball from central defence and tried to whack 50-metre balls to either flank or into the centre-forward.
It created enough chances to win the game with Guyana clearly susceptible to pace. But it seemed miles away from the passing triangles that Lawrence’s team seemed to seek out within the first few months of his tenure.
Has the rookie coach lost faith in his team’s ability to pass the ball beyond even such modest opposition? Or was he more risk averse after a spell littered with defeats?
Or were these two uninspiring friendly international merely hiccups along a path that will eventually lead to success?
In the stands, the Warriors supporters showed what they thought by simply not turning up.
There were barely 3,000 fans to watch Trinidad and Tobago face Grenada. Tonight, that attendance figure was cut in half.
Sad to say, the fans who stayed away did not miss much.
After an enterprising start in which Levi Garcia, used in the “number 10″ role vacated by Kevin Molino, looked to be on a different planet from the other 21 players on the field—meant in the nicest possible way in this case—Trinidad and Tobago again went behind early.
Guyana forward Sheldon Holder, who plays for Morvant Caledonia United in the local Pro League, played the ball wide for Kadel Daniel and then beat Bateau to the cross to head past Warriors custodian Marvin Phillip.
In the 30th minute, Nathaniel had a strike from distance ricochet off the outside of an upright but it was not until the second half that Trinidad and Tobago really asked questions of the “Golden Jaguars.”
Benjamin should have equalised in the 46th minute but he failed to hit the target after a cross from Levi—who had returned to the flank with the introduction of Shahdon Winchester at half-time.
Winchester did pull the hosts level in the 60th minute with a good left-footed finish from the edge of the area, after a pass from Benjamin, his former W Connection teammate. It was his second goal under Lawrence and his fifth in 2017, which made him the highest scorer for Trinidad and Tobago in this calendar year.
And the Warriors won enough space down either flank from the rampaging Levi and Lewis to put the match to bed. But they didn’t. And Lawrence would thank his stars that Marvin Phillip pulled off a superb late reflex save to keep out Guyana attacker Emery Welshman and preserve the draw.
On the weekend, there were angry voices from the stands as the Warriors failed to open up a dogged, compact but limited Grenada team. Guyana were slower, offered less in attack and were generally there for the taking. But there was a feeling of resignation from the stands as the minutes ticked away.
Belief is ebbing away from Trinidad and Tobago supporters; maybe within the squad as well. it is in short supply.
The euphoria of the United States win has faded fast. If Lawrence and the TTFA continue to see eye-to-eye, they will have their work cut out for them in 2018 if this team is to take its place among the best nations in the Confederation at the 2019 CONCACAF Gold Cup.
Trinidad and Tobago (4-2-3-1): 1.Marvin Phillip (GK); 17.Alvin Jones, 4.Sheldon Bateau (captain), 6.Josiah Trimmingham, 2.Aubrey David; 23.Nathaniel Garcia, 8.Neveal Hackshaw; 7.Nathan Lewis, 16.Levi Garcia, 11.Neil Benjamin Jr (14.Hashim Arcia 81); 20.Jamille Boatswain (10.Shahdon Winchester 46).
Unused substitutes: 21.Glenroy Samuel (GK), 22.Adrian Foncette (GK), 9.Akeem Roach, 12.Kathon St Hillaire, 13.Curtis Gonzales, 18.Triston Hodge, 19.Kevan George, 26.Jared London.
Coach: Dennis Lawrence
Guyana (4-2-3-1): 22.Andrew Durant (GK); 20.Terence Vancooten, 6.Jake Newton, 19.Jelani Smith, 3.Christopher Bourne; 8.Samuel Cox (captain), 14.Warren Creavalle (21.Anthony Benfield 79); 10.Emery Welshman (7.Dwain Jacobs 87), 17.Brandon Beresford (15.Shaquille Agard 89), 12.Kadell Daniel; 9.Sheldon Holder (13.Devonte Small 66).
Unused substitutes: 1.Akil Clarke (GK), 11.Gregory Richardson, 16.Kelsey Benjamin, 25.Daniel Jodah.
Coach: Wayne Dover
Referee: Moeth Gaymes (St Vincent and the Grenadines)
(Tuesday 14 November)
Trinidad and Tobago 1 (Shahdon Winchester 60), Guyana 1 (Sheldon Holder 19) at Ato Boldon Stadium in Couva.