Trinidad and Tobago Men’s National Senior Team head coach Dennis Lawrence criticised his players’ lack of focus in their 6-0 loss to the United States last night and promised changes for their final Group D match against Guyana on Wednesday.
Lawrence, who is in his first job as a head coach, built his reputation on the back of a shock 2-1 World Cup qualifying win over USA in Couva, two years ago. But the rematch in Cleveland did not go to plan as the Soca Warriors conceded once in the first half and five times in the final 25 minutes.
Trinidad and Tobago and Guyana have nothing but pride at stake on Wednesday, after the latter nation lost 4-0 and 4-2 to USA and Panama respectively. Guyana coach Michael Johnson said the ‘Golden Jaguars’ will make wholesale changes in midweek to give unused players a run out and Lawrence promised to do likewise, albeit for a slightly different reason.
“I think when you lose a game in that manner, you’ve got to expect changes,” said Lawrence, in last night’s post game press conference. “So there are definitely going to be changes. We need to now start thinking forward and put this behind our back as quickly as possible.”
Yesterday’s result was Trinidad and Tobago’s biggest ever loss to the United States and second worse all-time defeat, after a second string outfit lost 7-0 away to Mexico at the Azteca Stadium in a meaningless fixture in 2000.
Lawrence said his players lacked fight and lost belief in the game plan.
“How can you be so good for 65 minutes and then so awful for the last 25 minutes?” he asked. “We have to change the mentality and we have to learn to stand up and fight… I thought we lost concentration [and] we started to go ‘gung ho’ to see if we could get back in the game.
“That’s not how we do things; we have to stay organised and believe what we were doing—which was working—would get us back in the game. We lost all focus and people started to […] leave runners and, in the end, we paid the price.”
The former 2006 World Cup defender and ex-Everton FC assistant coach said he was satisfied that his tactical approach to the game was the correct one.
“At half time I said to the boys that we are right in this, because that is how I felt in the first half,” said Lawrence. “We showed good energy, good enthusiasm, tactically we were well organised. We kept some of the [USA] key players off danger positions. We didn’t allow [Michael] Bradley to get on the ball, we didn’t allow Christian [Pulisic] to get in good spaces and we did our job. So at half time, I felt confident that we had a chance in the game.
“Up until the 65th minute everything was going fine and then we just totally collapsed, lost concentration—and that’s our mentality [that] we have to change.”
Lawrence was coy when asked about his decision to start the match without his most talented players, Kevin Molino and Joevin Jones. Molino started against Panama but came off the bench last night while Jones was a second half substitute in both Gold Cup outings.
“Molino just came off an injury [and] I played [him] for 90 minutes [in a pre-tournament friendly] against Canada, I played him for 90 minutes against Panama,” said Lawrence. “I have to protect the players and ensure that I don’t push them too hard at the wrong time. Don’t forget that we didn’t have Molino for a long while and we went to places like Iran and Japan and competed well. We have a squad and we had to use the squad.”
Of course, Lawrence could have used Molino for a shorter period in the Canada friendly if he was genuinely concerned about his health. And, once captain Khaleem Hyland went down with a hamstring injury last night, the coach introduced Molino with 74 minutes left to play anyway.
Lawrence never explained why he snubbed Jones, although his decision to use midfielder Neveal Hackshaw as a makeshift left back against the USA—having left Keston Julien and Noah Powder out of his squad entirely—raised further questions about his second omission. Jones is the only genuine left back in the current Trinidad and Tobago team.
Incidentally, Molino and Jones are the two highest scorers in the Warriors side with 19 and seven goals respectively.
Last night, Trinidad and Tobago’s only clear scoring chance fell to 21 year old winger Levi Garcia, who has been used as a centre forward at the Gold Cup. Garcia has never scored in 12 appearances under Lawrence while his last international goal was three years and 20 outings ago, against St Vincent and the Grenadines.
“The young boy is only 21 [but] he needs to learn very, very quickly,” said Lawrence. “These are the moments that are game changers. If that goes in and it is 1-1, all of a sudden you have got a different game. Instead we concede a second and then a third and then…
“When you get in those positions you have got to put them away, because they don’t come much cleaner than that.”
Warriors goalkeeper Marvin Phillip, the only Trinidad and Tobago player likely to leave the Gold Cup with his reputation enhanced, said the boys have to take a long, hard look at themselves.
“It’s absolutely embarrassing for us,” said Phillip. “We came to this tournament with a lot of high expectations… We knew what was at stake [against USA] and we just didn’t show up.
“As we all know, football is 90 minutes. We had a reasonable first half but for a period in the second half, we just lost structure and lost shape. When you meet big teams like the USA, they will take advantage of those situations.”