Scoring four goals and still finishing second best is never a good evening. But for the Trinidad and Tobago Boys National Under-15 team, playing their first match of the TTFA Youth Invitational Tournament on Wednesday 17 July at the Ato Boldon Stadium, Couva, the 5-4 defeat to Panama had a silver lining.
“We were not at our best tonight, but we still were able to show the possibilities,” head coach Stuart Charles-Fevrier said. “It’s the first time we were playing in front of a home crowd and I knew the nerves would have been there. They were excited, and you could see they gave everything they had.”
After the match, the Panamanian coach said his group had only been training for two months and he had only selected his final group three weeks before the tournament. But they didn’t look it for large parts of Wednesday’s match.
Charles-Fevrier praised the Panama team for always having four men at back, while he bemoaned the display at the other end: “The way we conceded the goals, some of them were too soft. In the end, I think silly errors cost us the game.”
Still, several T&T players distinguished themselves during an open 90 minutes in front an enthusiastic red, white and black-filled stand.
In the 14th minute, Holy Cross College striker Ja-Shawn Thomas slapped his left-footer wide, after some very mature approach play afforded him space to shoot in the Panama area.
The breakthrough came two minutes later when Panama’s Reymundo Arauz, attempting to clear Josiah Wilson’s delivery from the right corner, instead banged it into the back of the net. The crowd roared. It was 1-0 after 16 minutes.
From the kick, Panama won a corner and Abraham Mejia was first to a ricochet from a scramble in the box. But custodian Kanye Lazarus, from Presentation College, San Fernando, came up with the goods to avoid the equaliser.
Some of the T&T players were having a tough time on the slick surface as a persistent drizzle blanketed the field in the first half.
But Arauz, a fleet-footed, lanky thorn in T&T’s side, who literally and figuratively stood head and shoulders over the T&T players, was not having such troubles. The box-to-box midfielder used his superior size and speed to slalom across the top of the T&T area before slapping high into the right corner in the 27th. The score: 1-1.
With the crowd hushed, the pumped-up number 10 dragged his index finger across his neck to gesture that the killer blow was nigh. But there was life in T&T yet.
His opposite number, QRC’s mercurial Nathaniel “Natty” James, sought to restore the volume with an individual effort of his own but blazed it behind a minute later.
While “Natty” provided much of the attacking spark, captain Jaheim Marshall and Naparima College’s Jesse Molik Khan conducted the midfield in a very orderly manner, destroying and allowing the flair around them to flourish in quick one and two touch increments.
Panama plugged away, and early drops in focus showed some chinks in T&T’s armour.
“In the first half they were not composed enough,” Charles-Fevrier said. “And because of that, they gave away possession easily. And that [made them] waste too much energy in the trying to always regain the possession of the ball to start an attack again.”
He admitted that there were also some attacking frailties.
“Sometimes when they have to take a touch they try to play one,” Charles-Fevrier said. “Sometimes they hold it a little longer than they should. So definitely decision making in the timing of the passes needs to improve.”
That poor decision-making gave Panama their first lead of the match.
Omar Dominguez was hacked down in the area to gift them the penalty. Rafael Rivas dispatched it into the bottom left corner despite the keeper’s directions on the line, for a 2-1 Panama lead in the 39th.
While every ball St Mary’s College winger Abdul-Quddoos Hypolite touched was cheered loudly, it was his pitch-perfect 41st-minute corner that allowed Molik Khan to feather in the equaliser past the Panama keeper.
At the half, both sides had reasons for optimism. And by then the products of the TTFA’s Elite Youth Programme had also shaken off the nerves of making their home pitch debut.
T&T had two free-kick chances in the 54th & 58th. The first from Marshall, followed by a close call from substitute Jaheim Faustin, were the only pauses Panama got during a second-half siege.
It was mostly one-way action in the early parts of the second half as Molik Khan continued to use his vision and accurate one-touch passing to dictate the pace in midfield.
And his midfield companion reaped the rewards in the 68th. Marshall was given way too much room and uncorked a special from about 30 yards out to rouse the crowd once again – 3-2, T&T.
But the joy was short-lived. After winning a free-kick, Panama equalised from a dead ball that caught T&T napping. Rafael Diaz tapped into an open goal as the T&T players consulted with the referee with their arms raised.
Charles-Fevrier also had a shout. “I would still like to see [the equaliser] on video; if it was an offside goal or not. I’m not sure; it was a kind of freak goal to me. I figured the boys’ heads dropped and they conceded after again.”
Arauz sought to fulfill his earlier prophecy as Panama completed a slick passing move, rounded out by Panama’s Man of the Match off a simple centre from Dominguez. It was 3-4 after 73 minutes.
It became 3-5 in the next minute when Emanuel Iglesias completed the furious five-minute flurry with a blast from just inside the 18. T&T, committed too much to attack, was left short at the back and got caught on the counter.
By the 80th, fans began to trickle out if their seats. But for one man in the scoreboard end demanding “ah goal”, the stadium became the envy of librarians everywhere.
To their credit, the home team continued to toil. In the 85th, Josiah Wilson made light work of three markers on the left wing, but no one was there to knock home his cut-back.
In the 87th minute, “Natty” took over, beating a handful of Panama players before passing the ball beyond the keeper to wake the stadium once more.
Charles-Fevrier said he thought the attacking midfielder adjusted his game well in the second half
“Nathaniel obviously is a good talent. For now, he needs to work on his maturity because sometimes I feel he needs to balance his individual ability with his team play a little better. He wants to do so well, but sometimes he needs to know when to play with his teammates and when to do it alone. In the second half, he balanced his game better and that’s why he found more space to be able to do the solo run and got the goal.”
And they could have had even more to cheer if Ruiz had not come up with a game-winning tackle in the fourth and final minute of time added on.
“Panama was a good team, very physical, very athletic, I thought they did well generally speaking,” Charles-Fevrier said. “Going forward I think these games will help us for the tournament we have coming up in the next two weeks.”
T&T will next face Venezuela on Friday at 8.15pm, a match that may bring two sets of home supporters to the Hasely Crawford Stadium.
T&T Under-15 (4-2-3-1): 1.Kanye Lazarus (GK); 2.Christian Bailey, 4.Jaron Pascall, 5.Tyrik Trotman, 3.Dawn St Rose (12.Kriston Stafford 82); 6.Jaheim Marshall (Captain), 8.Molik Jesse Khan (15.Dantaye Gilbert 78); 7.Abdul-Quddoos Hypolite (17.Jaheim Faustin 52), 10.Nathaniel James, 11.Josiah Wilson; 9.Ja-Shawn Thomas.
Unused substitutes: 18.Tristan Edwards (GK), 13.Kassidy Davidson, 14.Jovonn Gomes, 16.Caleb Borneo, 19.Isaiah Thompson.
Coach: Stuart Charles-Fevrier
TTFA Youth Invitational Tournament
Match Day 1
Mexico 2 (14. Jesus Moreno 72nd, 13.Gael Bernal 83rd), Venezuela 0.
Trinidad and Tobago 4 (own goal, 8.Molik Khan 41st, 6Jaheim Marshall 68th, 10.Nathaniel James 86th), Panama 5( 10 Reymundo Arauz 26th, 73rd, 7.Abraham Mejia 39th, 13 Rafael Diaz 69th, 18.Emanuel Iglesias 74th)
T&T vs Curacao, 4pm, Hasely Crawford Stadium;
Panama vs Mexico, 6:15pm, Hasely Crawford Stadium;
T&T vs Venezuela, 8:15pm, Hasely Crawford Stadium.