“Forget players, systems, anything else, its mentality. And the mentality tonight, to defend set pieces was not strong enough.”
Trinidad and Tobago National Senior Men’s Team coach Dennis Lawrence bore a frustrated figure at the end of T&T’s 2-2 draw with Martinique at the Hasely Crawford Stadium, Port of Spain in the Concacaf Nations League.
“We had it in the palms of our hands, and we gave it away all because we couldn’t defend set pieces the way we were meant to defend set pieces,” said Lawrence in the post-match briefing. “We didn’t have people in the box ready to put their head on it and take a cut to defend the corners.”
After letting a two-goal lead slip from set-piece errors, Lawrence’s team is now on an 11-game winless streak. The former 2006 World Cup hero, who got his first job as head coach when the Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) hired him in January 2017, blamed that run on the mentality and overall professionalism of the players and, in particular, the player pool available to him.
“We, in the past, would select squads based on performances for your football club. We have got to a stage now where we are selecting squads based on players just playing football,” said Lawrence. “The past is the past and you have to work on the future but when you look on what we used to call on before, it’s not on the same. We are calling on a different level of player.
“So now the target for a lot of these players is you need to be selected based on your performance and not just playing.”
He pointed to the development of footballers in Trinidad and Tobago and claimed the country has regressed as a footballing nation and also in terms of the ambitions of our players.
“A lot of our players are going to India. The target for some of them seems to be the USL and that’s what we picking from. We can’t change that. That’s what it is. So we have to just work with it,” he continued.
At present only captain Sheldon Bateau, Levi Garcia, Keston Julien and recruit Daniel Carr ply their trade in Europe.
Still, Lawrence had higher calibre players to work with than his opponent. Martinique head coach Mario Bocaly, who praised his players for the fightback and credited the pride they have for their country, said the French islanders had only two professional players in the squad they brought to Trinidad: goal scorer Jordy Delem and Julio Donisa.
The rest of the Martinique team are amateurs, who work during the day and train in the evening.
So, after holding the Soca Warriors to back-to-back draws and largely outplaying them in the first leg, is the difference between the two teams down to mentality like Lawrence suggested? Is it a matter of quality of approach rather than quality of player?
One professional who earned Lawrence’s faith and endeared himself to the roughly 2,000 spectators on the night was Canada-based attacker Ryan Telfer, who scored T&T’s second item on Monday night and was a constant threat to Martinique in both games. His energy, awareness and acceleration were a sight to behold and one run, in particular, would have made Hasely Crawford himself proud.
“I have to give credit to Ryan Telfer. Because when you look at him, he is performing for his club and he comes and performs for Trinidad and Tobago and I hope he continues,” said Lawrence. “And I hope the boys can learn from his example because he has been pristine as a professional since he has been with us and I hope it can rub off on some of the players for them to understand what professionalism is all about.”
Even with a record-setting negative run of results, Lawrence is likely to still be at the helm when T&T face Mexico in a friendly in Toluca on 2 October. The match is not within the FIFA international match window and both teams will largely be restricted to home-based players.
The Warriors will then contend with Honduras in a Concacaf Nations League outing in Trinidad on 10 October.
Failure to secure a top two finish in the three-team Nations League group would mean relegation to the second of three Concacaf tiers—League B—and almost certainly spell curtains for the Trinidad and Tobago’s Gold Cup 2021 and World Cup 2022 qualifications.
Lawrence intends to turn the tide by introducing a slew of fresh faces to his squad. They will join Telfer, forward Daniel Carr and unused midfielder Andre Fortune in lifting the competition for places within the Warriors.
“There is a couple others that we are working on to bring in to represent Trinidad and Tobago and I’m hoping that between now and October, their documents could come into play so we could put some more pressure on the boys and them in the squad,” he said. “Because I think we need competition and I think we need the kind of competition that Telfer brought, that Carr brought and the competition that Fortune brought.
“It’s always the challenge but we need to get ready now, get set and look forward to October.”