Trinidad and Tobago Men’s National Senior Team head coach Dennis Lawrence appeared to have stretched the truth when he claimed to be ‘totally unaware’ of the Martinique squad up until match day of the Concacaf Nations League contest on Friday 6 September in Fort-de-France.
The two Caribbean nations played to a 1-1 draw in Martinique and then, four days later, drew again 2-2 in Trinidad.
Lawrence told reporters he was so incensed at Martinique’s alleged gamesmanship that he decided to mirror their tactic against Honduras. So, the Soca Warriors head coach did not reveal his 20-man squad for tonight’s Nations League contest, which kicks off at 7pm in the Hasely Crawford Stadium, Port of Spain.
“This is something we had to learn from the experience of what happened in Martinique,” said Lawrence, at yesterday’s pre-match press conference, “because we were totally unaware of the Martinique squad until the day of the game. Only then when we revisited the rules of the competition, [we found that] you don’t have to release any squad [to the public].
“So we need to take advantage of that situation and that’s the reason why we haven’t released any squad. It was difficult for us playing against Martinique because we didn’t have an idea of who were going to face. So we need to use that to our advantage and that’s the reason why we haven’t released any squad.”
However, checks revealed that Lawrence’s claim about Martinique’s behaviour prior to their meeting was, at best, an exaggeration. The French islanders announced their squad to face the Warriors on 22 August, which was 15 days before the fixture and 11 days before Lawrence named his own roster.
On match day, though, Martinique coach Mario Bocaly had two new players on his roster: midfielder Cyril Mandouki and attacker Julio Donisa. Incidentally, Paris FC announced on 2 September—the same day Lawrence named his squad—that Mandouki had been summoned by his national team. Bocaly made another adjustment for the return leg in Port of Spain too, as central defender Jordy Delem was also added to the Martinique squad.
Delem’s involvement was shared by his employers, Seattle Sounders FC, on 3 September. And it is hardly likely to have escaped the attention of his teammate and Trinidad and Tobago international, Joevin Jones.
Concacaf rules on the matter state that teams must reveal their roster to the confederation with at least 48 hours to spare before kick off. But there is no stipulation about revealing your players to the public. Teams generally share squad information as a matter of updating their own supporters and building hype around fixtures.
It is uncertain why Bocaly made the late changes but Lawrence clearly felt it helped the French islanders. And his mood would have soured further when Mandouki got Martinique’s sole goal in Fort-de-France. Now, Lawrence will try that ‘trick’ out himself against Honduras.
But what is the TTFA doing to help the Men’s National Senior Team?
Tonight, there will be two Trinidad and Tobago sporting teams fighting for their survival: the Soca Warriors and the Trinbago Knight Riders. The Caribbean Premier League (CPL) cricket competition announced its fixtures on 28 May 2019. Concacaf, after feedback from its Member Associations, revealed its Nations League fixtures in September.
It meant TTFA president David John-Williams and, in particular, his general secretary Camara David had nearly four months to spot the clash in dates since the CPL semifinal was always carded for Trinidad. Yet, they choose to continue with a 10 October appointment against Martinique rather than ask for the match to be played 24 hours earlier or later instead.
Lawrence admitted that he would be preferred if the Warriors were not playing on the night of the CPL semifinals but suggested the ‘die-hard’ football fans would find their way to the Hasely Crawford Stadium anyway.
“If you are a passionate football fan, you will come out to the football game,” said Lawrence. “If you’re a passionate cricket fan, you will go to the cricket. We would have liked it to be two different days for obvious reasons but that’s not the case. As much as we would like to see 25,000 people [tonight], it ent going to happen.
“We have to focus on the job at hand and try to get a positive result against Honduras. The only way we can bring [football fans] back is positive results on the football field.”
Lawrence hopes that the new additions to his squad inject enthusiasm and passion into the group. He suggested too that, other than hapless defending at set pieces, there has been little wrong with the Warriors’ performances in the Nations League so far.
“What we did well [in the Nations League so far] is we managed to score two goals in open play,” said Lawrence. “I thought we managed the ball well and overall if you look at the chances we gave martinique over two legs, it wasn’t much. What we definitely didn’t do well is defend against set pieces.
“[…] It’s not much to change in terms of what we did overall in the game because to score two goals from open play is not easy in international football [and] we managed to do that. We just need to improve on the things we do well and be a bit more relaxed about the things we didn’t do well and defend the set pieces in a good way.”
Concacaf’s stats paint a less rosy picture. In the head to head with Martinique, the Frenchmen led the Warriors on nearly every positive category with 31 shots to 18, 24 steals to 17, 13 corner kicks to seven, 517 correct passes to 449 and with a pass accuracy of 92% to 82%.
In contrast, Trinidad and Tobago had 100 misplaced passes to 47 from Martinique. Only two teams involved in the Nations League had more errant passes than Lawrence’s team to date: Antigua and Barbuda (103) and El Salvador (104).
At present, the Warriors are 12 matches without a win, which is a joint record for any local national team. However, there were recent positives with newcomers Ryan Telfer and Daniel Carr, in particular, showing an immediate aptitude for international football while Kevin Molino has scored twice in his last three games.
Veteran custodian Marvin Phillip, who recently joined Neroca FC in India, also looks in good form while the Ascension Invitational Tournament allowed the likes of Curtis Gonzales, Ross Russell Jr, Aikim Andrews and Dwane James to push for squad positions.
Tonight, Lawrence will hope it culminates in a three point haul.