Trinidad and Tobago will now almost certainly miss out on the Concacaf Hex qualifying series for the Qatar 2022 World Cup, after a 2-0 loss to Honduras in Port of Spain last night saw the Soca Warriors slip to the bottom of Group C in the Concacaf Nations League tournament.
Coach Dennis Lawrence’s men needed a win to keep their chances alive of an automatic berth to either the World Cup or Gold Cup. Instead, the Warriors stretched their winless run to an unprecedented 13 straight games and ended up with just nine players on the field to boot—after ejections for exciting winger Levi Garcia and full back Mekeil Williams.
It was the first time two Trinidad and Tobago players were sent off in the same match, since midfielder Dale Saunders and goalkeeper Michael McComie saw red against St Kitts and Nevis in 1998.
In the build-up to last night’s affair, Lawrence refused to name his squad in an attempt to gain an advantage over Honduras. It smacked of desperation by the six foot seven head coach and Honduran coach Fabián Coito might have felt an air of anti-climax when he did see the Trinidad and Tobago starting team.
Lawrence named a strong collection of individuals mind you—despite his continuing snub of wingers Joevin Jones and Keston Julien—but, other than his decision to sacrifice combative midfielder Kevan George for Leston Paul, there was nothing remotely different about Lawrence’s approach tonight.
It is not just that Lawrence has failed to win any of his last 13 matches but he has also effectively played the same ineffective game 13 times. Under the first time head coach, Trinidad and Tobago are not convincing on the ball or off of it. They have not stood out at keeping the ball or winning it back; they are neither a possession-based team or a convincing counter-attacking one.
In Concacaf’s array of statistical data on its 34 teams involved in the Nations League, Trinidad and Tobago rank first for most misplaced passes (129), cautions (nine yellow and two red cards) and fouls suffered (50). All three aspects of their game were on show last night in an exciting but ultimately unrewarding outing for the roughly 1,200 home supporters, who braved the inclement weather and snubbed the Trinbago Knight Riders to back the Warriors.
The days of showing up expecting a Trinidad and Tobago triumph are a distant memory and Lawrence’s men are yet to win a match in this calendar year. So it was little surprise that goalkeeper Marvin Phillip was already in the thick of things within the first 10 minutes, as he had to make a sharp save while back-pedalling to deny opposing striker Bryan Róchez after just eight minutes.
Not that the host team rolled over. Captain Khaleem Hyland offering welcomed physical presence in central midfield while Garcia was more than a handful down the right flank.
There was genuine cause for optimism too when defender Sheldon Bateau crashed a header off the Honduran bar in the 27th minute, after a Kevin Molino corner kick. But Bateau’s effort would be the only time that Trinidad and Tobago got an effort on target for the 90 minutes plus stoppage time.
Honduran captain and veteran defender Maynor Figueroa drew an alert save from Phillip off a free kick in the 44th minute. And the T&T goalkeeper would have exhaled in relief after he parried an attempt from Jonathan Toro into the path of winger Alberth Elis in the 48th minute, only to see the latter skew his shot wide.
But they were only delaying the inevitable and the visitors eventually went ahead in the 51st minute, as Elis glided past Cyrus down the right flank and squared for Brayan Moya to squeeze his low shot into the far corner despite a slight deflection. The 27 year old Moya plays professionally in Venezuela and he seemed comfortable enough in Port of Spain.
With attacker Ryan Telfer enduring his first off-colour outing for the Warriors and Molino subdued after the break, Lawrence replaced ineffective forward Daniel Carr with Canada-based live-wire Akeem ‘Froggy’ Garcia.
Akeem, a former national youth team standout, did not look out of place either. But the Warriors were in trouble when their most threatening player, Levi, picked up his second yellow card for a foul that was neither malicious nor necessary.
Lawrence responded by throwing on another attacking player as Ataulla Guerra came on for Paul with Hyland dropped back as the midfield anchor. The Warriors were playing narrower in attack now with full backs Alvin Jones and Williams asked to provide the width.
A band of supporters in the uncovered stands made a suggestion to Lawrence in song.
“We want Joevin! We want Joevin!”
Able to operate at full back, wing back or as an attacking midfielder, Joevin was not a bad shout for the situation. Instead, Lawrence replaced Telfer with another tidy but non-penetrative central midfielder, Duane Muckette.
Joevin’s younger brother, Alvin, nearly fashioned an equaliser for the hosts with a whipped free kick that Bateau failed to turn in at the far post. But Honduras doubled their advantage in the 89th minute, as Elis again sauntered past Cyrus and teed up substitute Douglas Martinez for the insurance goal.
The Warriors were lucky to even have 10 players on the field at that point, as referee Mario Escobar showed yellow to Alvin and Phillip after a square-off between both teams when he might have easily flashed another colour.
Marvin’s luck was not Mekeil’s luck, though, as Williams got a straight red card for a two-footed lunge at Honduras right back Felix Crisanto in stoppage time. Williams was applauded on his way to the dressing room by some sections of the uncovered stands. Perhaps it is so disorienting to be a Warriors fan at present that it is hard to figure out what is worth clapping. Or maybe it is best to cheer whenever you can.
Lawrence has generally shown a brave face to the public. But, in his first job as head coach, he knows holds a national record for consecutive losses (seven) and winless games (13) while finishing bottom of the group in three consecutive competitions, the Concacaf Hex, Gold Cup and now Nations League.
It is a long way back to respectability from here for the Warriors.
Trinidad and Tobago (4-2-3-1): 1.Marvin Phillip (GK); 16.Alvin Jones, 4.Sheldon Bateau, 5.Daneil Cyrus, 17.Mekeil Williams [Red Card]; 23.Leston Paul (9.Ataulla Guerra 73), 8.Khaleem Hyland (captain); 11.Levi Garcia [Red Card], 10.Kevin Molino, 7.Ryan Telfer (13.Duane Muckette 87); 14.Daniel Carr (20.Akeem Garcia 62).
Unused substitutes: 21.Glenroy Samuel (GK), 22.Adrian Foncette (GK), 2.Aubrey David, 3.Joevin Jones, 6.Keston Julien, 15.Neveal Hackshaw, 12.Carlyle Mitchell, 18.Aikim Andrews, 19.Kevan George.
Coach: Dennis Lawrence
Honduras (4-2-2-2): 22.Luis Lopez (GK); 2.Félix Crisanto, 4.Henry Figueroa, 3.Maynor Figueroa (captain), 5.Éver Alvarado; 8.Carlos Pineda, 10.Alexander López (20.Jorge Álvarez 75); 17.Alberth Ellis, 12.Jonathan Toro; 11.Bryan Róchez (16.Rigoberto Rivas 67), 13.Brayan Moya (14.Douglas Martinez 81).
Unused substitutes: 1.Harold Fonseca (GK), 18.Jose Zuniga (GK), 6.Bryan Acosta, 7.Emilio Izaguirre, 9.Jorge Benguche, 15.Denil Maldonado, 19.Luis Garrido, 21.Danilo Tobias, 23.Edwin Solano.
Coach: Fabián Coito