Soca Warriors head coach Terry Fenwick blamed the Trinidad and Tobago Football Association’s (TTFA) inadequate development programme in general and the poor concentration of his players in particular, as the Men’s National Senior Team slumped to a joint national record 7-0 loss last night in friendly action away to the United States in Orlando.
It was Fenwick’s opening game in charge since he was hired in December 2019, on US$20,000 (TT$135,000) per month, and the Warriors fell behind after just one minute and 43 seconds and never recovered. They trailed 4-0 at the half and conceded three more in the opening 17 minutes of the second half.
Fenwick, a former England World Cup defender, said the occasion was too much for his players.
“We went in the game with a game plan,” Fenwick told the TTFA Media. “I can only think that for some of the senior players, it was too much—the occasion. We didn’t have the big attitude, the big strength.
“[…] We were very poor in the opening stages and it set the tone for the game.”
Fenwick, who started national team training last July, introduced eight new overseas-based players to his squad in Orlando with five of those recruits playing from the start—including debutants Leland Archer in central defence, Federico Pena at right back, and 18-year-old Ajani Fortune in midfield.
He suggested that he was dissatisfied with their output.
“I took the gamble because they are playing in the USA, [they are] MLS and USL players,” said the Warriors coach. “I didn’t see that experience coming through. I thought we crumbled very early.
“[…] I had six players start the game that I had not seen before [in the flesh]. I expected more, I expected better. We just didn’t perform. It was like the occasion was too much.”
It was, arguably, an incomplete assessment of the thinking that went into Fenwick’s starting team.
The English coach started a portly Josiah Trimmingham in central defence and gave him the captain’s armband in only his second international appearance, while 18-year-old Ajani Fortune, an academy player at Atlanta United, has only played 11 senior games in his entire career—all in the US lower leagues.
And his sole Major League Soccer (MLS) player, full back Noah Powder, did not feature until the 82nd minute, while Neveal Hackshaw, an all-star player in the US second tier who can operate in midfield or defence, had to wait until the second half to get on the field.
Fenwick said his starting team failed to follow his tactical plan of playing the ball long and pressing the Americans high up the field.
“We recognised that the USA are very energetic […] and they press very quickly from the front,” said Fenwick. “So the game plan was to turn them around early doors, get them running back to their own goal—so we could be the ones pressing. Get [the ball] in behind [their defence], let’s pack in and close them down.
“And you recognised from the first goal; Leland Archer trying to place a ball into midfield, which they capitalised on, bang a goal within minutes.”
In truth though, Trinidad and Tobago never got any value from Fenwick’s high press, which the Americans easily played past to find oceans of space to stream into. Left back Sam Vines and winger Jonathan Lewis were particularly rampant down the left flank, while, on the other wing, Paul Arriola often snuck away from Jamal Jack in transition.
Fenwick started two rookies, Sean Bonval and Jabari Mitchell, in attacking wide positions and the team’s high press often left them isolated from their own full backs during the Warriors’ defensive transitions. The Trinidad and Tobago midfield failed to sufficiently slow the advance of their opponents too.
As for the long ball approach that Fenwick pointed to, by halftime the Warriors managed just 99 passes with an accuracy rate of 57 percent. The Americans had 328 passes by then with a 91 percent accuracy rate.
“We had a game plan how we wanted to start the first 15 minutes and senior players within the mechanism switched off,” said Fenwick. “We gave the ball away cheaply in areas we already discussed we wouldn’t do so, and that started us off all wrong. I thought that throughout the first half was very poor, our performance was terrible.
“In the second half when our younger players came on—our local guys who have been training for a while—they actually stuck to [the game plan] and we started to play a bit of football. I’ve got to take a bit of positive out of that.
“I liked some of what I saw but obviously there is a great deal of work to be done.”
Fenwick introduced Duane Muckette, Matthew Woo Ling, Michel Poon-Angeron and Hackshaw just before the hour mark while Justin Garcia replaced the injured Trimmingham.
“I think you’ve got to recognise the best bits of football we played, if there is an upside, it was in the second half,” said Fenwick. “I think Hackshaw came on and made a good difference […] and our local guys in the middle of the park started to play a bit of football, pressed forward, got the penalty which was squandered [by Alvin Jones].
“I saw that as a positive. It is up to me now to cherrypick the ones that are going to be of value and move on to the next stage.”
Muckette and Poon-Angeron, in particular, gave the Warriors more poise on the ball. But it is also worth noting that USA coach Gregg Berhalter withdrew Arriola and Jesús Ferreira in the 65th minute, and at least one of the pair was involved in each of their seven goals last night.
America’s last goal came in the 62nd minute. But the hosts continued to create chances throughout, although their incisiveness had gone.
Fenwick reminded local football fans of the gap between the two nations.
“The US have got guys at Barcelona, Chelsea all over the world,” he said. “[…] They are doing a wonderful job with their development programme. We haven’t got a development programme. There’s nothing.
“[…] By the time the players get to my national side, there is still a helluva lot of development to be done. We have got to try to correct that.”
Trinidad and Tobago’s developmental issues were not only an issue for Fenwick, of course, and it did not stop him from criticising the work and acumen of previous coaches—not least his immediate predecessor, Dennis Lawrence. (Former head coach Stephen Hart, for instance, took the Warriors to Buenos Aires to face a full strength Argentina team with Lionel Messi in 2014 and fared better.)
At his unveiling on 6 January 2020, Fenwick took a swipe at Lawrence who lost 6-0 to USA at the 2019 Concacaf Gold Cup.
“I think the past administration was playing a style of football that clearly doesn’t work and sticks out like a sore thumb, based on the results that we’ve seen,” said Fenwick. “I’ve got to change that… We are blessed with some fantastic footballers, but unless you put them footballers together in a system of play that suits them, you lose games and that’s what we’ve had.
“Some teams get beat by playing the wrong style of football. Play to what your strengths are and then that will pull you through…
“I’m good at putting pictures in the player’s minds, structuring a team so they know where to fall back if they are not playing as well. So they have a game plan—not just when we are defending but in terms of how we keep the ball and how we hurt the opposition.”
After 12 months on the job, there was no sign yet of progress. However, on the plus side, Fenwick won’t have to face the United States every day.
Trinidad and Tobago are expected to host Dominica and St Vincent and the Grenadines later this month in more friendly action. Then the Warriors start their Qatar 2022 World Cup qualifying campaign on 25 March, when they host Guyana.
By then, Fenwick would hope to have a couple new UK-born players alongside stalwarts like Kevin Molino, Levi Garcia, Joevin Jones, Sheldon Bateau and captain Khaleem Hyland, who were missed yesterday.
“[The World Cup qualifying campaign] was always our focus,” he said. “We have to move on from this… There were some positives from the younger guys coming through; we had some nice passages of play.
“We are playing against a top class team… A lot of the things that we were working on, they do very well… I just thought they gave us a lesson on what we were trying to work at ourselves.”
Coaches usually suffer chastening results towards the end of their stint, Fenwick got his on his first outing. Time will tell if there is comfort to be derived from starting off at rock bottom.
In any case, the Englishman won’t be going anywhere soon. A crucial tweak in the contract offered to him by the TTFA Board means that Fenwick has to win just two games—against Montserrat and either Cuba or French Guiana—to trigger a two year extension, which comes with a pay increase to US$25,000 (TT$169,000) per month.
(The TTFA technical committee, chaired by Keith Look Loy, challenged Fenwick to secure a Gold Cup quarterfinal place to get an extension, but the coach had then president William Wallace alter his terms so that merely qualifying for the Gold Cup is sufficient.)
The Fenwick era has started. It can only get better—surely.