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Fenwick: ‘We didn’t have the big attitude’, T&T coach says players botched game plan in USA mauling

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.

Photo: United States defender George Bello (foreground) tries to hold off Trinidad and Tobago midfielder Alvin Jones during an international friendly in Orlando on 31 January 2021.
USA won 7-0.
(Copyright AP Photo/Phelan M Ebenhack)

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.

Photo: United States forward Jonathan Lewis (centre) reacts after scoring his team’s sixth goal in their 7-0 rout of Trinidad and Tobago in Orlando on 31 January 2021.
(Copyright AP Photo/Phelan M Ebenhack)

“[…] 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.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago defender Leland Archer (left) makes a headed clearance while goalkeeper Adrian Foncette tries to reach the ball during friendly international action against the US on 31 January 2021.
(Copyright AP Photo/Phelan M Ebenhack)

“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.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago head coach Terry Fenwick shouts instructions to his players during friendly international against the United States on 31 January 2021.
T&T lost 7-0.
(Copyright AP Photo/Phelan M Ebenhack)

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.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago midfielder Duane Muckette (left) competes with USA midfielder Kellyn Acosta for the ball during international friendly action in Orlando on 31 January 2021.
(Copyright AP Photo/Phelan M Ebenhack)

“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.

Photo: United States midfielder Christian Pulisic (centre) prepares to drive home his team’s opening goal while Trinidad and Tobago midfielder Kevan George looks on during 2018 World Cup qualifying action at the Ato Boldon Stadium on 10 October 2017.
Pulisic plays for England Premier League team, Chelsea.
(Copyright AFP 2017/Ashley Allen)

“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.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago Men’s National Senior Team head coach Terry Fenwick is introduced to the media at the National Cycling Centre, Couva on 6 January 2020.
(Courtesy Allan V Crane/CA-Images/TTFA Media)

“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.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago winger Levi Garcia (left) holds off USA right back DeAndre Yedlin during 2018 World Cup qualifying action in Couva on 10 October 2017.
(Courtesy Chevaughn Christopher/Wired868)

“[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.

Photo: Soca Warriors head coach Terry Fenwick (left) has a word with assistant Keon Trim (centre) and manager Adrian Romain during a training session at the St James Police Barracks on 13 November 2020.
(Copyright Daniel Prentice/Wired868)

(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.

About Lasana Liburd

Lasana Liburd
Lasana Liburd is the CEO and Editor at Wired868.com and a journalist with over 20 years experience at several Trinidad and Tobago and international publications including Play the Game, World Soccer, UK Guardian and the Trinidad Express.

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4 comments

  1. It’s mind blowing that a coach would directly go from playing pick up sides made up of players who are not in training, to playing a team that he himself recognizes, is made up of players who are the products of vastly superior structure.

    It’s goes pass mind blowing that the coach having taken this game, chooses to fill his starting eleven with players he has never seen, who haven’t played together, who haven’t done the necessary repeats of his system of play, but at the end of play, the coach blames them for not sticking to instructions.

    Even worst than mind blowing is instead of playing compact closer to your goal, is attempting to play a high press against a vastly superior team, when your side is basically made up of ( in your own words) unknown,unfamiliar, quality and quantity.

    And it’s gets even more confusing when it seems you praise the American system as being better, fill the starting team with players from that system, proceed to blame them for failing, and praise the second half local substitutes, for keeping to the coaches plan, which kept the Americans at bay and produced a unsuccessful penalty kick.

    You cannot have it all Coach, you made the calls, you decided to go from weak local pick up games to playing the second best team, instead of following a gradual progressive path. You probably didn’t factor in, that a possible heavy one sided lost at this point, can morally and mortally wound the youngsters that makes up your team. Hopefully things cannot get worst than this, and the team can rebound and give a favourable showing,but that’s your call.

    You also have to speak clearly and honestly to your team and the public, as there are many persons who can differentiate between words of brilliance, and attempts to bamboozle.

  2. A couple takeaways from this article (and from the match in general)
    This was a USA-B…maybe even a USA-C team.
    The talent on the pitch was not their full-spec unit. The plays, however, would be similar to what the genuine article would attempt to execute—just they would do it with faster, more experienced, more talented players in some positions. ESPECIALLY the #10 spot, Chelsea player, Christian Pulisic.
    Paul Arriola is nothing special, but if you leave a man unmarked and free to roam in your area, he’s gonna knock some in.
    Terry Fenwick described, in terms he would later go on to contradict himself; a gameplan that involved pressing high and lofting long balls into the area behind the USA defense.
    Huh?
    Has he even watched USA play? They pressure teams in the middle and counterattack on the run, using superior pace and penetrative runs. In possession, USA has about 9 players at or around the halfline and one guy back behind the centre circle. How can you loft anything behind their lines when your players are in front their lines? how that making sense?
    Terry is meh boy eh…but are we surprised that an English defender from the 80s would favour a “boom kick out of defense” strategy? No…no we’re not.

    Sorry…I just had a flashback of watching Tottenham playing on my dad’s old Zenith 19″ black and white TV set on a Saturday morning to a 0-0 draw….Where am I…what year is this…? Perhaps Terry is having the same bad dream, as well? Stuck in the same groundhog day rituals of the past?
    In his preemptive assault on the time-honoured TTFA Fortress of Ineptitude, Fenwick highlights everything that’s not in place in T&T football development. This comes as a shock to 1,299,999 of the citizens of this country, so I can only question where Fenwick has spent the last dozen or so years of his life.
    To paraphrase a good bredrin: “Stevie Wonder couldah see that coming.”
    His detour into the plans set for the matchday, Fenwick’s ideology was always going to be met with disaster. Walk me through his logic here:
    1: Set a matchday strategy with your training squad
    2: Practice and drill said strategy with the players in hand
    3: Book scrimmage with #2 team in regional zone
    4: Leave out all the key players for the first half
    5: Put in 6 players you never saw except for clips on the ‘Grams
    6: Hope for the best
    Again…Stevie Wonder…
    Look…is Terry, meh good bredrin, a “make-shit” coach? No, he’s not. But clearly he’s gotta man up to his own deficiencies here. Sampson had the foresight to pick the right side of the donkey to tackle the lion. Terry, for some bad choices, ends up on the wrong side of history.
    Oh…and everybody should give Foncette half they pay…cause yeah bai…the breddah save at least another half dozen clear goals.

  3. Similar comments would’ve been made by St. Clair, Porterfield, Gally Cummings, Simoes, Corneal & Son, Vidale, Hart, Lawrence etc. Strategy, tactics and playing to a plan has never been our men’s National soccer team (and I suspect all the various age group teams) strong suit, except for a brief period under Beenhakker. At the risk of the COP accusing me of never kicking a lime her is my take on our footballing dilemma A complete overhaul of our grassroot programs must be done because the system that feed players into the national team is doing a real disservice to national coaches and fans of the game. Simply put, why at the national team level we cannot consistently string together four passes or simply keep the ball for 90secs?