I arrived 20 minutes prior to kick off at the Estadio Centroamericano in Mayaguez to a populated parking lot with a surprising stream of fans in red, white and blue.
The Puerto Rican Football Federation president Ivan Rivera stated on 15 March that the game would be played behind closed doors. Apparently for the Boriquen ‘closed to the public’ is as fluid a term as ‘excellence’ for Trinidad and Tobago head coach Terry Fenwick.
I learned that the Puerto Rican Federation provided every football club on the island with two tickets; and, although there was a guest list at the entrance, some Puerto Rican clubs might have studied our 19 November 1989 ticketing process.
The World Cup qualifier was staged at the home of Puerto Rico Sol FC, one of the strongest football programs in Puerto Rico since its founding in 2016. Across the street is Plaza Patos y Copas, a wonderful revenue generator—though I do not know whether for the club or the federation.
Former TTFA president David John-Williams would love the setting.
As the match kicked off on a pitch surrounded by an athletic track, Fenwick spent much of his time in lane one trying to get as close as possible to his players who he shouted orders to constantly.
Puerto Rico head coach Dave Sarachan, on the hand, only emerged from his bench with the occasional tactical adjustment.
The first half ended with both teams still on even terms. Thank Trinidad and Tobago goalkeeper Nicklas Frenderup for that, as he was lively and commanding—save for one strike that he judged to be wide but which struck his near post.
As the second half got underway, our back four must have felt like I did at the San Juan airport, greeted by an ants’ nest of Covid-19 regulations and tables of individuals in gloves, masks and white disposal suits, awaiting your ‘intake’. It was like a scene from the movie Pandemic.
In the Estadio Centroamericano, Trinidad and Tobago, effectively using four six foot central defenders across their entire backline, were struggling to cope with the nippy Puerto Ricans.
The 17-year-old human highlight reel that is right winger Wilfredo A Rivera Cepeda, aka Wilfredo Rivera, looked particularly impressive in an otherwise mediocre game.
Wilfredo spent his early years at one of the oldest clubs in Puerto Rico, Academia Quintana, and hails from the Quintana neighborhood of San Juan, where boys sweat from early in the morning until after the sun sets. He immigrated to Jacksonville, FL where he eventually joined Orlando FC.
Almost every talented footballer has some ‘barrio football’ in their past and Wilfredo is no different. The sons of the privileged almost never rise to the top in the game.
Fenwick injected some creativity into his team in the second half by swapping Daniel Phillips with Duane Muckette, and the impact was felt on and off the field.
“Ay Dios Mio (oh my God),” said the Puerto Rican fan next to me, “it’s good they did not start ‘Number 10’ because he changed the game. Now we are going to lose…”
Joevin Jones put the visitors ahead within 10 minutes of Muckette’s introduction. But the Trinidad and Tobago players were not efficient with our chances, while their defence always seemed desperate for protection from the Puerto Rico attackers.
We needed better game management. There didn’t appear to be a plan to sit deeper and hit them on the counter with Levi Garcia and Willis Plaza, or for Michel Poon-Angeron to stay home and look after the back four.
The match remained opened and Puerto Rico eventually found an equaliser with an attack that was well constructed but poorly defended.
“Yo soy Boricua pa que tu lo sepas (I am Puerto Rican in case you didn’t know),” sang the home fans, as they pushed their boys to go for the victory.
But 1-1 was as good as it was going to get for the hosts.
I was fortunate to meet and spend some time with Puerto Rico defender Nicolás Javier Cordona and flanker Gerald Jadiel Diaz after the match. They and the supporters felt the result was fair, although they felt they could have taken all three points.
They still view Trinidad and Tobago as a Caribbean powerhouse and considered the result to be an excellent one for the development of Puerto Rican football.
As a true patriot, I played along with their description of our team as a ‘powerhouse’, and did not tell them the emperor might have lost his jockey shorts some time ago.
On now to 5 June in the Bahamas, where we need a decisive, high-scoring victory to set up a showdown against St Kitts and Nevis in Port of Spain on 8 June.
I hope the Government of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago can resolve international access to the country by then, or we will likely be back in the new home of the Caribbean Football Union (CFU): the Dominican Republic.
I am not holding my breath for the GORTT, after observing epidemiologist Dr Avery Hinds arriving at conclusions without data and Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi facilitating arm-wrestling without a mask.
Maybe our attorney general heard Fenwick’s constant calls to his players to get ‘closer, closer… closerrrrrrr!’