Trinidad and Tobago Men’s National Senior Team interim head coach Angus Eve has replaced injured midfielders Khaleem Hyland and Judah Garcia with a pair of United States-based defenders, Mekeil Williams and Noah Powder, for the group stage of the 2021 Concacaf Gold Cup.
The 30-year-old Williams, who has 30 national senior team caps with one goal, has not represented the Soca Warriors since 11 November 2019 when he played in a 3-0 friendly defeat away to Ecuador—under then national coach Dennis Lawrence.
However, the central defender has featured regularly for Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC this season in the USL Championship, which is the United States’ second tier competition.
The 22-year-old Powder also plays in the USL Championship, after being loaned to Real Monarchs from MLS team Real Salt Lake. Powder can operate at left back or right back and was a surprise omission from Eve’s initial team, although he has just three national senior team caps—all as a substitute under former coach Terry Fenwick.
Eve declared that left back Triston Hodge has recovered from the groin strain which kept him out of Tuesday’s decisive Gold Cup playoff contest against French Guiana. He will also continue with experienced defender Aubrey David, although the player had eight stitches to his chin about being kicked in the face by Montserrat defender Nathan Pond during the first round of the playoff.
However, it was telling that Eve opted to look past his two standby players, midfielders Michel Poon-Angeron and Molik Khan and send for additional defenders instead. (Poon-Angeron and Khan were released from the team after their opening playoff contest against Montserrat on 2 July.)
The Soca Warriors roster now comprises 11 defenders, three midfielders, four attacking midfielders, three goalkeepers and two forwards.
Eve employed a 4-2-3-1 formation for the start of the preliminary games against Montserrat and French Guiana but could potentially switch to a five-man defence for the group stage.
Arguably, the Warriors have 12 defenders in their ranks as Neveal Hackshaw plays central defence for Indy Eleven in the USL Championship while he primarily played at left back under Fenwick. Hackshaw, a former central midfielder for Eve at North East Stars, made it clear what his preferred role is though.
“I like centre midfield,” said a grinning Hackshaw, at tonight’s virtual press conference. “It is tough but I like to control the game and set the tone. I also like to tackle.”
Hackshaw will likely take over Hyland’s role as a spiky box-to-box presence against Mexico and should be pivotal if Trinidad and Tobago are to get the ball off ‘El Tricolor’. The two nations meet from 10.36pm in the Group A opener on Saturday 10 July at the AT&T Stadium in Frisco.
Eve said he is honoured to have led the Warriors into the confederation’s showcase tournament where they belong. However, he was quick to downplay suggestions from the Mexican media that Trinidad and Tobago remain a tricky opponent for the Spanish-speaking North American nation.
Trinidad and Tobago held Mexico to a sensational 4-4 draw in their last competitive meeting at the 2015 Gold Cup—a result that saw the twin island republic finish above El Tri in Group C.
“This is a different squad in a different period of time,” said Eve. “Generally we did very well against Mexico, [but] in this case we are in a rebuilding stage… We are just trying to reestablish ourselves in Concacaf and we are taking it one step at a time.
“This game is a good measurement to see where we are at this point in time in our developmental process.”
The big news in Concacaf this evening was about another team who will miss the tournament due to Covid-19 protocols. Once more, it is an opponent that might have caused headaches for Trinidad and Tobago.
In the preliminary stage, Cuba were forced to withdraw from the Gold Cup due to Covid-19 concerns and, today, it was the turn of a formidable Curaçao team led by former Netherlands and Chelsea coach Guus Hiddink.
“Ahead of the start of the Gold Cup Group Stage, all competing national teams went through several rounds of testing,” stated a Concacaf release, “and, unfortunately, the Curaçao delegation returned a significant number of positive results across their staff and players in the last round of testing.
“[…] Although several Curaçao players returned a negative test result, local state guidelines require several of them to isolate due to being close contacts of those who tested positive. In light of these circumstances, Concacaf and the Curaçao Football Federation have mutually agreed that Curaçao will not participate in the Gold Cup.
“Concacaf and the Curaçao Football Federation have made every effort to find a solution that would enable Curaçao to compete, however the health and safety of the Curaçao players and staff, and all participants in the tournament, must be prioritised.”
The Concacaf Council ‘unanimously agreed’ that Curaçao’s place should go to ‘the next highest ranked team from the Gold Cup Preliminary Round’, which is Guatemala.
Guatemala are ranked 127th in the world by Fifa, while Trinidad and Tobago are 103rd. It means that even if the Soca Warriors were eliminated by French Guiana, they would still have qualified!
Remarkably, the Concacaf ruling might have received a mixed response from the National Football Federation of Guatemala. Yesterday, the Guatemalan football body sacked its head coach, Amarini Villatoro, following the team’s elimination on Tuesday night in a penalty shootout defeat to Guadeloupe.
The Guatemala officials must now find a caretaker coach and fly a team out to Texas within 48 hours, after Concacaf pushed its opening game against El Salvador back to Sunday night.
The spin-off effect of the group change is that Trinidad and Tobago will have 24 hours more rest than El Salvador when the two nations meet in their second group match at the Toyota Stadium in Frisco on Wednesday 14 July. And their clash can be a virtual playoff for a quarterfinal place.
In 12 all-time meetings between Trinidad and Tobago and El Salvador, the twin island republic have won five matches with four draws and three losses. The Warriors are unbeaten in their last six games against El Salvador—a run that stretches back to 2007 when a TTFF ‘blacklist’ meant a second string team represented T&T and lost 2-1 to the Central American nation at the Gold Cup, despite an unforgettable Silvio Spann free kick.
Trinidad and Tobago and Guatemala have eight wins each with seven draws in their own head-to-head tally. Guatemala have not defeated the Soca Warriors since a freak 5-1 win in Guatemala City in 2005. Since then Trinidad and Tobago defeated Guatemala three times while there were also four draws.
On Tuesday evening, a bottle and spoon session at a Miami restaurant was not the end of the festivities for the Trinidad and Tobago team as Eve gave the players the night off. A few national players were subsequently spotted at a night club.
“All the players had the night off, so the guys were free until 9am the next morning for breakfast,” said Eve. “To say I know where they went—I don’t know…”
Today, the Covid-19 test results came back for the Trinidad and Tobago contingent. And they were all negative.
Famous French general Napoleon Bonaparte once retorted, after the suggestion that he was simply lucky in battle, that: ‘I’d rather have lucky generals than good ones’.
Soon after accepting the post of interim head coach, Eve told the media that he is ‘a praying man’. With no slight meant at his coaching acumen, it shows.
Trinidad and Tobago Team (Tabulated as club; age; caps/goals scored)
Goalkeepers: 1.Marvin Phillip (Unattached; 36; 80/0), 21.Nicklas Frenderup (Ranheim Il—Denmark; 28; 6/0), 22.Adrian Foncette (Police FC; 32; 17/0);
Defenders: 2.Aubrey David (Deportivo Saprissa—Costa Rica; 30; 59/1), 4.Jelani Peters (Pittsburgh Riverhounds—USA; 27; 2/0), 5.Curtis Gonzales (Defence Force; 32; 39/0), 6.Radanfah Abu Bakr (Unattached; 34; 37/2), 8.Mekeil Williams (Pittsburgh Riverhounds—USA; 30; 30/1), 11.Noah Powder (Real Monarchs—USA; 22; 3/0), 16.Alvin Jones (Unattached; 26; 28/1), 17.Justin Garcia (Defence Force; 25; 5/0), 18.Triston Hodge (Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC—USA; 26; 18/0), 19.Ross Russell Jr (Terminix La Horquetta Rangers; 29; 7/0), 23.Jesse Williams (Unattached; 20; 1/0);
Midfielders: 3.Hashim Arcia (Defence Force; 32; 13/1), 15.Neveal Hackshaw (Indy Eleven—USA; 25; 21/0), 20.Duane Muckette (Unattached; 25; 11/1);
Attacking midfielders: 7.Ryan Telfer (Atletico Ottawa—Canada; 27; 13/5), 10.Kevin Molino (Columbus Crew—USA; 31; 52/23), 13.Reon Moore (Defence Force; 24; 5/2), 14.Andre Fortune II (Memphis 901 FC—USA; 24; 7/0);
Forwards: 9.Marcus Joseph (Unattached; 30; 22/7), 12.Isaiah Lee (Terminix La Horquetta Rangers; 21; 3/0).
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