Trinidad and Tobago closed off their Concacaf Women’s Under-20 Championship campaign tonight with a 5-0 defeat to Canada in their final Group G fixture at the Estadio Panamericano in San Cristóbal.
It might say something about their short-lived Under-20 World Cup campaign that tonight’s result might genuinely be considered their high point so far.
The junior Women Soca Warriors conceded just once in the first half and three times within the first hour against Canada. In contrast, after just half-hour against St Kitts and Nevis on Sunday, coach Jason Spence’s charges were already trailing by four goals.
Thankfully, any concerns that the scoreline in today’s contest might reach double figures proved unfounded.
Goalkeeper Akyla Walcott deserved much of the credit for that. Walcott, who represents Essex County College in the USA, made over a dozen blocks tonight—none better than her thrilling double save in the 46th minute.
Walcott flew high to her right to keep out a drive from Canada playmaker Keera Melenhorst and then dove low to prevent poacher Holly Ward from pouncing on the rebound.
It encapsulated a welcome return to form for the custodian, who did not do herself justice against the Sugar Girlz.
Spence swapped formations too as Trinidad and Tobago exchanged their 4-3-3 formation for a more conservative 5-4-1 shape. And he would feel justified as the Women Warriors did not end up on the wrong side of an eye-watering score.
Trinidad and Tobago’s 10 outfield players worked hard all night as they tried to apply pressure on white Canadian shirts so as to at least complicate life for them. However, it was hardly a clinic in how to effectively keep your opponents at bay.
Canada got 48 shots, with 18 on target, while hogging 76% of the ball possession. Trinidad and Tobago did not manage a single shot, whether on or off target, and had a passing accuracy of just 48%—meaning that roughly one in every two passes went astray.
In three outings, Trinidad and Tobago allowed 113 shots, with 48 of them on target. At the offensive end, they managed 20 only shots themselves with nine on target.
It is uncertain too what any of the young women will take away from the competition. The players were thrown together by the normalisation committee just 48 hours before their first match and Spence was so unsure about his pre-game guidance that he spent the entire duration of each match trying to talk players through every play.
By the end of the second match, Spence was referring to the team as ‘they’ rather than ‘we’.
The Women Warriors head coach suggested before kick-off that the teenaged players hoped to ‘redeem themselves’ today. It would be surprising if he did not think his own reputation was also on the line. But, to the players’ credit, there was no shortage of effort.
Nicaraguan referee Tatiana Guzmán whistled a foul on Ward when she poked past Walcott in the seventh minute. And, in the 14th minute, Ward struck the post off a cross by right-back Elisabeth Tse.
Otherwise, Trinidad and Tobago had a fairly tranquil start to the match. Canada, unlike El Salvador and St Kitts and Nevis, opted not to utilise a high press against Spence’s troops and allowed them to make the first two passes under minimal pressure.
Was Canada coach Cindy Tye afraid that the Trinidad and Tobago backline had learned overnight how to make a 50-yard diagonal pass to beat a high press? Was Tye, who made eight changes to her team’s starting XI with three players making their first starts of the competition, being charitable?
Or is it that Canada were already preparing for the knockout stage of the competition where more organised teams might know how to play their way out of a press?
Regardless, Trinidad and Tobago were within sight of the halftime interval and their first 45-minute period without conceding when Canada went ahead.
Off a corner kick in the 37th minute, Canada forward Serita Thurton headed goalwards and, as Walcott and midfielder Darrianne Henry got in each other’s way trying to deal with it, Ward swooped in to score her third goal of the competition.
“Keep calm!” Spence shouted, from the sidelines. “Keep calm!”
The biggest problem was Trinidad and Tobago could not keep the ball. Over their three outings, the Women Warriors’ pass accuracy was 35% (El Salvador), 61% (SKN) and 48% (Canada).
To put that into context, despite failing to win a single match, the Men’s National Senior Team managed a pass accuracy of 75% (Mexico), 90% (Guatemala) and 84% (El Salvador) at the 2021 Concacaf Gold Cup.
For much of the match, Canada’s full-backs were streaming forward and pinging crosses into the area and their next two goals came from the left flank. First, Annika Leslie went around Ashante Wilson-Campbell and crossed for Thurton to head home at the far post in the 48th minute.
Then, in the 57th minute, Leslie passed inside to Melenhorst, who fired into the far corner from just inside the box.
Canada’s fourth item was the move of the match as Thurton and substitutes Brooklyn Courtnall and Miya Grant-Clavijo exchanged passes with the latter cradling the ball for Florianne Jourde to crash high into the corner.
Still, Walcott kept her head up and as many shots out as possible. She produced another fine double save in the closing minutes to deny Olivia Smith and Courtnall.
But Canada were not denied their handful. In the 89th minute, Smith headed a cross from right-back Courtnall off the far post and, after Chrissy Mitchell and Lathifa Pascall both failed to clear, Kaila Novak, another substitute, converted from close range.
It was the last highlight of the match.
Two years ago, eight members of the current Under-20 squad progressed all the way to the quarterfinal stage of the Concacaf Championship under then head coach Richard Hood, despite playing against opponents who were often two and three years older.
But a lot has changed in Trinidad and Tobago’s football over the last two years, with the imposition of a Fifa-appointed normalisation committee.
Dream over for Maria-Frances Serrant, Sarah De Gannes, Pascall and company. Presumably, Spence will return home to take charge of the Women’s Under-17 Team now.
Thanks to the muddled leadership of normalisation committee members Robert Hadad, Nigel Romano and Trevor Nicholas Gomez, Spence has no technical committee to report to.
Time will tell if newly returned technical director Anton Corneal, who replaced Dion La Foucade last month, can be of any assistance in that regard.
Trinidad and Tobago (5-4-1): 1.Akyla Walcott (GK); 2.Ashante Wilson-Campbell, 4.Latifha Pascall, 6.Chrissy Mitchell, 5.Derisha Bristol, 3.Moenesa Mejias; 10.Maria-Frances Serrant (captain), 7.Sarah De Gannes, 8.Marley Walker, 20.Darrianne Henry; 19.Shurelia Mendez (15.Ternia St Clair 65).
Unused substitutes: 16.Chelsea Ramnauth (GK), 9.Tori Paul, 11.Charlize Hood, 12.Celine Loraine, 13.Aaliyah Trim, 14.Lillian Selvon, 17.Jhelysse Anthony.
Coach: Jason Spence
Canada (4-2-3-1): 1.Anna Karpenko (GK); 15.Elisabeth Tse (14.Brooklyn Courtnall 46), 4.Jade Rose (captain) (3.Mia Pante 62), 12.Vivianne Besette, 5.Annika Leslie (vice-captain); 6.Vanessa Frelih, 13.Simi Awujo (11.Kaila Novak 62); 19.Serita Thurton (18.Olivia Smith 75), 16.Keera Melenhorst, 7.Florianne Jourde; 17.Holly Ward (9.Miya Grant-Clavijo 46).
Unused substitutes: 20.Sierra Giorgio (GK), 2.Zoe Burns, 10.Nikayla Small.
Coach: Cindy Tye
Referee: Tatiana Guzmán (Nicaragua)
Concacaf Women’s Under-20 Championship results
El Salvador 5 (Isabella Recinos 1, Josseline Uribe 16, 45+5, Victoria Sánchez 37, Andrea Amaya 64), St Kitts and Nevis 0 at Estadio Panamericano, San Cristóbal;
Trinidad and Tobago 0, Canada 5 (Holly Ward 37, Serita Thurton 48, Keera Melenhorst 57, Florianne Jourde 64, Kaila Novak 89) at Estadio Panamericano, San Cristóbal.
St Kitts and Nevis 7 (Iyanla Bailey-Williams 6, 8, 30 (pen), Jahzara Claxton 22, 45+4, 48, Ellie Stokes 61 (pen), Trinidad and Tobago 2 (Maria-Frances Serrant 33, Shurelia Mendez 75) at Estadio Panamericano, San Cristóbal;
El Salvador 0, Canada 4 (Miya Grant-Clavijo 26, Olivia Smith 53, Serita Thurton 63, 77) at Estadio Panamericano, San Cristóbal.
(25 February 2022)
Trinidad and Tobago 0, El Salvador 3 (Lesly Calderón 23, Josseline Uribe 43, Linda Guillén 86) at Estadio Panamericano, San Cristóbal;
Canada 7 (Nikayla Small 9, 33, Olivia Smith 17, 30, Holly Ward 21, 44, Keera Melenhorst 89), St Kitts and Nevis 0 at Estadio Panamericano, San Cristóbal.