“We have to win,” said Guyana Women’s National Senior Team captain and central defender Kayla De Souza, at a virtual pre-match media conference this morning.
“A win is something we need to do not just to advance in the tournament but for the legacy of the programme, to move forward.”
Guyana face hosts Trinidad and Tobago at the Dwight Yorke Stadium in Bacolet from 6pm tomorrow with a Concacaf W Championship spot up for grabs. To top the group and grab the only available spot, the Women Soca Warriors need only a draw .
For the ‘Lady Jags’, it is win or go home. At 32, De Souza thinks the 2022 Concacaf tournament will represent her last chance to play at this level; but she is not ready for the adventure to end just yet.
Born and bred in Canada, De Souza draws her inspiration from northern Caribbean nation Jamaica and their qualification for the France 2019 Fifa Women’s World Cup. However improbable it might seem, she dreams of getting to the 2023 World Cup, which is co-hosted by Australia and New Zealand.
“Me being an older player and looking at this, the end of my career, I want to move forward,” said De Souza. “[…] I am not ready to go home; I am not ready to call it quits… I have no issue saying that.”
But in the way of fulfillment of the Guyanese’s dream stand Trinidad and Tobago, captained by Tobagonian utility player Karyn ‘Baby’ Forbes.
From a certain vantage point, tomorrow’s W Championship qualifier might be the most important women’s football match to be played in the two-island republic since the Women Soca Warriors were edged 1-0 by Ecuador on 3 December 2014, in a 2015 Fifa World Cup playoff contest in front of over 20,000 fans at the Hasely Crawford Stadium in Port-of-Spain.
The Dwight Yorke Stadium has a capacity of under 10,000, which means that, in terms of sheer numbers, there will no massive turnout to match the 2014 showdown. But there appears to be a buzz in Tobago that the Guyana contingent has already picked up on.
“A local told me they haven’t had an international football game—friendly or qualifier—in 10 years on the island,” said Guyana head coach Dr Ivan Joseph. “So we are looking forward to an entertaining match and an opportunity to play our best.”
Joseph and De Souza commended Tobago on their hospitality and spoke of the two nations as ‘neighbours’. There was a noticeable undercurrent of needle between the two countries, which was exacerbated recently when Guyana vice-president Bharrat Jagdeo suggested that Trinidad and Tobago was ‘falling apart’.
That said, it is also noteworthy that few of the current Guyana camp actually live in the South America nation—or were even born there.
Joseph, the vice-president of student affairs at Wilfrid Laurier University (Canada) and a motivational speaker and author, was born in Georgetown but migrated to Canada at the age of five. Most of his roster made the opposite journey.
Nineteen of Guyana’s 23-member squad, including De Souza, were born in North America or Britain while the starting team that drew goalless with Nicaragua last Friday had eight Canada-born players and three from the United States.
(In contrast, 14 players on Trinidad and Tobago coach Kenwyne Jones’ roster were born on home soil—inclusive of the scorers for 12 of their 17 goals in the competition thus far.)
De Souza, who debuted for the Lady Jags in 2009 when their FA first turned to foreign players en masse, said the domestic game has grown a lot since then and pointed to attacker Annalisa Vincent and defender Tiandi Smith as two home-grown players who are treasured members of their set-up.
Vincent, who came off the bench against Nicaragua, now studies at Graceland University in Iowa. De Souza suggested that the impact of the foreign-born Guyanese contingent aided the development of players like the young attacker.
Just as crucially, De Souza says she feels Guyanese.
“I am a part of the Guyanese people in Toronto—getting together with family and celebrating cultural events,” she said. “I am connected to the culture and the history…”
Joseph, who works for the Guyana Football Federation (GFF) on a volunteer basis, insisted that his commitment to Guyana does not end with the final whistle, regardless of the result.
“A lot of folks see the lack of domestic players [in the Guyana Women’s Team] as a detriment and what they are missing is the other side of that coin,” he said. “It’s the pride that those of us who were born in Guyana and emigrated have and [that we] are still connected to our country.
“The diaspora is rich and we are proud of our Caribbean heritage and want to give back and provide service and elevate our country. In doing so and giving that commitment, our job is not to win football games; it is to leave it better than we found it.”
The Lady Jags were in the driver’s seat until the penultimate round of matches, when their draw with Nicaragua coupled with Trinidad and Tobago’s rout of the Turks and Caicos Islands saw the Women Soca Warriors move two points clear at the top of the group.
“I think we focused a bit too much on Nicaragua and didn’t focus on what our strengths were,” said Joseph, who hopes to provide clearer, more effective instructions to his troops tomorrow. “[…] As the coach, I was not on top of my game. Whenever a team doesn’t perform well, I don’t want to deflect blame.
“I own that, I am accountable for that.”
But the Guyana coach insisted that he is not dismayed by the current standings.
“The goal didn’t change [with our draw against Nicaragua] and our objective didn’t change,” he said. “We wanted to be in a position to compete for the [top group place] and we have done exactly that. We have played solid defensively and we haven’t allowed a single goal. No other team in this group can say that.”
The Lady Jags might not have conceded a single goal in competition so far—and their 32-year-old Iceland-based goalkeeper, Chanté Sandiford, has previous Uefa Champions League experience. But even a clean sheet tomorrow will not be enough.
Trinidad and Tobago have a strong defensive spine that comprises goalkeeper Kimika Forbes, defenders Victoria Swift and Rhea Belgrave, combative midfielders Lauryn Hutchinson and Amaya Ellis, along with buccaneering full backs Kedie Johnson, Liana Hinds and Shadi Cecily Stoute.
Guyana, remember, cannot afford to draw.
“[Trinidad and Tobago have] solid athletes and well-rounded players,” said De Souza. “[…] Their ‘Number 10’ (Asha James) is very technical and the front three are very powerful individuals.”
Joseph is well aware.
“[Trinidad and Tobago] are strong, they are athletic, they are physical, they have got multiple weapons that can score and they know how to compete,” he said. “They are on home field, they get to sleep in their own beds… They are probably well rested from Turks and Caicos. They didn’t even take all their players to Turks so they have got the advantage there.
“[But] our strengths are equally impressive. We have got a well-balanced veteran team… We have some speed that can match theirs.
“It is going to be a game that can go either way and if we both do our jobs we will see an exciting game of football… You will see an exciting attacking game of football—win or lose.”
Ironically, Guyana got to Tobago a full 24 hours before the T&T team and will have slightly more time to prepare for the match. Jones, though, tried to nullify this by resting several key players against Turks and Caicos, including James, Belgrave, Swift, Ellis and Kimika.
Joseph has made six changes to his starting team in every qualifying match so far and it’s hard to predict what combination will face Trinidad and Tobago at the opening whistle.
Whereas Jones got four practice games against Panama and the Dominican Republic, the Guyana coach had to use the actual qualifying matches to ‘assess and evaluate’ his squad. But he suggested that he knows the ‘14 or 15 players’ he can rely on tomorrow.
Can Guyana football fans, the GFF press officer asked, expect a win from the Lady Jags in Tobago?
“I don’t love winning [but] I hate, hate, hate losing,” said Joseph. “I can guarantee you this: we will play our very, very best—and if we play our best, the process and the winning will take care of itself.”
A motivational speaker by profession, Joseph confessed that the belief and desire within his camp are so deep that he might just need to keep out of his troops’ way. De Souza suggested as much in her response as to what constitutes a realistic expectation of the Guyana team.
“We are ready to win—and whatever it takes, we are going to do it,” she said. “It just comes down to that grit and that passion on the field from the first to last whistle. I am excited!”
Two Caribbean football teams will walk proudly out to the centre of the Dwight Yorke Stadium field tomorrow evening. But, after 90 minutes, only one will be left standing,
Unbowed, Pride intact.
(Trinidad and Tobago team)
Goalkeepers: 1.Kimika Forbes, 21.Tenesha Palmer, 22.K’lil Keshwar;
Defenders: 2.Chelsi Jadoo, 4.Rhea Belgrave, 5.Shaunalee Govia, 6.Shadi Cecily Stoute, 7.Liana Hinds, 8.Victoria Swift;
Midfielders: 3.Shani Nakhid-Schuster, 9.Amaya Ellis, 10.Asha James, 12.Chelcy Ralph, 14.Karyn Forbes (captain), 19.Sarah De Gannes, 20.Lauryn Hutchinson;
Attackers: 11.Raenah Campbell, 15.Kedie Johnson, 16.Cayla Mc Farlane, 17.Maya Matouk, 18.Maria-Frances Serrant, 23.Aaliyah Trim.
Goalkeepers: 1.Chanté Sandiford, 18.Natalie Nedd, 22.Raven Edwards-Dowdall;
Defenders: 2.Rylee Traicoff, 3.Tiandi Smith, 4.Kayla De Souza (captain), 5.Sydney Cummings, 6.Ghilene Joseph, 19.Reece Scott, 23.Shyla Murry;
Midfielders: 7.Justine Rodrigues, 9.Lakeisha Pearson, 10.Hannah Baptiste, 11.Briana De Souza, 14.Brittany Persaud, 20.Brianne Desa, 21.Mariam El-Masri;
Attackers: 8.Shanice Alfred, 12.Otesha Charles, 13.Annalisa Vincent, 15.Calaigh Copland, 16.Stefani Kouzas, 17.Neema Liverpool.