Sixteen-year-old Laventille United striker Breana Smith made a dream start to her Concacaf Women’s Under-17 Championship adventure this evening with a superb lobbed goal with her first touch against Panama at the Estadio Olímpico Félix Sánchez in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.
But there was little else for Trinidad and Tobago to savour today as they were swamped 5-1 by the Central Americans in the Group E opener.
In theory, things should get a bit easier for the Women Soca Warriors on Monday when they face Nicaragua at the same venue in their second group fixture. Nicaragua had a nightmare start to their own Concacaf campaign, as they were demolished 10-0 by Mexico this evening.
If Trinidad and Tobago win on Monday, it would virtually guarantee progress to the knockout stage of the Concacaf competition—while even a draw might suffice, so long as the two-island republic can avoid a loss by double figures to Mexico on Wednesday.
It is worth noting though that, in February, head coach Jason Spence faced a similar equation at the Concacaf Women’s Under-20 Championship. And, in a match that was supposedly his team’s best chance at picking up a victory, T&T ended up being routed 7-2 by St Kitts and Nevis.
The players have largely changed but, for the beleaguered Spence, the nature of the games has not. On 25 February, the Trinidad and Tobago Under-20 Team were out-shot 43-6 by El Salvador in an opening 3-0 defeat. Today, the shot tally read Panama 32, T&T 1 while the girls in red, white and black gear had just 26% ball possession with a pass accuracy of 42%.
It was a mismatch from virtually the opening whistle. Prior to the competition, Spence promised to ‘set up a little more defensive, just to make sure we protect ourselves’.
To be fair, there were signs of work done on the U-17 Women’s defensive structure, Trinidad and Tobago seeming generally compact in a 5-3-2 formation for the first 45 minutes and switching to 5-4-1 for the second half.
The problem was, for starters, that Trinidad and Tobago could neither keep the ball nor consistently advance to midway in their own half—let alone get into opposition territory.
Panama, in response, tried to move the ball purposefully to the flanks or to slip diagonal passes inside Trinidad and Tobago’s full-backs so as to force Spence’s defenders to face their own goalkeeper. It was quickly evident that it was just a matter of time before the scoreline reflected something like the eventual result.
Trinidad and Tobago goalkeeper Sadiel Antoine made a fine save at her near post in the 13th minute to keep out Panamanian flanker Kayra Pérez after a threaded pass by teammate Reggina Espino.
But even standout Manchester United custodian David De Gea might have struggled to prevent Panama’s opening goal as impressive midfielder Delineth Rivera took one touch from the left side of the field before beating Antoine with a brilliant, dipping strike into the goalie’s top left-hand corner.
For their second item, the Central American team got a gift from Trinidad and Tobago in the 33rd minute. The U-17 Women had two chances to clear their lines. Instead, defender Makeba Morang’s hurried clearance teed up Panama striker Daniela Hincapié from roughly 12 yards. Hincapié’s firm strike was unstoppable.
Hincapié got the better of Morang again in the 41st minute as she ghosted behind the opposing defence to convert a left-side cross by Sherline King and put Panama three goals clear, the score at the interval.
At that stage, the shot count read Panama 22, Trinidad and Tobago 0.
Spence made four changes at halftime as Smith, Jada Graham, Nikita Jackson and Tayeanna Wylie replaced midfielder Arie Bhagan, forward Trischell Charles, flanker Jhelysse Anthony and Morang respectively.
Smith, incidentally, was one of seven graduates from the Trinidad and Tobago Women’s Under-14 Team, coached by Marlon Charles, who were promoted to Spence’s U-17 outfit—Antoine, right back Faith Alexander, defender Angel Berot, Bhagan, Jackson and the spritely Jeniceia Benjamin the other six.
At the 2019 CFU Girls U-14 competition, Smith scored four times in a 10-0 rout of Grenada at the Ato Boldon Stadium in Couva. And she wasted little time in showing that she had retained her scoring boots.
In a rare moment when Panama were on the backfoot, left-back Amayah Singleton tried to cut out a diagonal pass heading into Graham’s path but could not control the ball. With one touch, Smith cleverly and expertly lifted the ball over stranded goalkeeper Yurisel Ortega.
That was as good as it got for captain Marley Walker’s team.
Panama restored their three-goal advantage in the 59th minute as Hincapié ran on to a slipped pass from Marisa Gross to complete her hat-trick from close range. And, in second-half stoppage time, substitute Ninelys Castrellón got their fifth item with another fine strike into the top corner after an exchange of passes with right-back Angelys Ceballos.
If Spence’s troops are to have any chance of progressing, they will need to be more adventurous against Nicaragua on Monday. But the humiliation at the feet of the St Kitts and Nevis teenagers should serve as a warning to coach Spence that it might be best to appreciate the limitations of his squad—or of his own coaching.
Trinidad and Tobago (5-3-2): 1.Sadiel Antoine (GK); 2.Faith Alexander, 4.Angel Berot, 5.Cicely-Anne Spencer-Wickham, 3.Makeba Morang (13.Tayeann Wylie 46), 19.Emily Nanton; 11.Jhelysse Anthony (7.Nikita Jackson 46), 8.Marley Walker (captain), 12.Arie Bhagan (9.Breana Smith 46); 10.Jeniecia Benjamin (17.Hannah Vieira 58), 14.Trischell Charles (20.Jada Graham 46).
Unused substitues: 16.Alexandra Ennals (GK), 6.Shadea Andrews, 15.Aliyah Hudlin.
Coach: Jason Spence
Panama (4-2-1-3): 1.Yurisel Ortega (GK); 11.Angelys Ceballos, 4.Dayane Madrid (captain), 2.Genesis Pinto, 3.Amayah Singleton (15.Sara Nieto 60); 8.Delineth Rivera, 10.Reggina Espino (13.Betseba Conte 60); 19.Marisa Gross; 20.Kayra Pérez (6.Diana Cantoral 78), 9.Daniela Hincapié, 7.Sherline King (18.Ninelys Castrellón 78).
Unused substitutes: 12.Maritza Valdes, 17.Karolina Rivera, 5.Yomara Case, 14.Milagro Roberts, 16.Daniela Pretelt-Kieswetter.
Coach: Raiza Gutierrez
Referee: Myrian Marcotte (Canada)
Concacaf Women’s Under-17 Championship
(23 April 2022)
Trinidad and Tobago 1 (Breana Smith 48), Panama 5 (Delineth Rivera 21, Daniela Hincapié 33, 41, 59, Ninelys Castrellón 90) at the Estadio Olímpico Félix Sánchez in Santo Domingo;
Mexico 10 (Valerie Vargas 11, 28, 31, Daniela Meza 17, 70, Maribel Flores 42, 57, Tatiana Flores 53, Montserrat Saldivar 89, Layla Sirdah 90+2), Nicaragua 0 at Estadio Olímpico Félix Sánchez in Santo Domingo;
(25 April 2022)
Nicaragua vs Trinidad and Tobago, 4pm, Estadio Olímpico Félix Sánchez in Santo Domingo;
Panama vs Mexico, 7pm, Estadio Olímpico Félix Sánchez in Santo Domingo;
(27 April 2022)
Panama vs Nicaragua, 7pm, Estadio Panamericano, San Cristóbal;
Mexico vs Trinidad and Tobago, 7pm, Estadio Olímpico Félix Sánchez in Santo Domingo.