The Trinidad and Tobago Men’s National Under-20 team got a lesson in humility at the Larry Gomes Stadium yesterday, as they fell 2-1 to a makeshift National Senior Team in Malabar.
The score summary flattered the teenagers. The senior players, led by Soca Warriors coach Angus Eve, kept the ball for long periods as the Under-20s chased shadows—and led comfortably through a Duane Muckette finish and a Brent Sam header off a corner kick.
However, Tyrell Moore was gifted a late consolation item for the young team off an error by Warriors defender Jamal Jack.
National Under-20 coach Brian Haynes said he was grateful for a reality check as he prepares for their opening World Youth Cup qualifier against Saint Vincent and the Grenadines at the Hasely Crawford Stadium on Friday 23 February.
“It was very, very good for me and I’m so thankful to Angus for doing this, because it does nothing but help the players,” Haynes told the TTFA Media. “To play against experienced players, to play against composed players, to play against players who know how to play the game properly—it’s always good to get these types of games.
“It might be a humbling experience but at the same time it is a very good experience going into [the qualifying tournament].”
The National Under-20s again started in a 4-2-3-1 formation with Haynes, who has now cut his team to 25 local-based players, trying some different combinations.
Fatima College defender Jayden Williams, a graduate from the 2023 Concacaf Under-17 competition, got his first start at this level alongside Arima North Secondary student Akil Henry in central defence while QRC’s Tau Lamsee and Naparima College’s Kanye Francis played ahead of them in midfield with another Fatima boy, Aidan De Gannes, in the “number 10” role.
In the other team, Michel Poon-Angeron was humming as a deep-lying playmaker while John-Paul Rochford was in the mood to make an impression. And it was a mismatch.
Collectively, the Under-20s could not close down passing lanes or disrupt their senior players’ build up while they looked exposed on either flank.
Like in recent friendlies against Jamaica, Haynes eventually switched to a 4-4-2 formation with a diamond-shaped midfield to try and compete in the middle of the field—with some success too.
But, with two weeks to go, there is not yet the cohesion to match Haynes’ stated intention to play “possession-based football”.
Haynes suggested that yesterday’s outing was probably a tougher one than they would face in the actual competition. But he is taking their shortcomings on board and intends to address them in time.
“[Yesterday’s game] showed our defensive frailties,” he said. “When teams are good on the ball or know how to use space and switch the point of attack at will, it shows that we have to get more prepared for it.
“[…] We probably won’t get players who are that skilful or that experienced [in the tournament] but I think we can learn from it and understand how much more we have to work to get to that level.”
The National Under-20 Team enters a training camp today with 25 local-based players along with the overseas-based players in contention for the qualifying series. It will be the first time that Haynes has his full squad together since he began work last November.
“With the staff, we have already narrowed down what we are looking at and what we’re looking for and the gaps that we are going to be able to fill […] strengthen,” he said. “[…] It’s starting to come together now. It feels a little bit more like a team.
“It’s not [over] 40 players now. Now we have just 25 players in camp and it’s awesome.”
Haynes, who is assisted by Marvin Gordon and Gilbert Bateau, are in the home stretch now. Trinidad and Tobago are grouped with Canada, Dominica and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines—with only the group winners continuing to the next phase.
On paper, Canada, who defeated Trinidad and Tobago 3-2 at the 2023 Concacaf U-17 Championship, are favourites. However, the cash-strapped Canadian Soccer Association has been in turmoil for the past year, with no National Senior Team head coach or general secretary.
The Canada Under-20 Team have not held a single camp for the upcoming tournament and will try to ad-lib in Port of Spain. All the same, they have a deeper player pool with more experienced players than Trinidad and Tobago.
The young Soca Warriors have a genuine chance—but it is unlikely to be easy.
Haynes said he knows what they have to work on.
“First and foremost, we have to make sure we are very solid defensively,” he said. “If there is anyone I can learn that from it’s Angus, because that’s the kind of team he prepares—teams that play well defensively.
“Second, we have to work on being much more effective on offence. I think we do a good job of getting the ball from the back to the midfield and to the top of the 18 [yard box], but the final product has to become better.”
Yesterday, four overseas-based players (Moore, Canada-based goalkeeper Bryan Gafiuk and England-based forwards Aidan Ward and Addae Paponette) featured in the scrimmage. The rest of Trinidad and Tobago’s offshore talent are expected to arrive this weekend.
Haynes commended the spirit of his charges and the camaraderie between the young men, who are desperate to do well for their country.
“It’s a good group,” he said. “They are working hard and I only expect good things to happen for them now.”
Current training squad (with a few overseas-based players to be added)
Goalkeepers: Makaya Taylor (Presentation College, San F’do), Tor Fletcher (Gateway Athletics), Ailan Panton (Darlington Soccer Academy—USA), Bryan Gafiuk (unattached—Canada),
Defenders: Akil Henry (Arima North), Cody Cooper, Duhrell Young (both Presentation College), Jaden Williams (Fatima College), Lyshaun Morris (St Benedict’s College), Russel Francois (St Anthony’s College),
Midfielders: Levi Jones, Abayomi George (both Presentation College), Tau Lamsee (QRC), Josiah Ochoa (St Benedict’s College), Aidan De Gannes (Fatima College), Kanye Francis (Naparima College), Nathan Quashie (San Juan North),
Attackers: Jabari Forbes (Naparima College), Lindell Sween (San Juan North), J’lon Matthews (Malick Secondary), Malachi Webb (St Benedict’s College), Andell Fraser (St Anthony’s College), Michael Chaves (Fatima College), Aidan Ward (Welling—England), Tyrell Moore (unattached), Addae Paponette (Barking FC—England).