Trinidad and Tobago begins its qualifying journey tonight against group favorite Mexico in the Group B doubleheader clash at The Home Depot Center in California. Honduras faces Panama in the first match.
Trinidad and Tobago's Under 23 footballers got this far with a 1-1 draw against Cuba in their opening Caribbean Football Union final round Olympic qualifier then suffered a surprising 5-2 beating at the hands of hosts St Kitts/Nevis before pulling off a sensational 9-1 victory over Suriname. As a result T&T clinched a place in the CONCACAF final round of Olympic qualification. Cuba however topped the group, with T&T securing the runners up position.
The future Soca Warriors had mixed results leading up to the final phase and since 2012 the young lads were able to garner just three wins, 3 losses and 1 draw (3-3-1).
In January the Olympic hopefuls managed a 1-0 win over a visiting Finland senior team at the Dwight Yorke Stadium. Caledonia AIA Striker Jamal Gay scored the solitary item.
Then in February, T&T took it up a notch with a 3-1 victory over Guyana's senior national team at the same Tobago venue. Jamal Gay again was on target, while Tobago-born super-sub striker Trevin Caesar and US-born Bradley Welch added to Guyana's misery.
This was followed by a two game series that gave Angus Eve a clearer picture of some of his players’ ability as team T&T drew 1-1 away to Jamaica's U-23 team and finish the Jamaican tour with a 2-1 defeat to local club Portmore United.
Team T&T then jetted off to the US for a camp in Fort Lauderdale. While in Fort Lauderdale they opened with a 4-1 win over a local Florida based team called Honduras 5 Stars, they then lost to Fort Lauderdale Strikers (2-1), experienced another defeat to Canada’s U-23 (1-0) and ended the camp with an impressive 6-1 victory over Clarema United. Even though Clarema United is practically unknown, the win was refreshing and most welcomed by Eve and his staff.
Before the team left for California, six young Warriors were sent home (Cameron Roget, Nuru Abdullah Muhammad, Kaydion Gabriel, Jean Luc Rochford, Marcus Joseph and Aquil Selby) making room for five overseas based players in Mekeil Williams, Sean De Silva, Kevin Molino, Kevan George and Cordell Cato.
Now Angus Eve’s men face the enormous task of qualifying T&T for its first ever Olympic tournament, while Mexico will be looking to qualify for a fourth time in six tries. Honduras is seeking its third berth in the Olympics after first qualifying in 2000. Honduras is also defending champions, while one of CONCACAF's most improved nations Panama is looking to create history for the first time.
Bear in mind only two spots are up for grabs in the Summer Olympic Games, to be held in London from July 27-August 12. Meanwhile, the Soca Warriors Online (SWO) would like to give our readers a preview of T&T's three group matches.
The First Game
Most important - I believe this would be T&T's most important game as there is a strong possibility they could pull off an upset. Teams are never settled at the beginning of any tournament and if T&T comes out, plays their game and not allow the Mexicans to consistently run at them, then the game could go in T&T's favor. Mexico will definitely be gunning for T&T as the young Warriors are viewed as the so called Caribbean minnows and every team in the group will be expected to collect 3 points against them.
It should be noted that Mexico's preparations for Olympic qualifiers began last summer when it used an enhanced U-23 squad at the Copa America. However, only eight members of Mexico's team that won last year's Pan American Games lead their 20-man roster that will represent El Tri in the CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament. Forwards Nestor Calderon of Toluca, Alan Pulido of Tigres, midfielders Javier Aquino of Cruz Azul and Miguel Ponce of Chivas are a just a few of many who could turn it up for the Mexicans. There is also Chivas forward Marco Fabian, who brings some star power and celebrity to their roster.
T&T on the other hand are considered the underdogs, and this could work to the team’s benefit, while Angus Eve tactical ability will be disclosed. Trinidad and Tobago is a squad that has often qualifies out of the Caribbean for men's tournaments, but has only won two of eight games in its two previous U-23 appearances (2004 and 1996) against El-Tri.
The last time both teams met was at the 2011 Pan American Games in Guadalajara, Mexico, where El Tri and the young Warriors battled to a 1-1 draw before a 35,000 partisan home crowd. Jamal Gay again was the danger man netting a 12 minute item to give T&T the lead before Mexico equalized to keep matters respectable.
T&T’s Pan American appearance was impressive as it ended the tournament undefeated with 3 draws. Soon after Mexican Primera Division club Pachuca FC came knocking on T&T’s door to offer trials to 3 T&T players in talented midfielder Kevin Molino, winger Micah Lewis and midfielder Jayson Joseph. None of the three hopefuls was signed and details of the trials were not fully disclosed.
The Second Game
Tricky - Panama and Trinidad and Tobago on paper are considered the weakest teams in the group and will more than likely view this match as either a turnaround game or a sealer provided they get a favorable result in their first matches.
Panama does however pack a punch and will be no pushovers, with 5 players based in South America (Uruguay and Argentina) and three based in USA, El Salvador and Mexico, they will surely be a handful for T&T to contain.
To make matters more intriguing Panama has never been to the World Cup either so they will be looking to make a lasting impression this time around and will not be taking this game lightly. Defender Carlos Rodriguez, who joined FC Dallas from Tauro in his native country last January, will lead the Panama defence. Goalkeeper Luis Mejia, defender Harold Cummings and midfielders Erick Davis and Anibal Godoy will all add to Panama's depth.
The Third Game
Do or die - Honduras and Mexico arrive with more pedigree than Trinidad & Tobago and at this stage teams would already know their main objective, win or go home. Hopefully, T&T will weather the storm, but I have a gut feeling that Honduras is a sleeping giant in this tournament. The defending champions are packed with pace and haved been beefed up with a few foreign based players in Eddie Hernandez, Anthony Lozano and 2010 MLS Rookie Of The Year Andy Najar. Top scorer Roger Rojas will lead the attack.
Finally, the moment we all have been waiting for and despite missing former captain Leston Paul, T&T does have the experience to ruffle a few feathers. Inform striker Jamal Gay will lead the attack, Kevin Molino will add some creativity and spice in the middle, Sean De Silva will play an important supporting role while captain Sheldon Bateau and Kevan George will help solidify the midfield; as the twin towers of Daneil Cyrus and Mekeil Williams help anchor the defence. Mention must be made of Shahdon Winchester, Cordell Cato, Micah Lewis and Trevin Caesar who all have the capability to turn a game around. The man between the sticks would be none other than shot-stopper Andre Marchan.
Did you know that since 1992 when the Olympics adopted a U-23 roster limitation, only four teams from CONCACAF have qualified for the Summer Games, the United States (four), Mexico (three), Honduras (two) and Costa Rica (one). Will T&T join the ranks this time around? I believe we can.
All the best to the Young Warriors, keep believing, never give up and represent T&T with pride and passion.
Fixtures (all kick-offs are local time)
Group A, LP Field, Nashville, Tennessee
Thursday 22 March
El Salvador 0-0 Canada (18.30)
USA 6–0 Cuba (21.00)
Saturday 24 March
Cuba – El Salvador (16.30)
USA – Canada (19.00)
Monday 26 March
Canada - Cuba (18.30)
USA – El Salvador (21.00)
Group B, The Home Depot Center, Carson, California
Friday 23 March
Honduras – Panama (18.00)
Trinidad and Tobago - Mexico (20.30)
Sunday 25 March
Panama – Trinidad and Tobago (13.30)
Mexico - Honduras (16.00)
Tuesday 27 March
Honduras – Trinidad and Tobago (18.00)
Mexico - Panama (20.30)
Semi-finals, Livestrong Sporting Park, Kansas City, Kansas
Saturday 31 March
B1 – A2 (18.00)
A1 – B2 (21.00)
Final*, Livestrong Sporting Park
Tuesday 2 April
* - Both finalists qualify for Men’s Olympic Football Tournament London 2012