Curtain Raiser, T&T In For Spanish Treats.
Trinidad and Tobago is set to open it's 2015 Gold Cup campaign today against Copa Centroamericana runners-up Guatemala at Soldier Field, Chicago from 7:00pm EST, tune in on Fox Sports 2 to catch the action live.
In the meantime, when Trinidad and Tobago entered the 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup they had to face opponents with a similar style as their upcoming opponents in the 2015 edition this coming summer.
Despite Mexico’s geographic North American location, they play a Central American Latin style of football, similar to the others in the group who, like 2013, are from the Caribbean and Central America.
T&T were up against El Salvador, Haiti and Honduras in 2013 and now they have drawn 3 teams with similar styles of play: Guatemala, Cuba and Mexico. If history repeats itself, T&T could be in for a survival battle with one of CONCACAF's powerhouses, Mexico, but this time for a place in the quarter-finals, but they must capitalize on both the Guatemala and Cuba matches.
The 2013 team drew with El Salvador 2-2 in the tournament opener, then a stunning 2-0 loss to Haiti sobered them up before the Warriors regrouped to pull-off a shocking 2-0 victory over Honduras. Honduras had little incentive to play for the win as they had already clinched a spot in the quarter-finals and were leading the group, however, neither did they want to lose to a Caribbean side which had knocked them out of the 2002 FIFA World Cup.
To take the analysis a bit further, both teams have met 3 times at this level, with T&T taking top honors with 2 wins and one draw. That's right, Honduras has never beaten T&T at this level, same can be said for their neighbors Costa Rica, who also lost twice and drew once with the Warriors.
Hart's nightmare turns into a day dream
At the 2013 Gold Cup meanwhile, head coach Stephen Hart was a mere 3-weeks on the job, and to make matters worse, the team he had last coached, Canada, was drummed 8-1 by none other than Honduras, signaling the end of Canada's 2014 World Cup dream and Hart's tenure with the Canadian national team.
The Trinidadian-born coach found a happy landing place, when months later he was back in his native country fulfilling his life-long dream of coaching his country's national side. Instantly, he brought new life to the national team despite being pushed out into the deep without the benefit of any preparatory games leading up to the tournament. The Warriors looked brave, structured and rejuvenated against a pacy El Salvadorian side in their 2-2 opener, which also marked the return of the Don, Mr. Leo Beenhakker.
Skipper Kenwyne Jones looked the best that anyone had ever seen him play in T&T colors. Keon Daniel, Kevin Molino, Cornell Glen, Andre Boucaud among others, were playing a combination of attractive and combative football, certainly better than what anyone had seen since 2005/06.
In the second match, T&T was in for a shocking surprise though and smiles quickly disappeared as they had woke up to a rude awakening, falling 2-0 to a talented Haitian side fielding many French-born players. The Soca Warriors, however, were determined to not let down their new coach and dusted themselves off and finished the job against Honduras with a compelling 2-0 victory.
This secured T&T a place in the quarterfinals, and sweet revenge for the former Canadian coach. Though Honduras was missing a few regulars, they were still a force to be reckoned with, hence their progression all the way through to the semi-finals.
Reality then sunk in and T&T’s dreams of reaching the semi-finals came crashing down. The Warriors were sent home after 4 matches, ironically enough, by Mexico, in a slim, hard-fought 1-0 defeat against the El-Tri that saw T&T packing their bags and heading back to Port of Spain.
The Soca Warriors held their heads high despite the exit, as they played their best football in years, and also had their best finish in the Tournament since 2000. Certainly nothing to be ashamed off.
David vs Goliath
Now, it's a bit of a different scenario for T&T as they have never beaten Mexico at this level, with both teams having met three times, with El Tri victorious on all three occasions-- 4-2, 4-0 and 1-0. This time around, T&T will need to get the job done early in order to avoid having to get a result against the six-time champions.
It’s worth noting that Mexico will have played over thirty games leading up to their match with TnT (since 2014), while the Warriors will have played just 14 in the same time span.
Mexico is gunning for its 7th title and are bringing some of their top star players. Experience goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa will led the way for defence-men Miguel Layún, Hector Moreno and Diego Reyes. In midfield are Andres Guardado and Hector Herrera. And of course, their potent strike force combining of Giovani Dos Santos, Javier Hernandez and Carlos Vela. However, word out of Mexico is saying that both Hector Moreno and Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez are out?
As coach Hart said when the draw was made, "it's a tricky group." Haiti qualified for the 2013 Gold Cup as the Caribbean’s third place team. While Honduras and El Salvador were Copa Centro-Americana second place and third place finishers respectively.
Now, T&T faces Guatemala on July 9th, a team which has already shocked many including; Panama, El Salvador and Honduras, to snatch a surprise 2014 Copa Centro-Americana second place silver trophy. This has sent a warning to the football world and T&T must take precautions against the improving Central Americans. There is also a huge contingent of Guatemala fans living in the U.S. that will likely follow their team, so Guatemala will definitely feel right at home.
Not to mention Guatemala will be a well-seasoned unit before their meeting with T&T, having played over 6 games since the beginning of 2015 while T&T has only played four. They faced Canada in a 1-0 loss, and a goal less draw with neighbors El Salvador, before entering into a home and away 2018 FIFA World Cup qualification series against Bermuda in which they advanced 1-0 on aggregate. However, the Guatemalans also had some drumming defeats to Mexico (3-0), Uruguay (5-1) and USA (4-0) leading up to the Gold Cup.
Guatemala will be relying heavily on their evergreen captain Carlos Ruiz and Jose Contreras, the talented Marco Pappa, top defenders Elías Vásquez and Stefano Cincotta and the man most likely standing between the sticks, Ricardo Jerez.
Like 2013, T&T's second game on July 12th is a date with a northern Caribbean team, Cuba, and despite the Spanish-speaking Caribbean side finishing the 2014 Caribbean Cup in fourth-place, T&T will surely have to be on guard and not slip up as they did against Haiti two years ago. This game could be make or break for both teams, both presumed to be the weak links of the teams in their group, and each team will be looking to take points from each other.
Remember, Haiti went into the 2013 Gold Cup as 2012 Caribbean Cup third place team and still managed to get the better of a second place Caribbean Cup T&T side.
Some of Cuba's key players are; well capped defender Jorge Luis Clavelo, midfielders Ariel Martinez and Alain Cervantes and striker Maikel Reyes. The omission of striker Julio Maya came as a big surprise. Also, there are reports that 25-year-old forward Keiler Garcia has left the team.
T&T, meantime, got through to the 2013 quarterfinals on 4 points, pipping El Salvador for second place with a better goal difference. Should T&T take maximum points from their opening two fixtures, they will be assured of a quarterfinal berth, and a final Group C encounter against Mexico on July 15th would be of little significance. Even a draw and a win from the opening games could see T&T through, but certainly not a route the Warriors should bank on.
The fallen comrades
In May the Warriors were rocked with the devastating news that one of their brightest up-coming stars Kevin Molino sustained an injury which would rule him out for the entire season. The Orlando City SC midfielder, who had started each of the team's previous eight matches, tore his right ACL in a friendly match against Brazilian club Ponte Preta.
Molino starred for the club at the USL level, winning the 2014 league MVP award after leading the league in scoring with 20 goals. He was the first player the Lions signed as they built their roster in preparation for their inaugural MLS season.
In addition to Molino's injury, Seon Power is out with an injury and only just returned to light training while, Hughtun Hector has been ruled out also through injury after rupturing his Achilles tendon in a Vietnam league match for Hanoi T&T. Hector would have been the perfect swap for Molino as they both play similar styles.
Seon Power is a huge loss for T&T. The Chainat Hornbill FC defender, known for his "never die attitude", was named Most Valuable Player for his country in the 2012 Caribbean Cup tournament. The former St Augustine Senior Comprehensive player was outstanding at the heart of the T&T defense for the entire Cup campaign.
And finally, Seoul E-Land central tower, Carlyle Mitchell, the striker turn defender has just returned from a month-long injury and despite being named on Hart's provisional roster it seems unlikely he will be joining the Warriors anytime soon.
Coach Hart's view
"My experience tells me that football is not played on paper. Teams like Guatemala and Mexico are extremely comfortable in the United States. They have excellent crowd support and there is familiarity, "Hart told the Soca Warriors Online (SWO)."
"Guatemala, like most of the Latin America teams, usually start very strong, just look at the history of their opening games. With this in mind, the opener is very important and we must be at our best from game one."
"Cuba is always a difficult team for T&T, we have tied them twice on our last few outings, there is a familiarity and they hold no fear against us."
"Mexico is Mexico, we had a magnificent game against them in 2013, but we know what they are capable of after such a fantastic 2014 World Cup."
"I have not scouted the teams too much, so my approach is to be prudent. However, as a team we have our way and I want us to continue to control those aspects of the game that we can control and manage."
"Systems are for me just a general organization of how the team shapes itself, regardless space will always have to be filled and taken away."
"In tournament play the aim is always to get into the knockout stage, from there anything can happen. It would be nice to get into a semi-final and give ourselves the opportunity to grace a Gold Cup final."
Hart was then asked about the many challenges he faces as T&T coach. "Many challenges faced us and continue to face us. Financially we need support, I was amazed at the CONCACAF draw the kind of money made available to teams like Guatemala, Panama, Jamaica etc. for preparation."
"Presently, we are not in a position to plan for the future effectively because of this limitation. For example, look at the teams in the Gold Cup, months before they already announced their opponents for the FIFA dates, they know who they will play in late June and early July long before the GC commences. We need to be in a situation where we can seek out desired opposition and firm up the details for specific playing dates well in advance. This type of planning is essential."
"We also need to play International games more consistently, individual, group and team weaknesses and strengths can only be attacked and built upon on the field and through game experiences."
"T&T has talented players no doubt, but we lack true experience, individually and collectively in comparison to the National teams of the early 2000's and eventual WC 2006 team. I firmly believe this is because T&T players, in general, are not playing at the highest level possible consistently."
"The fixes we need to leave for another day. I don't have all the answers, but like many I have an opinion. However, this topic can take up an entire thread, ended Hart."
SWO attempted to collaborate with the TTFA to form a supporters group for the T&T GC games, but questions went unanswered. General Secretary Sheldon Phillips did acknowledge the SWO request, but his boss apparently felt differently.
At the 2013 edition, T&T fans were told not to bring instruments to the game in New Jersey while all the other team's fans were in full force supporting their troops.
The TTFA complains about the lack of support from the general public, but does little to take advantage of the few supporters and regulars they get. The North American based fans normally turn out in numbers to support their team and are largely ignored. Though outnumbered, T&T fans would love to sit in one section so the players could feel and hear their chants a little better, if combined.
Money for fete and politicians, nothing much for footballers.
The Trinidad and Tobago government spends more time throwing millions of dollars down the drain than they do to help the people who really work their socks off for the country and make citizens proud time and time again.
The government gives TT$4M to Chutney Soca and TT$7M to Soca Monarch winners. This figure is worth more than what the entire T&T football senior team earns per tournament. The government has also spent a whopping TT$1.1 billion to build the Brian Lara Cricket Stadium in Tarouba, a stadium that was supposed to be completed since 2008.
At the T&T Cricket Board (TTCB) meeting in an executive retreat over the weekend, $31,351,275 was approved by the Sport Company of T&T to cover their developmental programme for the current fiscal year. In addition the, TTCB announced a three-year agreement with the National Gas Company of Trinidad and Tobago to sponsor the local cricket organisation for over $13 million to facilitate its tournaments, developmental programmes and support national teams at various levels.
The government has also lost 34 million dollars on the infamous Life Sport programme, a mess the controversial former Minister of Sport, Anil Roberts created. In addition, the Government has spent over $150 million of taxpayers’ dollars to pay off two loans taken by the Sport Company of Trinidad and Tobago (SporTT) to fund the now defunct Life Sport programme which targeted criminal elements for rehabilitation.
They further spent 12 million dollars on the Hoop of Life Community Basketball League competition. Prize money for the second phase of the "Hoop of Life" initiative had been increased to $1.5 million and crime is still rampant throughout the nation.
In spite of this record spending, our national football teams are constantly faced with embarrassing circumstances. It has gotten so bad that the teams are sent to tournaments unprepared and are sometimes turned away from hotels. Some players on the senior men’s team have not even been paid stipends since T&T’s last participation in the Caribbean Cup. The women's team also threatened to boycott if terms were not met before departing to Canada for the 2015 Pan American tournament.
The 2015 Trinidad and Tobago men's Olympic team was also faced with a humiliating situation when integral players were replaced due to administrative cock-ups. These circumstances however, were not entirely the fault of the T&T government. The blame here partly rests on the shoulders of the TTFA, and one is left to wonder if the disastrous mishandlings of team manager David Muhammad will ever end.
In highlighting these shortcomings we all must be reminded that to ensure the success of T&T football it is imperative for the hands of all stakeholders to be on deck. If some hands are otherwise occupied with corrupt or self-serving interests, our football will continue to suffer. As our Soca Warriors take the field in the 2015 Gold Cup we all expect them to do their best in representing our beautiful nation. We the supporters, the government, the TTFA and all other stakeholders should have the same expectation of ourselves and do our best to revive our failing national football programme.
About the Gold Cup
The champion of the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup will qualify for a play-off match against the United States, the champion of the 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup, to decide which team will represent CONCACAF in the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup.
If the United States wins the 2015 tournament, they will qualify directly to the Confederations Cup. In addition, the top four teams excluding those which have qualified before the tournament, namely the United States, Mexico, Costa Rica (winners of the 2014 Copa Centro-Americana), and Jamaica (winners of the 2014 Caribbean Cup), will qualify for a play-off which will determine the final two places in the Copa América Centenario.
In the event that the champion of the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup is not one of the already qualified teams, they will qualify directly to the 2016 Copa América Centenario.
Trinidad & Tobago Squad
Jan-Michael Williams (Central FC), Marvin Phillip (Point Fortin Civic), Adrian Foncette (Police FC).
Mekeil Williams (Antigua GFC, Guatemala), Sheldon Bateau (KV Mechelen, Belgium), Joevin Jones (Chicago Fire, USA), Radanfah Abu Bakr (HB Koge, Denmark), Daneil Cyrus (W Connection), Aubrey David (Shakhter Karagandy, Kazakhstan), Yohance Marshall (Juventud Independiente, El Salvador).
Andre Boucaud (Dagenham & Redbridge, UK), Khaleem Hyland (KVC Westerlo, Belgium), Ataullah Guerra (Central FC), Keron Cummings (North East Stars), Cordell Cato (San Jose Earthquakes, USA), Lester Peltier (Slovan Bratislava, Slovakia), Dwane James (North East Stars), Kevan George (Columbus Crew, USA).
Kenwyne Jones (A.F.C. Bournemouth, UK), Jonathan Glenn (IBV, Iceland), Willis Plaza (Central FC), Rundell Winchester (Portland Timbers 2, USA), Kadeem Corbin (St. Ann’s Rangers).
Coach - Stephen Hart (TRI).
July, 9th, 2015, T&T vs Guatemala, Soldier Field, Chicago (18:00)
July, 12th, 2015, T&T vs Cuba, University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale (15:30)
July, 15th, 2015, T&T vs Mexico, Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte (20:30)
Head to head Gold Cup battles.
1991 - Trinidad and Tobago 0 v Guatemala 1 (Espel 89)
2000 - Trinidad and Tobago 4 (Latapy 26, Dwarika 36, Nakhid 52, Yorke 83) v Guatemala 0
2007 - Trinidad and Tobago 1 (McFarlane 87) v Guatemala 1 (Ruiz 83) - Highlights
1998 - Trinidad and Tobago 2 (Marcelle 59, Nixon 75) v Mexico 4 (Ramírez 37, Hernández 63, 82, Palencia 65) -Highlights
2000 - Trinidad and Tobago 0 v Mexico 4 (Márquez 36, Hernández 52, S.David 75 (O.G), Palencia 85, Arellano 88)
2003 - Trinidad and Tobago 0 v Mexico 1 (Jiménez 84) - Highlights
Gold Cup Appearances/Titles
Mexico 12 Total (6- titles, 1- 2nd place, 2- 3rd place)
Guatemala 9 Total (1- 4th place)
Trinidad and Tobago 8 Total (1- 3rd place)
Cuba 7 Total (Never placed)
Gold Cup Table
P W D L F A + Pts
1. Mexico 61 48 6 7 122 44 +78 130
2. T&T 23 5 5 13 28 40 -12 20
3. Guatemala 27 4 7 16 23 44 -21 19
4. Cuba 20 2 2 16 17 66 -49 8
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