One headline called it “The Worst Loss In The History Of U.S. Men’s Soccer.”
The newspaper in Port-of-Spain crowed, “Payback”.
Charleston Battery defender Leland Archer was a senior at College of Charleston on Oct. 10, 2017, when his home country of Trinidad and Tobago scored one of the biggest upsets in international soccer history.
The “Soca Warriors,” named for the style of music popular in the island nation and the team Archer grew up idolizing, defeated the U.S. Men’s National Team 2-1 at Ato Boldon Stadium in the city of Couva. The U.S. loss knocked the American squad out of the World Cup for the first time since 1986 and set off wide-ranging changes in U.S. soccer.
Archer remembers being back home in Trinidad and Tobago at the time and saw the reaction.
“Everyone was ecstatic,” Archer recalled. “When I was younger, they knocked us out of the World Cup. So this was our payback.”
Archer, 25, will get a chance to replicate that upset on Sunday, when he will suit up for the Soca Warriors against the USMNT in an international friendly in Orlando, Fla. The match is not part of a tournament, so the stakes are not as high.
But don’t tell that to Archer, who will be playing for his home country’s national team for the first time.
“It’s a big deal,” said Archer, a 6-4, 185-pound defender who is in his third season with the Battery. “It’s always a bit of extra motivation for the guys when we play the U.S. It’s a friendly, but it definitely still has that intensity. Both teams want to win.”
Archer was born in Port-of-Spain and grew up in Trinidad and Tobago, an island nation of about 1.2 million people located just off the coast of Venezuela. It’s the southernmost island nation in the Caribbean Sea, and thanks to large quantities of fossil fuels has the third largest GDP in the Americas, behind only the U.S. and Canada.
Archer’s father is retired from the Coast Guard in T&T, and his mother works in communications.
“It was beautiful growing up there,” Archer said, “a lot different from the U.S. It’s a lot more laid back, in the sense of that island-life living.”
The sports pages of newspapers on the island are filled with news of the West Indies cricket team and sports such as archery and table tennis. Soccer came to the island in the 1890s, and after the nation became independent in 1962, Trinidad and Tobago joined FIFA in 1964. The Soca Warriors first reached the World Cup in 2006, becoming the smallest country to qualify for the Cup until Iceland did it in 2018.
Archer remembers spending a lot of time outdoors, playing football. His heroes were T&T stars such as Russell Latapy and Dwight Yorke, who scored 123 goals in the Premier League while playing for Manchester United and other clubs.
“We’d play with anything we could find that we could kick,” Archer said.
Former College of Charleston coach Ralph Lundy found Archer and offered him a scholarship, and Archer became an all-conference defender for the Cougars, logging more than 6,000 minutes on the pitch.
Archer’s goal is to play in Europe, much like Latapy and Yorke. A chance to share the pitch with U.S. striker Jozy Altidore and other American stars is a big opportunity.
Archer spent some of the fall training with Hibernian FC, a Scottish Premiership club, as part of the Battery’s partnership deal with that team. He returned to Charleston just before Christmas.
“It was a great experience,” he said. “The competition over there is very good. They have quality players and I learned a lot from being there. The new partnership the Battery has with them was a good eye-opener to see what a higher level is like.”
The Soca Warriors have been training in Trinidad and Tobago under new coach Terry Fenwick, a former English player and manager. Archer traveled to meet the team in Orlando for a couple of days’ training before the Sunday match at Exploria Stadium in Orlando. The match will be televised on FS1.
The 24-member team selected by Fenwick also includes American-born defender Michael Deshields, who was was selected by D.C. United as the fifth overall pick in the MLS draft last week. Another U.S.-born player on the team is Jonathan Jimenez, who plays for USL team Rio Grande Valley FC Toros.
The history between the U.S. and the Soca Warriors contains some drama.
During qualifying for the 1990 World Cup, the Warriors needed only a draw against the Americans to advance. But Paul Caligiuri scored the famed “shot heard round the world” as the U.S. won 1-0 to qualify for its first World Cup since 1950.
In 2017, Trinidad and Tobago exacted revenge. An own goal by the U.S. and a goal by the Warriors’ Alvin Jones lifted T&T to a 2-1 win and prevented the Americans from advancing to the World Cup.
“It’s a great opportunity and experience for so many young players in Trinidad and Tobago who have not played competitive football for over a year,” Fenwick told reporters in Trinidad and Tobago. “It’s a chance for them to make a name for themselves in a shop window.”
SOURCE: The Post and Courier