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Trinidad and Tobago Men’s National U-20 Team head coach Brian Haynes speaks to the press after his team’s 5-0 win over Dominica in Concacaf U-20 Qualifying action at the Hasely Crawford Stadium on 25 February 2024. Photo: Daniel Prentice/ Wired868
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Trinidad and Tobago's qualification run towards this year's Concacaf under-20 men's championship and the subsequent 2025 Fifa under-20 World Cup came to a halt on Tuesday night, when they were defeated by a 3-0 margin by Canada at the Hasely Crawford Stadium, Mucurapo.

Needing a win to surge past Canada in group D and advance to the Concacaf under-20 championship in Mexico, coach Brian Haynes's young Soca Warriors squad were outplayed by their opponents before a healthy crowd of over 7,000 – a record attendance for an under-20 football qualifier on home soil, according to the TT Football Association (TTFA).

Haynes was delighted by the support his team received, but disappointed the campaign came to an end after three games within a five-day span. Haynes said Canada's style of play took T&T out of their comfort zone and he felt his charges were not sufficiently prepared for the pivotal top-of-the-table clash.

"We as a group needed to work a little bit differently and a little bit harder, but it didn't work out," Haynes said at Tuesday's post-match briefing. "I don't blame the players in any way. I needed to prepare the team better and I didn't have enough time to do that (after the second match)."

After T&T's resounding 5-0 win over Dominica in their second group match on Sunday night, Haynes said he and his staff needed to devise a plan to outwork, outplay and outscore a "formidable" Canadian team.

Tuesday's game saw a return to the starting XI for Russel Francois, Derrel Garcia, Levi Jones and influential playmaker Lindell Sween, who hobbled out of T&T's 3-2 win over St Vincent and the Grenadines on Friday night, just before the halftime whistle, with a calf issue. Haynes said Sween was not 100 per cent fit, but he felt the San Juan North Secondary student's inclusion would give T&T the best chance to "go and try and make a run for it."

There was also tinkering with T&T's set-up, with Crystal Palace youth player Rio Cardines shifted from his attacking midfield position to a more reserved right-back spot.

Haynes said Cardines' shift in role was designed to help T&T strengthen the defensive side of their game, and he said the young Soca Warriors "were prepared to defend first and then go and take our chances."

After just ten minutes, the visitors put a dent in T&T's plot when Myles Morgan swept home a right-side cross with ease to silence the red-clad crowd in the stands.

Canada didn't add any further goals in the first half. With T&T sitting deep in their own half, though, Canada dictated the tempo and looked at ease with Christian Greco-Taylor seamlessly pulling strings with dangerous passes and crosses from his left back position.

"We had to change our system of play. We normally play a 4-2-3-1. But because they play with five players high, we had to change to a 4-1-4-1, a formation we have not played on a regular basis," Haynes said. "When you don't play something on a regular basis, it's hard to adjust right away."

Similar to the first half, Canada breached T&T's defence early in the second half when Santiago Lopez slammed in a shot past Ailan Panton at the end of a flowing move in the 54th minute.

Haynes tried to switch up the game with a few substitutions, but T&T rarely had meaningful forays into the opposition half or penalty area.

The Canadian team, which came together just days before the tournament, were in cruise control on foreign soil and put the game well beyond T&T's reach in the 79th minute, when Kevaughn Tavernier rolled into an empty net to make it 3-0 after a mix-up at the back between Francois and Panton.

"When you are uncomfortable, you try to do things that you can't really do. We gave away the ball a lot in open play and we missed our mark at times," Haynes said. "It was difficult, because it was not a system we were (accustomed to) training and playing, and we had one day to prepare for it. Because (Canada) were playing it on a consistent basis, it made things easier for them."

The TTFA appointed Haynes on November 1, 2023 on an initial six-month basis. He said TTFA technical director Anton Corneal will advise on his possible continuation in the programme, but is willing to build on the foundation established with the current group.

On his overall assessment of the team picked for the qualifiers, Haynes said he was pleased with the 21-man group, despite not having a more hands-on role during the screening phase.

"There were players who were selected through different screening processes. I didn't do that, but I trusted Anton Corneal and his staff to do that before I got here." he said.

"That is not a cop-out. I think there were very good players selected. Going forward, that's the process we will use, and I'm okay with that. I was not upset with anybody who was not picked."

Haynes' staff includes assistant coaches Gilbert Bateau, Marvin Gordon and Shawn Cooper, who was head coach of T&T's under-17 team at last year's Concacaf under-17 championship.

He said TTFA technical director Anton Corneal will advise on his possible continuity in the programme, but he is willing to build on the foundation which has been established with the current group.

On his overall assessment of the team picked for the qualifiers, Haynes said he was pleased with the 21-man group despite not having a more hands-on role during the team's screening phase.

"There were players who were selected through different screening processes. I didn't do that, but I trusted Anton Corneal and his staff to do that before I got here." he said.

"That is not a cop out. I think there were very good players selected. Going forward, that's the process we will use and I'm okay with that. I was not upset with anybody who was not picked."

Haynes' staff includes assistant coaches Gilbert Bateau, Marvin Gordon and Shawn Cooper, who served as head coach of T&T's under-17 team at last year's Concacaf under-17 championship.