After the nauseating experiment against the United States went awry where the Soca Warriors were humiliated 7-0, T&T’s football fans locally and abroad looked forward to the start of the opening round of the 2022 FIFA World Cup CONCACAF qualifiers against Guyana in the Dominican Republic followed by an away fixture against Puerto Rico.
Fans were unsure of what to expect especially against a Guyana side that has posed problems in the past for the Soca Warriors. They boasted a Brazilian coach in Márcio Máximo with seven players playing professionally outside of Guyana albeit in the lower leagues of Europe. But all in all, one could sense a feeling of uncertainty of what this Guyanese side was capable of producing.
Nevertheless, fans would have expected nothing but a victory from coach Terry Fenwick’s charges and they rightfully delivered. The Soca Warriors started positively and never allowed their opponents to settle and from early on they looked like, as a friend texted me, “they good for 4 or 5”. The important question is: were the Warriors that good to whip the Guyanese by 3-0 including missing a penalty, or were the Guyanese just hopeless? When one looks back at the game in its entirety, it is a mixture of both.
There were times T&T looked good, especially when Levi Garcia was in full flow as he was menacing on the right flank, but far too much depended on his quite evident individualism. He truly has so much talent that he was able, on occasions, to claw his way out of trouble. Both Garcia and Joevin Jones seemed isolated at times, as when T&T moved forward into attack, the cohesion of the team failed to be on display. Ryan Telfer upfront was like The Lone Ranger and when he made his runs and picked up the ball, he was forced to try and dribble opponents as the expected support from the midfield was way too slow in arriving. Kevin Molino was sorely missed as he would have been the outlet not only for Telfer but for Garcia and Jones.
T&T fans should remain hopeful that when their team settles and finds an identity for itself, they will be able to witness some more flair in the midfield with players pushing forward as a unit; and possibly with the defensive midfielder sitting on top of the defence but with instructions to move forward once in possession.
Admittedly, I was concerned with T&T’s defence. I thought Guyana would score and on one occasion, the post got in the way. Debutant goalkeeper Nicklas Frenderup, who looked pretty solid, made a couple of good saves. In Sheldon Bateau and Robert Primus at the heart of the defence, there was every reason for T&T fans to feel comfortable as they are two very capable defenders, but when the Guyanese strung a few passes together, the defence seemed to panic. To call a spade a spade, they did not look as organised as they should be at this level. Should their opponents have had more quality, the Warriors could have easily suffered a goal or two. I know it will take some time for the players to understand each other, but they need to learn fast as I am unsure each player on the field knows their role and how to mesh that into the overall team.
The 3-0 victory was a great start to their campaign and would have given them a much-needed boost of confidence against a Puerto Rican team that, by all accounts, have improved tremendously in the last couple of years. A match of this nature a few years ago would have been a walk in the park but based on their results, it was going to be a tough nut to crack.
El Huracán Azul (The Blue Hurricane) as they are fondly referred to, were at home and knowing they needed a victory to stay alive in the qualifiers, it was imperative the Soca Warriors started the game like they did against the Guyanese or they could have found themselves facing a Category 5 Blue Hurricane that could have been devastating.
Luckily, they instead faced a tropical storm as they put T&T under continuous pressure and again, Frenderup proved his worth as he made critical saves when called upon which ultimately kept the Warriors in the game. I know before the start of the encounter, coach Fenwick spoke about the power and the running ability of this Puerto Rican team, but T&T did not seem to match them with the same intensity that was needed to keep them at bay and indeed, were fortunate to go into the dressing room on level terms.
The Warriors started the second half more positively and tried to keep possession but this young and energetic Puerto Rican team never stopped running and T&T were able to take the lead with their improved second-half display leaving Puerto Rico behind and chasing their fading world cup dreams. As mentioned, this Puerto Rican team is talented and in young, 17-year-old Wilfredo Rivera, who plays for Orlando City, is a piece of dynamite and gave Neveal Hackshaw a night to remember with their equaliser being well-taken in the end.
The Soca Warriors came away with a point and qualifying is still very much on their own feet but doesn’t be surprised if this Puerto Rican team in the next few years emulates Panama as their football grows in stature to challenge all of the CONCACAF’s big names.
Next up, the Soca Warriors should take care of the Bahamas but the big game (imagine than?) is against St Kitts and Nevis and nothing but a victory would see T&T into the next round. I understand coach Fenwick is seeking to strengthen his squad which is all well and good however, his team must place emphasis on ensuring his players understand their roles and the system in which they are brought in to play. I have seen on so many occasions where players come into a squad but they just don't fit into the system and things go haywire.
Former coach Leo Beenhakker was a master of bringing players into a team to fit into a role that strengthened his squad. As such, one can only hope that the same thing unfolds here and that the team’s attack is filled with unity and flair while being defensively well-organised and tough to break down. That I am sure is all the fans are asking for as I am totally confident the nation is 100% behind the Soca Warriors on the road to Qatar 2022. But no one can disagree that there is still lots of work to be done.
The views expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of any organisation of which he is a stakeholder.