I arrived 20 minutes prior to kick off at the Estadio Centroamericano in Mayaguez to a populated parking lot with a surprising stream of fans in red, white and blue.
The Puerto Rican Football Federation president Ivan Rivera stated on 15 March that the game would be played behind closed doors. Apparently for the Boriquen ‘closed to the public’ is as fluid a term as ‘excellence’ for Trinidad and Tobago head coach Terry Fenwick.
I learned that the Puerto Rican Federation provided every football club on the island with two tickets; and, although there was a guest list at the entrance, some Puerto Rican clubs might have studied our 19 November 1989 ticketing process.
The World Cup qualifier was staged at the home of Puerto Rico Sol FC, one of the strongest football programs in Puerto Rico since its founding in 2016. Across the street is Plaza Patos y Copas, a wonderful revenue generator—though I do not know whether for the club or the federation.
Former TTFA president David John-Williams would love the setting.
As the match kicked off on a pitch surrounded by an athletic track, Fenwick spent much of his time in lane one trying to get as close as possible to his players who he shouted orders to constantly.
Puerto Rico head coach Dave Sarachan, on the hand, only emerged from his bench with the occasional tactical adjustment.
The first half ended with both teams still on even terms. Thank Trinidad and Tobago goalkeeper Nicklas Frenderup for that, as he was lively and commanding—save for one strike that he judged to be wide but which struck his near post.
As the second half got underway, our back four must have felt like I did at the San Juan airport, greeted by an ants’ nest of Covid-19 regulations and tables of individuals in gloves, masks and white disposal suits, awaiting your ‘intake’. It was like a scene from the movie Pandemic.
In the Estadio Centroamericano, Trinidad and Tobago, effectively using four six foot central defenders across their entire backline, were struggling to cope with the nippy Puerto Ricans.
The 17-year-old human highlight reel that is right winger Wilfredo A Rivera Cepeda, aka Wilfredo Rivera, looked particularly impressive in an otherwise mediocre game.
Wilfredo spent his early years at one of the oldest clubs in Puerto Rico, Academia Quintana, and hails from the Quintana neighborhood of San Juan, where boys sweat from early in the morning until after the sun sets. He immigrated to Jacksonville, FL where he eventually joined Orlando FC.
Almost every talented footballer has some ‘barrio football’ in their past and Wilfredo is no different. The sons of the privileged almost never rise to the top in the game.
Fenwick injected some creativity into his team in the second half by swapping Daniel Phillips with Duane Muckette, and the impact was felt on and off the field.
“Ay Dios Mio (oh my God),” said the Puerto Rican fan next to me, “it’s good they did not start ‘Number 10’ because he changed the game. Now we are going to lose…”
Joevin Jones put the visitors ahead within 10 minutes of Muckette’s introduction. But the Trinidad and Tobago players were not efficient with our chances, while their defence always seemed desperate for protection from the Puerto Rico attackers.
We needed better game management. There didn’t appear to be a plan to sit deeper and hit them on the counter with Levi Garcia and Willis Plaza, or for Michel Poon-Angeron to stay home and look after the back four.
The match remained opened and Puerto Rico eventually found an equaliser with an attack that was well constructed but poorly defended.
“Yo soy Boricua pa que tu lo sepas (I am Puerto Rican in case you didn’t know),” sang the home fans, as they pushed their boys to go for the victory.
But 1-1 was as good as it was going to get for the hosts.
I was fortunate to meet and spend some time with Puerto Rico defender Nicolás Javier Cordona and flanker Gerald Jadiel Diaz after the match. They and the supporters felt the result was fair, although they felt they could have taken all three points.
They still view Trinidad and Tobago as a Caribbean powerhouse and considered the result to be an excellent one for the development of Puerto Rican football.
As a true patriot, I played along with their description of our team as a ‘powerhouse’, and did not tell them the emperor might have lost his jockey shorts some time ago.
On now to 5 June in the Bahamas, where we need a decisive, high-scoring victory to set up a showdown against St Kitts and Nevis in Port of Spain on 8 June.
I hope the Government of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago can resolve international access to the country by then, or we will likely be back in the new home of the Caribbean Football Union (CFU): the Dominican Republic.
I am not holding my breath for the GORTT, after observing epidemiologist Dr Avery Hinds arriving at conclusions without data and Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi facilitating arm-wrestling without a mask.
Maybe our attorney general heard Fenwick’s constant calls to his players to get ‘closer, closer… closerrrrrrr!’
Martin: T&T had improved possession, but insufficient penetration and indisciplined defence.
By Hayden Martin (Wired868).
“[…] Converting the possession to scoring opportunities needs to be improved. At the moment, it appears that all is left up to Levi Garcia to either come inside and shoot or play low balls to the top of the box.
“Ryan Telfer needs to move into passing lanes and make himself a target for passes from the midfielders. He is slow to move and needs to work harder at losing his marker and making himself available…”
The following tactical analysis on Trinidad and Tobago’s 1-1 World Cup qualifying draw with Puerto Rico on 28 March 2021 was submitted by Fatima College programme director and ex-St Mary’s College head coach Hayden Martin, who holds a KNVB level one coaching instructors license:
Trinidad and Tobago dropped a vital point in their second World Cup qualifier against Puerto Rico, as they found themselves facing an entirely different proposition against a diminutive but skilful opponent who made their intentions known from the very start.
There were two major problems in the first half. Despite keeping possession, although mainly outside of the dangerous areas, T&T struggled to make inroads into the Puerto Rican defence. The penetration was just insufficient.
The fact that it took 35 minutes for Puerto Rico goalkeeper Codi Laurendi to make his first save, speaks volumes.
The good news is however that the approach of T&T to the game was in stark contrast to the game against Guyana. T&T attempted to play more of a passing game as compared to the missiles that were launched to the back of the defence in their opening qualifier.
The issue is what comes at the end of these spells of possession, which is still unclear. That final pass seems elusive.
The strategy of releasing Levi Garcia down the right flank as an inverted winger, would soon become predictable. In fact in the first half he was not given the space and time to get back unto his left foot to shoot or even pass and be a real threat. This appears to be the main focus of T&T’s attack.
Defensively, T&T struggled to cope with the deft touch and movement of the Puerto Rico players. The wide players on the right side proved a hand-full time and time again, especially the overlapping wing back, Darren Ríos.
Goalkeeper Nicklas Frenderup had to do more in the first 30 minutes than he did in the entire game against Guyana. Such was the difference in opponents.
Trinidad and Tobago defended in midfield as a first station. The runs off the ball and the first touch of the Puerto Ricans, enabled them to play out of trouble frequently and get the ball into dangerous areas.
T&T were asked to defend around the 18-yard box frequently and at times seemed to be at sixes and sevens, lacking the required defensive organisation. Frenderup had to make two fine saves to keep the scoreline goalless, which frankly was flattering to T&T at the interval.
The introduction of Duane Muckette for Daniel Phillips at the half, brought a much needed boost to the T&T attack. He was extremely mobile in midfield, passing and moving.
He executed a variety of passes, played into the feet of players ahead of him, and opted to switch play from time to time. This allowed Trinidad and Tobago to keep possession deep in the Puerto Rico half for relatively long periods of time.
Puerto Rico were pinned back in their own half with only sporadic attacks. The only problem was that the score remained 0:0.
Midway in the half, the breakthrough came. After a decent spell of possession, Khaleem Hyland released Ryan Telfer, who had drifted wide and found space to deliver a cross into the mid-goal area. Garcia rose to nod down to Joevin Jones who shot the ball into the net.
Jones could have put T&T further ahead, running onto a low cross from Garcia, but he shot wide. Despite going behind, Puerto Rico kept on playing, kept possession and prodded for that opening that would bring them level.
T&T were unlucky not to have gone further ahead, as Garcia struck the upright directly from a right side corner. Another opportunity to extend the lead went a begging as Jabari Mitchell failed to take the chance falling to him.
Instead, T&T paid the price as Puerto Rico found the equaliser they were seeking.
After switching the play to the advancing left back, Raúl Gonzáles III, on the far side, Roberto Rivera, who had been brought on as a substitute, contorted himself to make contact with Gonzáles’ cross.
The game almost became end to end in the remaining period, as both teams looked to grab the winning item. T&T looked the more likely of the two teams to do so. In the end, the score remained unchanged as both teams could only salvage a solitary point from the encounter.
The performance of the T&T team is encouraging. The build-up play in their own half is good. They displayed the ability to circulate the ball within lines and between lines.
Unlike the previous game they were able to get the ball successfully into the opponents’ half—Michel Poon-Angeron being instrumental in this respect. The passing lane at the side of the field could be utilised a bit more, but this is unlikely as the T&T wingers stay wide in attack.
In the opponents’ half, possession again is well maintained, especially with the introduction of Muckette.
The coupling of Phillips and Hyland should be reconsidered since, with Phillips playing slightly more advanced than Hyland, he ought to be more involved in attacking play, and be available to receiving knock backs from Telfer and even running beyond him into the box to receive passes.
He did not show this in the game and was substituted at the half.
Converting the possession to scoring opportunities needs to be improved. At the moment, it appears that all is left up to Garcia to either come inside and shoot or play low balls to the top of the box.
Telfer needs to move into passing lanes and make himself a target for passes from the midfielders. He is slow to move and needs to work harder at losing his marker and making himself available. He doesn’t seem to have the touch required though.
More crosses could be played in from the side of the field. Jones shows little interest in going down the side of the box and crossing, while the wing backs seem to be uninterested in exploiting the space at the side of the field. This could bring another dimension to the T&T attack.
Central attacks are sparse. It might be beneficial if some combination plays through the centre are implemented. Forward runs by the midfielders into the box would also be beneficial. There is an urgent need to create scoring opportunities from all that possession enjoyed.
Defensively, T&T seemed to have abandoned the high press. It didn’t work against Guyana, but it remains a worthwhile defensive tactic nonetheless.
Their principal defensive tactic appears to be defending on line two. The idea is there, but the organisation needs to be more consistent against stronger teams. The attempts to close the ball down is good, although sometimes the discipline is lacking—with defenders easily beaten or committing fouls.
The problem with the organisation may have its origin in the transition. The wide players do not complete their recovery runs, especially on the weak side, and so the defensive chain is incomplete.
This is also reflected when T&T have to defend the penalty area. The first line always seem incomplete, so organised defending is difficult. This also affects our ability to defend crosses—an example being Puerto Rico’s headed goal, despite T&T’s existing height advantage.
All isn’t lost however; the shortcomings can be overcome through appropriate practice. There is sufficient time before the next game and the virtual group decider against St Kitts and Nevis to rectify them.
Editor’s Note: Hayden Martin was a consultant to the TTFA for the recruitment of Women’s National Senior Team head coach in 2021.