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Denzil Smith #22 of Trinidad and Tobago gathers the ball as Folarin Balogun #20 of the United States attacks during the first half at Hasely Crawford Stadium on November 20, 2023 in Port of Spain, Trinidad And Tobago. (Photo by Carmen Mandato/USSF/Getty Images for USSF)

Rising Trinidad and Tobago goalkeeper Denzil Smith never thought 2023 would have been such a progressive year for his athletic career.

The 24-year-old earned his first country appearance with the senior team in March, and has since, been a standout performer for the red, white and black.

After two heroic performances for T&T between the sticks against the US in the Concacaf Nations League quarter-finals over the past week, he’s bumped his caps up to eight.

What he also did, was bravely and boldly stake claim as frontrunner to become T&T’s next number one goalie.

The soft-spoken Smith came up big on both occasions against the US, and despite losing the first leg 3-0, it could have been much worse for the Soca Warriors, had he not delivered a fearless display.

Similarly, in Monday’s second leg, in which T&T triumphed 2-1, Smith pulled out all the stops to ensure his nation eked out a crucial, confidence-building victory.

“I always wanted this chance (to play for the senior team) and I waited for it for a long time. It’s a great feeling going out there to play against a big team and country. I feel great, to be honest,” said the Santa Flora native.

He’s been around the national setup for some time now and hailed the likes of now-retired custodian Marvin Phillip and still in-action goalies Andre Foncette and Canadian-based Nicklas Frenderup as big motivators in his growing career.

“Being around the national team for a while, I can say that these guys taught me a lot and I’m thankful for that,” he said.

During his Concacaf Nations League campaign, which T&T were knocked out of in the quarter-finals on Monday, Smith said a chance to play in the prestigious 2024 Copa America, alongside the likes of world champions Argentina and Brazil, served as fuel to be the best he could.

And even though T&T’s loss of the home and away legs eliminated them from the Nations League semis and automatic Copa qualification, the Soca Warriors have one last chance to make it to the CONMEBOL tourney, when they play Canada for one of two final Copa spots, in March 2024.

This comes after Canada lost out to Jamaica, over two legs, on Tuesday night. T&T take on Canada at Toyota Stadium in Texas, on March 23.

The other quarter-final losers, Honduras and Costa Rica, also play each other for the final Copa spot.

Throughout the Nations League tourney, Smith had his eyes set on stopping shots from Argentina captain Lionel Messi and currently injured Brazilian star, Neymar dos Santos.

“What really motivated me during the Nations League was that chance to play in Copa America. I really want to play there and I know my teammates also want to play there so that was our main driving force over the past few games.”

Domestically, Smith played with W Connection in the inaugural T&T Premier Football League (TTPFL) season (March to June 2023).

At the conclusion, he transferred to the third-placed Tiger Tanks Club Sando, which competed in the Concacaf Caribbean Club Shield tournament in August. Smith helped them to a credible third place in the Caribbean Shield.

However, Smith was on the move again soon after, and only last week, confirmed he would be suiting up with the yellow and black of Heritage Petroleum Point Fortin Civic FC for the new TTPFL season, which kicks off on Friday. He’s also been named captain of the South team.

Looking ahead at the new season, Smith wants to “put back Point Fortin people on the map.”

He added, “I want to keep as much clean sheets as I can and help the (Point Fortin) boys to come and join me in the national team. I also want to help this side to qualify for the Concacaf tournaments. It will do wonders for the club”

Reflecting on his decorated year between the sticks for both club and country, Smith dedicates every game to his brother, who passed away some years ago.

“My family is always behind me no matter what. My brother passed away a few years ago and everything I’m doing here today is for him. I really want T&T to qualify for the Copa American and, honestly, I want to get a big contract outside (of T&T).”

SOURCE: T&T Newsday