Well the Faithfulista made it safely back to sweet T&T on Saturday July 16. This was one of the days slated for quarterfinals of the CONCACAF Gold Cup, but with Trinidad and Tobago's first round elimination, my son, "Small Magician", and I, "Big Magician", were on a flight to Port of Spain and not Boston.
The in-flight movie is "Fever Pitch". To my disappointment it is not the Arsenal Football Club movie, but an American Hollywood-styled version. Jimmy Fallon stars as an obsessed fan of Major League Baseball team, the Chicago Cubs. His love interest, Drew Barrymore, tries, and eventually comes to terms with his love affair for his beloved "Cubs". Of course, I rate the Arsenal "Fever Pitch" much higher.
We were picked up at Piarco Airport by Mrs. Magician and little Miss Magician. Home and away stories circulate the car, and the Faithfulista admit feeling guilty for visiting the Miami Sea Aquarium without the rest of the family. Ninety-nine per cent of the people I know that visit Miami have been to the Miami Sea Aquarium. This was my first time, and I turned into a 15-year-old on see the killer-whale, dolphins, sharks and sea-lion shows. Small Magician got it all on tape, the same tape with all the Orange Bowl Gold Cup moments.
The record will show T&T's Warriors playing three matches, winning zero, drawing two and losing one, for a total of two points. Three goals for and five against meant an early exit for the Warriors. I will now give my assessment (and I repeat "MY") of the team, technical staff, management, and the players.
T&T's management team: Without being in direct contact with the team, it would appear that management did a fairly good job in Miami. The odd training ground schedule and the rearrangement of flights back to T&T (and various international destinations) were hopefully some of the trickier tasks. One recommendation would be a better interaction with the fans at the stadium. The failure by the players to acknowledge the fans after the final match left some of them very disturbed.
Technical staff: Leo Beenhakker and his two fellow Dutch assistants are well aware of the magnitude of the job they have taken on: To qualify Trinidad and Tobago for the World Cup Finals in Germany 2006. Don Leo took the chance at the Gold Cup to try out new players like, Cyd Gray, Slivio Spann, Colin Samuel, Jason Scotland, Cornell Glenn and Angus Eve. His race against the clock continues as the players try to comprehend and adapt to his football philosophy of keeping possession and patient European-style build-ups. His biggest coaching task remains getting a T&T team to display a never-say-die fighting spirit and passion. Turn them into believers like Ajax, Feyenoord, Zaragoza, Real, Club America, Holland and Saudi Arabia. Don Leo knows getting little T&T to the World Cup Finals will further add sparkle to his impressive resume.
Kelvin Jack: Even without a clean sheet at the Gold Cup, Jack had an outstanding tournament, keeping the more-experienced Shaka Hislop on the bench for the three matches.
Marvin "Dog" Andrews: Glasgow Rangers manager, Alex McLeish, pleaded for sparing use of this central defender, but the big-hearted "Dog" played all three games for the Warriors. It's no coincidence that with him after coming off the pitch with 15 minutes left versus Colombia, T&T conceded two soft goals to take their exit from the Gold Cup. The most famous left knee in Scotland continues to be a concern, as every time the big man goes down, the blue half of Glasgow and all of T&T hold a collective breath. T&T's World Cup chances depend on big Marvin staying fit.
Dennis Lawrence: Played all three games and was T&T's most consistent player at the Gold Cup. His partnership with Andrews continues to blossom and his commitment to T&T goes unquestioned. Sadly, Wrexham's relegation will see "Tallest" playing in the lowest of the English leagues, but will guarantee him more playing time.
Cyd Gray: Knowledgeable T&T football fans keep recalling Grays's World Cup debut four years ago, away to Costa Rica. The Costa Rican maestro, Hernan Medford, gave the young Tobagonian a torrid welcome to international football. But all credit to Gray, he kept on working and earned recalls under Hannibal Najjar, Bertille St Clair and now Don Leo. The question still remains: Is Cyd Gray capable of international football?
Avery John: John also played all three matches, giving the T&T back four a familiar look. The hard-tackling former Presentation College player will always be a yellow card candidate, so cover in this position is another piece of the puzzle for the Don. John rarely got into the opposition's half and his 30-40 yard passes rarely found their intended targets.
Chris Birchall: His 25-yard wonder strike against Honduras will remain with T&T fans for a long time. But "Me mum" Birchall is well aware that the stakes are getting higher. Without disrespect to Port Vale, this is international football, and the young "lad" has no time to settle in. A natural right winger at his club, he is now asked to drive T&T's central midfield. His simple play and good work rate are welcome strengths to the T&T midfield. His all round play versus Honduras was never recreated for the two following matches.
Silvio Spann: A favourite among the T&T supporters. The son of former T&T legend, Leroy Spann, got his first match under Don Leo versus Panama. His aggression, extremely high work rate and a powerful right boot are his main strengths. His tendency to go to ground could cause him and his team some trouble, and needs to keep working on releasing the ball quicker and better decision making at the heart of T&T's midfield.
Collin Samuel: Came on as a left-sided substitute in the first match and started the last two. Has to be more disciplined, tactically, and improve his work-rate and commitment to secure the left side of T&T's midfield for future matches. His pace is also a welcome addition.
Densil Theobald: Started the first match on the left side of T&T's midfield and was substituted. Started the second match on the right side and was again substituted. Fans of "Bleeder" know his natural position is at the centre of the park, but he will have to be professional about it if he wants to continue his international career.
Brent Rahim: Started the first match and came on as a substitute in the last. An injury to first choice right midfielder Carlos Edwards, gave Rahim the chance to show his versatility. Rahim burst onto the international scene five years ago, giving T&T fans some hope of an exciting prospect for the future. Having never cemented a regular place for his country is a cause of concern for his fading fans. Needs to find a club and command some playing time after his nightmare spells at West Ham, Northampton Town and Falkirk.
Aurtis Whitley: Played in the first match, but an ankle injury ruled him out for the rest of the Gold Cup. A lot of his good work goes unnoticed and looks to have a future under Don Leo. When he adds some of his exciting play and goal scoring abilities which he displays at Jabloteh, surely then he will win over some fans.
Jason Scotland: Started and substituted in all three matches. He failed to add that much-needed spark to the T&T offence, while his good hold-up play and physical strength give some options to the technical staff.
Stern John: Stern John has started every game under Don Leo, including all three at the Gold Cup. His much publicised lack of form continued at the Gold Cup, and has now gone four matches without scoring. While no other striker has scored a goal for the entire World Cup and Gold Cup campaign, T&T depends heavily on the goals of Stern John. He remains T&T's highest scoring striker in history, but the fans want it NOW. Close followers of the game would trace his slump in form to his move from the English Premiership club Birmingham City to the lower end of the Championship Division with Coventry City. A Premiership tabanca perhaps? There are repeated calls by fans and the "experts" for John to be relegated to the bench, but Don Leo answered this by naming Stern as captain of the Gold Cup squad. Surely, he is backing his No.1 striker to play his way into form. T&T and Don Leo need this to happen soon like August 17.
Cornell Glenn: His injury time equaliser versus Panama saved T&T from an earlier exit, but could not keep up the level versus Colombia, and was replaced at half time. He adds pace to a T&T side which badly lacks that element. If he can play within Don Leo's tactical plans, he should see some playing time in the future.
Kenwyne Jones: Might count himself unlucky not to see more playing time at the Gold Cup. The young Southampton utility man is improving at a good rate and should be around T&T football for a very long time.
Angus Eve: Two second half appearances for the veteran midfielder, with his cross setting up the late equaliser vs Panama.
Atiba Charles only played 15 minutes, and Anton Pierre, Shaka Hislop, Brent Sancho, Durance Williams, Glenton Wolfe and Carlos Edwards did not feature at all.
The team: The Warriors have now used four coaches in the past four years-Hannibal Najjar, Stewart Charles, Bertille St. Clair and now Leo Beenhakker. This is hardly a recipe for cohesion and consistency. With most of the players in the leagues of England and Scotland, the European sophistication introduced by Don Leo will take time to bear fruit. But, time is an enemy. With Dwight Yorke, Carlos Edwards and Brent Sancho to return to the World Cup fold, an interesting four months await.
Well, dear readers, I really hoped you enjoyed our weekly articles on the journey of the Faithfulista--two diehard supporters of the Trinidad and Tobago national football team. Many people are saying I did a great deed for my son, but, the truth is, he did it for me. It was his persistence that got us there. It was his email which found its way to Jack Warner, who arranged for the "Small Magician" to travel to Miami. I just had to scramble like mad to accompany him, but as a good friend said, "Someone had to do the dirty work". We will never forget this trip. The Faithfulista are now ready for the big one, Germany 2006.
Now lets get behind our team as they get ready to take on the mighty USA, Gold Cup Champions, on August 17 in Connecticut ..hhmmmmmm, wonder what Connecticut looks like?...
The Faithfulista are currently in preseason training.