In matches separated by a two day recovery period, two thousand kilometers and multiple hours of travel, Dennis Lawrence, and his iteration of the Soca Warriors, will in succession have faced two coaches with accomplished records at national team age group level prior to being granted the maximum responsibility at national team level. Both Fabian Coito and Jorge Celico have won the South American U-20 Championship and both have progressed to graduated successes at World Cup level in the same age group. Although all three coaches are novitiates at senior national team level, unlike his counterparts, Lawrence lacks a formative experience as a junior national team coach and the directly imputed processes that accompany and distinguish the national team coaching and managerial environment from that of club football.
Of the three coaches, Lawrence has accumulated more games in the senior national team role than his colleagues --- more than twice that of Coito and at least quadruple those of Celico; yet, of the trio, Lawrence has the most inferior record. It points, perhaps, to the relevant significance of prior executive experience. Before stepping into the role with Honduras, Coito amassed more than 70 matches as a head coach at junior national team level, in addition to a brief managerial tenure at club level. Celico, a transplanted Argentine coach and sporting director associated with player development in Ecuador for many years, holds over 200 professional club matches under his technical direction, in addition to dozens of matches on the youth pro league circuit in his homeland and in his adopted country, and on the junior national team level.
Coito has incrementally been a national team manager at U-15, U-17, U-19, U-20 and U-22/23 level for more than a decade and also has served as interim coach of Uruguay’s senior team during a period when that nation’s legendary coach, Oscar Tabarez, was engaged in contract negotiations with federation officials. Serving in this latter capacity is a considerable recognition of Coito’s standing and ability. El Maestro Tabarez in 2019 achieved 200 matches directing Uruguay’s senior national team and became the first coach to achieve that milestone across all FIFA participating countries. On paper Coito is a definitive candidate to emerge into the coaching role with Uruguay when Tabarez’s permanent descent from the responsibility occurs.
Arguably, Coito’s leadership of Honduras provides him with the complete preparatory experience to render unassailable his presumptive appointment as Uruguay national team coach. He has won the U-17 and U-20 CONMEBOL tournaments, the 2015 Pan-American Games (Uruguay were grouped with Trinidad and Tobago) and has earned two medals at U-17 and U-20 World Cup level. Notably, his teams have failed to progress to the quarterfinal round of tournaments on only one occasion. Similarly, Celico played an instrumental role in the formation of professional players at Universidad Católica and his work product across all levels has earned him interest from the Panamanian federation, Huracán in Argentina and two clubs in Ecuador, all of which he has reportedly turned down, or placed on hold, in deference to permanently securing the national team job with Ecuador.
In Celico’s assessment of Trinidad and Tobago’s performance versus Ecuador, he opined that the Soca Warriors were unable to attack due to Ecuador’s superior tactical positioning and applied effort to recovering the ball upon losses of possession. He also suggested that Trinidad and Tobago suffered physically from not maintaining possession and that this aspect of the match transcended into the psychological component of football because the visitors were mentally impacted by not having the ball, by not keeping the ball and by involuntarily having to chase and defend it. Match statistics show that Ecuador possessed the ball by the superior ratio of 2:1 and rendered a pass accuracy of 89%. The only statistical category in which Trinidad and Tobago was superior was that of fouls and cardable offences.
Although there was near parity in possession in the first leg encounter versus the catrachos there was a notable gap in shots and shots on target, just as occurred against Ecuador. Indeed, this phenomenon has persisted as a perennial concern under Lawrence. Regarding the first leg, Coito has repeatedly noted that the Hasely Crawford Stadium field was heavy on his players' legs and that his team considered this factor in the style of play adopted. Without a doubt, Honduras will be more comfortable playing at home.
Nevertheless, physiological concerns are likely to become a heightened consideration in the second leg battle and Honduras has managed this aspect of match preparation more astutely than Trinidad and Tobago. It would not be an overstatement to suggest that the Hondurans are confident of victory going into tonight's encounter and believe that they have ascertained the proper measure of a weak, wounded and travel-exposed opponent. A day before the match, Coito decided to return seven players from the squad to their respective clubs. These players were Alex Güity from Olimpia, Marathón defender Bryan Barrios, defender Danilo Tobías and forward Darixon Vuelto from Real España, midfielder Hector Castellanos and defender Marcelo Pereira of Motagua and United States-based forward Douglas Martinez from Real Monarchs. The reduction in the squad left 26 players in the Honduran camp. However, it should be noted that Coito thoughtfully did not travel to Martinique, for Honduras' first match during the FIFA window, with several key elements of the starting team that is expected to take to the field tonight against Trinidad and Tobago. Honduras travelled to Fort-de-France with 18 players and five of the seven players who were returned to their clubs were part of that traveling contingent. While most of tonight's prospective Honduran starters were rested and cautiously managed, Lawrence's attempt to protect the physical load on his players was impacted both by circumstance and seemingly inadequate logistics.
The initial XI for Honduras is anticipated to be Buba Lopez in goal, Felix Crisanto at right back accompanied by Denil Maldonado, Maynor Figueroa as skipper and the gifted Ever Alvarado who brings tight marking, solid positioning and aerial authority to his assignments. In advance of these players Carlos Pineda, Alexander Lopez and Jonathan Rubio and Rubilio Castillo are expected to be deployed. Also included in the projected mix are likely Brayan Moya, who conducts the ball at speed with informed control and who is favored to drop to participate in Honduras' build up movements, and the dynamic and incisively dangerous Alberth Elis.
In one sense Trinidad and Tobago should be at home in Honduras. The morning’s headlines read as indistinguishably violent. Five persons pronounced dead after a shooting in San Pedro Sula outside a bar. Not being satisfied with killing three of the victims near the premises of the establishment, the assassins ventured to the hospital to which surviving victims were transported and shot the other two fatalities on the stretchers on which they lay. Another incident, a shootout elsewhere in the country, left three persons dead and a fourth person wounded following an argument that ensued between the driver of a coffee-transporting commercial vehicle that was obstructed in its path and the driver of the allegedly obstructing passenger car. The dispute led to both drivers discharging their weapons.
One of Trinidad and Tobago’s most notable successes in Central America in recent time occurred in Guatemala four years ago this past week during the last World Cup qualification cycle. On that occasion one of the team’s attempts to arrive at the assigned practice venue was frustrated by a homicide that impacted the normal traffic pattern. If nothing else, it would be serendipitous and metaphorical if the Soca Warriors could duplicate that 2-1 victory and impede the fatal blow of being eliminated from qualifying from the proximate edition of the Gold Cup.
If football is truly a vehicle for social change, temperance, tolerance and the instilment of human values, there’s no clearer impetus in Honduras and Trinidad and Tobago than to set about fulfilling that mission in the trenches. Impunity and the callous disregard for life risk sapping away at football's most valuable resource - people. Everyone is affected by these events despite the "brave face" façade of immunity.
Regarding values Coito has been clear. He’s stated: “We give a lot of importance to respect ... respect towards teammates, towards the officials, towards the functioning of the group and squad, towards the referee, towards the opponent. And when in a footballer this does not exist, we can’t keep him within the squad.” His comments lead us to consider the disposition of the Trinidad and Tobago national team player and the culture of values within the national team and the national federation. Once again there are indications that all is not well within the national team edifice and all stakeholders must be invested and dedicated to ensuring that the appropriate values and reflections of the federation as an institution are transmitted from top to bottom on a daily basis, rather than for media consumption and electoral convenience.
Unlike the poorly attended match in Portoviejo, the stands in San Pedro Sula promise to be brimming with somewhat more domestic support and while Trinidad and Tobago may or may not qualify for the Gold Cup, it shall survive either eventuality, lost cause or not. Nonetheless, surviving does not mean moving forward in self-deception. It must be accepted, rather than deflected, that a correlation with results and past decisions exists.
Consequently, the foregoing treatment of the comparative national team career trajectories of the coaches mentioned erodes David John-Williams’ deluded narrative regarding the efficacy and remit of a federation’s Technical Committee vis-à-vis the overriding actions of a Board of Directors in the selection of a national team coach and underscores that relative to footballing nations with a studious approach to progressing national teams, Dennis Lawrence’s placement into the role was prescriptively premature and unsupported by a body of work that was his own, despite his undoubtedly accomplished background in the game and supremely credible credentials.
The wisdom to discern is an invaluable asset that must be shown consistently by a national federation president. The necessity of an improved physical infrastructural base for national football is undeniable, but it does not constitute the overarching or primordial element of good governance. As I recall the victory against Guatemala, I also recall the disquiet in the stadium by Guatemalan fans when Khaleem Hyland pummeled the ball into the back of the net. Fans in the stands immediately stood up and started vigorously denouncing a federation official who promptly and wisely stood up and decided to depart that area. I recall also an insistent complaint from Guatemalan officials that they were unable to find a half dozen balls of the complement of balls that had been provided to Trinidad and Tobago for pre-match warm-up. As the complaint unfolded, it was instructive to observe how William Wallace treated and contributed to quelling the matter. If he brings an iota of that sort of tempered discernment to the Trinidad and Tobago Football Association, the recalibration of standards and expectations that must occur in the current institutional culture and values are slated to make a quantum and civic leap.