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Photo: Trinidad and Tobago right back Alvin Jones (right) takes the ball away from Guatemala attacker Marvin Ceballos during Gold Cup action at the Toyota Stadium in Frisco on 18 July 2021. (Copyright Concacaf)
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The Trinidad and Tobago Men’s National Senior Team led Guatemala for over an hour last night in 2021 Concacaf Gold Cup group stage action at the Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas. But they could not hang on to the win, as the Central American nation equalised in the 77th minute with the game eventually finishing 1-1.

Guatemala were eliminated since midweek and they ensured that Trinidad and Tobago joined them on a flight home—although a 1-0 win for Mexico over El Salvador meant the Soca Warriors would not have advanced, despite whatever result they might have managed in Frisco.

Interim head coach Angus Eve noted the poor match fitness of his players, which he did not have sufficient time to remedy after his appointment on 13 June, led to concentration lapses that undermined what might have been a comfortable result.

“I was disappointed [last night] because I wanted to be on the front foot and we started that way,” said Eve, “but we didn’t push to get that second goal. [The Trinidad and Tobago players] went in a shell; they kept dropping back and looking to keep what they have. It is the first time I was disappointed in the group.”

Defence Force winger Reon Moore, undoubtedly T&T’s breakout player in this tournament, opened the scoring with a tidy finish after just 12 minutes. And the Soca Warriors were comfortable for much of the first half, when Guatemala failed to register a single shot on target.

However, Guatemala did threaten from set pieces and eventually got their equaliser via that route, courtesy of a Gerardo Gordillo header in the 77th minute.

Trinidad and Tobago are undefeated against Guatemala since 2005—a run that stretched to eight matches last night. Neither outfit are enjoying their best days of late, though.

Fifa suspended Guatemala in 2016 after the Central America nation refused to accede to the governing body’s wish to change its executive, and ‘Los Chapines’ spent two years in the wilderness and another year under ‘normalisation’ before electing Gerardo Paiz as president in 2019.

Guatemala, also led by an interim coach, Mexican Rafael Loredo at present, are already out of the running for the Qatar 2022 World Cup qualifying series; and they only got to the Gold Cup after the withdrawal of Curaçao, due to a flurry of Covid-19 cases within the Dutch-speaking team.

Guatemala were beatable, although certainly not walkovers. There was a pre-match debate as to how Eve would face them tactically. Trinidad and Tobago started their opening two group matches conservatively with a five man defence camped close to their own penalty area.

By now, though, the only unsurprising thing about Eve’s team sheet is that it will contain surprises. So, after seven changes in each of Trinidad and Tobago’s last two matches, there were another six changes  last night and a new mindset to boot.

Kevin Molino was absent from the starting line-up—Eve explained that his ace midfielder is still working his way back to full fitness from injury—but Moore and Marcus Joseph were back; and, for the first time in Group A, the Soca Warriors started with a back four and a positive attitude.

T&T contested Guatemala from just inside the opposing territory and there were only 12 minutes on the clock before the verve and ambition of the twin island republic reaped tangible reward.

Right back Alvin Jones, who has been one of Trinidad and Tobago’s best performers in the competition, stole possession from opposing left wing back Moisés Hernández and stormed forward before picking out Moore with a low cross.

And it was ‘one touch, one kill’ for the soldier, who steered first time into the far corner with his weaker left foot, for his third international goal in five matches under Eve and eight national senior team outings in total.

To describe Moore as ‘nerveless’ seems to be an understatement at this point. When he was born, 24 years ago, Moore probably greeted the surprised doctor with a casual nod of his head and a ‘bounce’.

The 20-year-old Jesse Williams hardly lacks self-assurance either. A central defender at national youth level and right back under former head coach Terry Fenwick, he started at central midfield for the second time in this tournament last night—after Neveal Hackshaw injured himself during the pre-match warm up.

Many defenders get virtual nosebleeds playing that high up the park, Williams almost got his first international goal with a sweetly struck right footer from 35 yards, which needed a flying save from Guatemala goalkeeper Kenderson Navarro in the 27th minute.

Judging from his unflappable response to life at this level so far, the former St Anthony’s College schoolboy might have celebrated a debut goal with a shrug.

The 19-year-old Navarro, incidentally, was making his senior international debut between the uprights for Guatemala. And he looked as nervous as a puppy during a fireworks display.

Trinidad and Tobago had not seen this level of control since Eve’s opening match against Montserrat, when they ran out 6-1 winners. But, somehow, the Soca Warriors failed to give Navarro anything trickier than swerving corner kicks to deal with, as the score remained 1-0 at the interval.

And talking about set pieces, Guatemala’s ‘GG’ quite relishes being at the end of them in the Trinidad and Tobago box.

In the 20th minute, Gordillo beat the ground in frustration after failing to connect cleanly with a clipped Marvin Ceballos free kick. Ten minutes later, Gordillo did get his head on the ball but placed his effort wide of the mark—off a right side corner.

Gordillo didn’t make good contact from another corner in the 71st minute and, from the rebound, Guatemala midfielder Jorge Aparicio was inches away from an equaliser.

So guess which Guatemala player was the target for Ceballos’ corner kick in the 77th minute?

If you guessed ‘Gordillo’, you must not be a Trinidad and Tobago defender. Remarkably, nobody picked up GG—Powder made a late, unsuccessful dash to unsettle him—as the Guatemalan defender climbed in the air, arched his back and powered an unstoppable header past T&T goalkeeper Marvin Phillip from close range.

“Someone missed their assignment,” said Eve, ruefully. “I don’t know how Powder ended up marking him because it should have been one of our big guys. But…”

By then, Guatemala were fizzing with substitute Rudy Barrientos almost single handedly taking over T&T’s midfield, which has badly missed injured Warriors captain Khaleem Hyland.

Trinidad and Tobago’s own changes were not nearly as effective—and, curiously, Eve never turned to Duane Muckette but instead put left back Ross Russell Jr in as a makeshift central midfielder for the closing five minutes.

Moore apart, Trinidad and Tobago’s offensive players have generally not distinguished themselves at the 2021 Gold Cup. Last night offered the perfect opportunity but they proved to be bashful feters.

“We let ourselves down,” said Phillip, who again wore the captain’s armband. “We were firmly in control [but] in the second half we just lost concentration and focus. At this level, we definitely need to finish 90 minutes to be successful.”

In the 86th minute, Jones almost snatched Trinidad and Tobago’s first win at the Gold Cup since 2015. But his thunderous 40-yard free kick struck the bar and rebounded into play. It was the second time he hit the frame of the goal in this tournament.

Jones’ booming right foot still has just the one international goal: that strike which cancelled the United States’ summer plans at the Russia 2018 World Cup.

“My main objective is to get clean sheets for the team,” said Jones, as he brushed off his failure to add to his famous goal. “If I score, it is a plus.”

The former East Mucurapo schoolboy echoed Phillip’s analysis of the game.

“In the second half we gave them too much respect,” he said. “We dropped off too deep and we paid the price.”

Trinidad and Tobago’s next Fifa match window is on 30 August and Eve is not sure to still be in charge. The Robert Hadad-led Fifa-appointed normalisation committee said Eve must reapply for the national team position after the Gold Cup, and would be assessed along with the applicants.

Few could argue that Eve has not made a decent case for himself.

“It was a baptism of fire,” said the 49-year-old Eve, who referenced a few internal issues within his camp along with the challenges on the field. “It is a learning experience. We as a team and a staff can only be better for it.

“I still think that we did really well with all the challenges we had to face—losing key players, not having other players, and still putting on credible performances throughout the tournament.

“There is a lot to look forward to based on what we have done in this tournament.”

Wired868 asked Phillip what sparked the Soca Warriors’ more vibrant showings under the new technical staff. The 36-year-old goalkeeper laughed before pausing to find the right (diplomatic) words.

“It was a different vibe in the camp,” said Phillip. “It was a better team spirit. Things were just more in control. I must give kudos to the coach for what we did together at this point in time.”

The Gold Cup tournament will continue without Trinidad and Tobago. Seven Caribbean teams entered the group stage, only Jamaica survived to the knockout round. (Two other regional nations, Cuba and Curaçao, didn’t even make it to the starting position after failing to satisfy Covid-19 protocols.)

Potential friendlies apart, Trinidad and Tobago’s next competitive assignment will be in March 2022 in the second tier of the Concacaf Nations League—having been relegated under another former coach, Dennis Lawrence.

It feels, at least, like the decline over the last three years has stopped. In five games, Eve tallied a lopsided win over Montserrat, a penalty shootout triumph over French Guiana, draws against Mexico and Guatemala, and a single defeat to El Salvador.

Time will tell if those results—and the manner in which they were won—would be enough for Trinidad and Tobago’s most capped footballer to get the job to rebuild the Soca Warriors’ prestige, as the permanent national senior team coach.

(Teams)

Trinidad and Tobago (4-1-4-1): 1.Marvin Phillip (GK); 16.Alvin Jones, 2.Aubrey David, 8.Mekeil Williams, 18.Triston Hodge; 23.Jesse Williams (17.Justin Garcia 75); 14.Andre Fortune II (19.Ross Russell Jr 85), 3.Hashim Arcia (7.Ryan Telfer 75), 11.Noah Powder, 13.Reon Moore (12.Isaiah Lee 85); 9.Marcus Joseph (10.Kevin Molino 67).

Unused substitutes: 21.Nicklas Frenderup (GK), 22.Adrian Foncette (GK), 4.Jelani Peters, 5.Curtis Gonzales, 6.Radanfah Abu Bakr, 20.Duane Muckette.

Coach: Angus Eve

Guatemala (3-4-3): 12.Kenderson Navarro (GK); 3.Kervin García (6.Oscar Castellanos 52), 4.José Pinto (captain), 20.Gerardo Gordillo; 13.Stheven Robles, 10.Alejandro Galindo (5.Rudy Barrientos 46), 23.Jorge Aparicio, 2.Moisés Hernández; 18.Oscar Santis, 14.Darwin Lom (17.Luis Martínez 82), 7.Marvin Ceballos.

Unused substitutes: 1.Nicholas Hagen (GK), 21.Kevin Moscoso (GK), 8.Luis De León, 9.Yeltsin Álvarez, 11.Jairo Arreola, 15.Manuel López, 16.Marco Domínguez, 19.Robin Betancourth, 22.José Morales.

Coach: Rafael Loredo

Watch Guatemala's strong second half propels them to 1-1 draw vs. Trinidad and Tobago | 2021 Gold Cup