Angus Eve will be in the technical area Thursday, leading Trinidad and Tobago against the United States in a Concacaf Nations League quarterfinal. This comes to the surprise of many people. One of those people is Angus Eve.
The Soca Warriors definitely weren’t supposed to make it here. They finished the previous Nations League in League B and, even after they were awarded a League A place thanks to a penalty handed down to another nation, they weren’t favored to advance.
As for Eve’s presence? He quit this very job this very summer.
“I felt that the team hit a rock wall and that they would’ve needed massive change at the time,” he told me in a phone call last week.
“Coming out of the Gold Cup, I was so disappointed with a number of things that happened in that tournament that I wouldn’t disclose here now, but going through that process I felt deeply that - my contract was up - and probably I should move on and do something else.”
The head of the normalization committee currently running the Trinidad and Tobago FA approached Eve and convinced him he shouldn’t leave because of two poor results in the Gold Cup. They worked out an extension, with the committee backing the former defender, and the 51-year-old returned to work.
It turned out to be a good choice for everyone.
Trinidad and Tobago won three of its next four matches, beating Curacao in Port of Spain, securing a road win in El Salvador and rallying from 2-0 down to beat Guatemala 3-2 in October.
The team showed fight in a 5-3 loss to Curacao on the final day as well, though Curacao had more to play for that day and it showed. Those results mean Trinidad and Tobago is here, playing the U.S. in a two-game series for the right to play in the Concacaf Nations League Final Four and in the 2024 Copa América.
Eve’s teams aren’t pinging the ball around or even looking to build from the back, with the Soca Warriors adopting a style of play even its mother would label ugly.
But, for Eve, muddying things up and finding a goal on a counter-attack or a set piece provides the best chance for Trinidad and Tobago to win. Why would he do anything else?
While Jamaica can naturalize English-born players like Michail Antonio and Demarai Gray, then turn them loose, Eve said, “We have to develop our players. We do not produce the Russell Latapys, the Arnold Dwarikas, any more, the flair players we had before.”
“That’s why we adopted that style, that way of play, and it has worked for us,” Eve continued, pointing to Leicester City’s historic run in the Premier League and the recent cup upset in Germany when Saarbrücken beat Bayern Munich with just 25 percent possession. “It’s not about how much of the ball you have, I believe. It’s what you actually do with the ball. The players you have dictate what type of football you can play.
“I like the expansive style of football, but do we have the players to do that? I don’t think so.”
Few will argue with the results, and no one doubts Eve’s passion, however, he is not a universally popular figure.
In September, Columbus Crew winger Kevin Molino made clear he wouldn’t represent the national team if Eve is still leading it, telling Wired868 “I don’t want to be a part of this mess … For me, he lost the locker room. One hundred percent, he lost the locker room.”
These November matches will mark the return of Levi Garcia, the AEK Athens forward who is unquestionably Trinidad and Tobago’s star player at the moment. While he was yet to make a public statement, there were some concerns about his disposition toward the national team still led by Eve. He’s in the roster, and, Eve says, a key component of the squad.
“Once Levi’s fit, a player of his caliber must be a part of the team. We see Levi as the poster-boy, the catalyst for the team,” Eve said. “He’s well-respected not just by the players and his peers but also the country because he does a lot of work in his community and beyond.
“I think he just needed a proper rest.”
No one expected Eve to be coaching these matches, and fewer still expect Trinidad and Tobago to secure direct qualification to the 2024 Copa América with an aggregate win over the United States.
“We know it’s a mountain to climb against the U.S.” Eve said. “But I think we’re a different team with a different mentality. When we come out there, we basically have nothing to lose.
“We believe we’ve done what we had to do: Nobody expected us to be here and nobody expected us to win any of the games, so we want to keep making magic.”
While nervous U.S. fans may recall the historical anecdote of 2017, Eve said one of his first memories of the U.S. when it comes to soccer is an even deeper cut: Paul Caligiuri’s 1989 goal in Port of Spain to put the Americans into Italy 1990 over Trinidad and Tobago.
“That lives in the back of our minds forever and ever,” he said.
Eve was still a few years away from beginning a playing career that would end with him as the most-capped player all-time for Trinidad and Tobago, but one that saw him beat the U.S. only once, a 1994 friendly match.
Since then, much of Eve’s career as a player and a manager has been shaped by federation chaos. He says that he read about Morocco’s run at the 2022 World Cup, with stakeholders saying, ‘Let’s put politics aside,’ ahead of the tournament.
As the normalization committee continues to call the shots and the country’s sporting infrastructure re-emerges after a long Covid-19 shutdown, Eve wishes something similar could happen with soccer in Trinidad and Tobago.
“It always happened like this, since I was playing. We had great teams but never pushed on because they had issues behind,” Eve said. “I think it’s a lack of professionalism a lot of times. People have feelings about personal things instead of getting on with the job.”
After leaving the job, Eve now is working to get on with it himself, trying to win his players over, have them buy into his idea and keep surprising everyone - himself included.