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USA midfielder Gio Reyna, left, drives away from T&T midfielder Daniel Phillips, right, during the first half of the first leg of a CONCACAF Nations League soccer quarterfinal on Thursday, November 15th 2023 at Q2 Stadium in Austin, Texas, USA. PHOTO BY: Stephen Spillman

T&T Soca Warriors coach Angus Eve saluted the effort of his players despite a 3-0 loss to USA in their CONCACAF Nations League quarterfinal first-leg at at Q2 Stadium in Austin, Texas on Thursday night.

Following a red card to midfielder Noah Powder in the 37th minute by Jamaican referee Oshane Nation, T&T managed to hold the USA at bay until the 82nd minute when Ricardo Pepi opened the scoring followed by strikes from Antonee Robinson in the 86th, and Giovanni Reyna in the 89th to give their team a solid cushion ahead of Monday’s second-leg match in Trinidad and Tobago.

Speaking after the loss, Eve, credited his team for the whole-hearted effort displayed but also noted that Powder’s first-half red card affected his game plan.

He said, “To get a red card in the 37th minute and until about the 81st minute before we get any of the goals I thought it was a tremendous effort by the guys.

Reflecting on the match Eve said, “I thought we were in the game until we got the red card, and even when we got the red card we still acquitted ourselves very well.

Having left his more potent players in Levi Garcia, Kaile Auvray, Nathaniel James, and Reon Moore on the bench as he focused on a more defensive approach to the match, Eve said it was all part of the team’s tactics with changes expected to be made in the second half, but those had to be shelved after Powder’s expulsion.

He stated, “It (red card) forced us to change a lot of things that we wanted to do in the second half but at the end of the day I think it’s no disrespect for what we did here.”

Expanding on what his plans for the match were, the former T&T captain and Under-20 World Cup winger, Eve explained, “The red card totally changed our approach, In the second half we wanted to put on more expressive players and more attacking type players.

“That was our idea to keep the game close first-half and then allow the Nathaniel James, Real Gill, and these types of guys to come on and express themselves with Levi Garcia, and unfortunately the red card totally changed what we wanted and had to to do, and it was an exercise in damage management at the end of the day and credit to the guys. You know 85 or maybe a little bit more percent of our guys are not in season. They are not playing any football so I thought the effort was tremendous.”

Speaking on his plans for AEK Athens dangerman Garcia who missed T&T’s four CONCACAF Nations League Group A matches due to injury was missed almost a month of competition for club and country, Eve said, “Levi had had a very tough time of it recently.”

The T&T coach added, “If you remember he was out for a couple of months, and he only played like three games in this past week going up to Sunday. So, we and the people at his club decided to play him for 30 months and that was the idea, and maybe going two up front was the idea to do in the second half, but unfortunately the red card, you know it totally changed the plans but we still had him on the pitch and you saw glimpses of what he can bring if he had a little more help going forward.”

Looking ahead to the return-leg match at the Hasely Crawford Stadium, Mucurapo where the team will need to win by four clear goals to advance to the semifinals, Eve said he will be playing to win.

“We want to win, we want to go out on a positive if we have to, and we want to go and try to win the game, and give ourselves a chance because as I said this is first-half, and the other part of it (in Trinidad) will be second-half, and once we can give ourselves a fighting chance and go out there and try and play a little bit more expansive football because we will be home.”

He said, “Hopefully, the crowd will come out and hopefully they would see what the boys did, and I don’t think there’s any shame in what happened against the type of opposition we played and having to deal with some, you know questionable calls.”

He pointed out, “There was a penalty call that wasn’t a penalty, and there was a red card that I think was highly disputed by me because I thought that Powder actually won the ball instead of a foul, but you know, that’s how it goes sometimes in the game, and we have to roll with the punches.”

Eve, T&T’s most-capped player with 117 appearances at senior level said, “It was always going to be a difficult task, and losing a player in the 37th minute and have to play that long period of time down a man, against opposition like this. So for me, I think it was a great performance by the players and I think unfortunately it’s two deflected goals that we get. Denzil (Smith) was excellent and you saw young Raymond (Andre), so there are so many positives for me to take out of this game because we are seeing a lot of players who could stand up to players who are playing at that high level in the US, and as I said again our players are not actually in season, so I thought it was tremendous.”

Meanwhile, Noah Powder is not in the Squad for Monday’s match due to the red card and Neveal Hackshaw is also out on two yellow cards.

Coming into the 23-man Squad are Duane Muckette and Kevon Goddard while goalkeeper Jabari St Hillaire comes in for Rushon Sandy.

T&T reached the quarterfinals having finished second in the six-team Group A qualifiers with nine points, with a 5-3 loss to Curacao in their final match on October 17, their only blemish.

Panama also won its CNL match for the second straight time in Costa Rica with a 3-0 victory in their quarterfinal first leg at the Estadio Saprissa in San Jose, Costa Rica, and will host the second-leg match on Monday, November 22 from 10 pm at the Estadio Rommel Fernandez, Panama City

In the two other CONCACAF Nations League quarterfinals, Canada faced Jamaica, and Mexico battled Honduras on Friday night with their second-leg matches carded for Tuesday, November 21.

At the end of the four home-and-away series, the four winners will not only advance to the Nations League final four in March next year but also will clinch their spots in next summer’s Copa America, the eminent South American competition, which will be held at venues in the USA.

The four losing quarterfinalists will still have an opportunity to qualify for Copa America 2024 via a single-match direct elimination play-in, where they will play for the two remaining slots awarded to CONCACAF nations for the Copa America which will feature 10 CONMEBOL nations and six CONCACAF nations.

SOURCE: T&T Guardian