In the final, frantic minutes of Saturday's World Cup match against heavily favored Sweden, there was defender Brent Sancho doing everything humanly possible to clear the ball from in front of the Trinidad and Tobago net, trying to preserve a point in the first ever appearance his country was making in sport's biggest event.
When the final whistle sounded, Trinidad and Tobago had earned that historic point with a 0-0 tie. Not bad for a team that played a man down for virtually the entire second half ... or for a nation with the smallest population ever to play in the World Cup, some 1.3 million people.
Of course, bucking the odds and thriving under pressure are nothing new for the 29-year-old Sancho, who was playing his home games at Miller Field in New Dorp just a decade ago.
"Brent's story is a great story", said Tom Siller, who in 1995 was manager and assistant coach of the Silver Lake Cosmos Under-19 team that competed in the Cosmopolitan Junior Soccer League. "He's gone from living in a hovel in Brooklyn to playing on the world stage in Germany."
Born in Trinidad in 1977, Sancho "moved to this country on his own as a teenager," according to Siller, the current varsity coach at St. Joseph Hill Academy. "The first time I saw him was when he was 18. He was living in a hole-in-the-wall type of place in Brooklyn ... he was working, supporting himself and going to Essex County College (in Newark) on his own. He was able to make a life for himself. For a kid that age, that's pretty impressive.
Sancho, along with some other Caribbean-born players, had been recruited to play for the Cosmos in 1995 by head coach Austin Mohan, a native of Trinidad. That infusion of talent combined with an already solid existing core -- including former Monsignor Farrell standouts John Wolyniec, Matt Meager, Joe Henry, and Todd Vieira -- to form a powerhouse club that eventually won the league title.
"It was a really talented team, with a good mix of players," recalled Wolyniec, who's now playing for the Los Angeles Galaxy of Major League Soccer. "Brent was extremely talented; he had that combination of size, strength and speed but who also possessed a great touch. He was also a very happy and very under-stated guy, who never complained ... even though he had obviously overcome a lot of difficulties."
Siller remembers seeing Sancho wear soccer shoes "that were duct-taped together, but he always had a smile on his face." Still, Sancho's skills made the biggest impression on the coach.
"Right away, we could see that he was a very physical player and a tenacious tackler. Most opponents couldn't handle his physical strength," said Siller. "He was a good, hard-working kid, and always polite. But on the field, Brent was big and brutal and strong, someone who really held things together for us at center midfield."
After a 1995 outdoor season that ended with a win over the Brooklyn Rovers in the league championship game at Randall's Island, the Cosmos competed in the league's annual indoor tournament that winter at City College.
"I knew certain college coaches would be there." said Siller, who made up profile sheets on all his players. "One of the coaches was Dave Masur of St. John's, who offered Brent a scholarship. That was probably the turning point of Brent's life."
Sancho would play for St. John's as a junior and senior, and was part of the school's NCAA national championship team in 1996. After that collegiate season was over, Sancho joined the Silver Lake Under-20s for the end of it's 1996 campaign. But it wouldn't be long he was playing for different kinds of club teams.
Sancho's pro career has included stops in his native Trinidad, two clubs in Finland, and competing for two teams in this country's A-League (Charleston Battery, Portland Timbers). After playing the Dundee in Scotland's First Division from 2003-2005, Sancho is currently with Gillingham in England's League One, two levels below the English Premier League.
But the 6-foot-1, 181 pound center defender/right fullback has drawn his biggest raves as a member of the Trinidad and Tobago national team -- affectionately known as the Soca Warriors -- especially for his work last Saturday, where his No. 5 jersey was a constant on the TV screen.
"We played pretty well today. Our defense held the line pretty well and we did enough. I think, to get the point -- especially after going down to 10 men, " Sancho told the FIFA World Cup official Web site. "No one expected us to get a result in this game, but we always believed. Who knows what can happen now? This is the biggest moment in our footballing lives, and hopefully we will have bigger ones in this tournament."
"It was unbelievable to watch him on Saturday, " said Siller. "I got a kick out os seeing him on the big stage."
"It's no surprise to me that he's succeeded," added Wolyniec, who hasn't seen much of Sancho since the two squared off in A-League matches years ago. "He's always been a solid player."
"I'm so excited," said Wolyniec's mother, Pat, the former Silver Lake president and the league's current treasurer. "I still remember Brent and all the kids piling into our van after they won the championship at Randall's Island. To see someone go from playing at Miller Field to playing in the World Cup is amazing."