SOCA Warriors head coach Angus Eve has defended his tactics, including the decision to start Tobagonian forward Rundell Winchester, in Monday's 1-1 draw with Nicaragua in the Concacaf Nations League, at the Dwight Yorke Stadium, Bacolet.
Eve said Winchester, who has yet to score a national goal in ten years, looked lively in training and was the best option.
The draw ended TT's hopes of being promoted to League A as Nicaragua topped Group C of League B with 14 points, one ahead of TT. The result also saw Nicaragua qualify for the 2023 Concacaf Gold Cup in June.
TT will now have to compete in the Gold Cup qualifying tournament which will be held days before the Gold Cup kicks off.
Winchester, who had just four caps in a decade, was surprisingly called up by Eve and given the nod to start against Bahamas on Friday, and again on Monday. Despite Bahamas' defensive deficiencies, Winchester failed to really trouble the goal and was hooked in the second half as TT were comfortable 3-0 winners.
Against Nicaragua Winchester was substituted at half-time after another unimpressive showing.
Winchester got a golden opportunity to score in the first half after some impressive build-up play, but he missed the target from a few yards out.
Speaking to the media after the Nicaragua match, Eve explained why he chose Winchester. "He started the last game. He did not do badly, although he did not score. We felt that out of the strikers we had, he was the most in-form when we saw him in training so he got another opportunity today."
TT forward Reon Moore has been a consistent threat for TT under Eve with pace and trickery. He has also been finding the back of the net and was the only player to score in two friendlies vs the Reggae Boyz in Jamaica earlier this month.
Striker Marcus Joseph also looked more dangerous in his brief minutes off the bench and almost had the winner against Nicaragua, which was ruled a hand-ball. He should have had an assist against Bahamas but captain Joevin Jones missed a glaring one-on-one opportunity.
Despite TT dominating possession in the first half, Nicaragua went ahead through a header from Ariagner Smith, in the 27th minute. Jones levelled the match with a penalty in the 42nd, after Ryan Telfer drew a foul.
Kaile Auvray, 18, was the standout player for the hosts in the first half with his passing and dribbling ability leaving the crowd in awe.
Wing backs Keston Julien and Shannon Gomez also provided attacking outlets to the team
Holding midfielders Andre Rampersad and Michel Poon-Angeron were also solid in the first half.
Eve said, "I thought both of them were good. Poon came on the last match and I thought he brought energy and he started to pass (the ball)."
Eve said playing Rampersad and Poon-Angeron allowed the wing backs to attack more. "Their (Rampersad/Poon-Angeron) primary roles is not that (attacking). We played two wing backs so they could go forward because they are more attack-minded than the other two wing backs."
As the TT legs started to tire in the second half, substitutions were made that failed to address the breakdown in the midfield. The Soca Warriors settled for long, hopeful passes as the team lacked the cohesion demonstrated in the first half. Auvray, Poon-Angeron and an injured Julien were among those taken off.
Eve said the second-half effort was below par. "I think some of the players got a little bit tired because of all the travelling in a short space fo time, but at the end of the day I am very proud of the guys."
Eve was forced to leave out central midfielder Daniel Phillips from the starting XI as the English-based midfielder has an ankle injury. Midfielder Jomal Williams remained on the bench.
A player who might have been able to address some of Eve's midfield troubles was also unused – Duane Muckette. The central midfielder is playing for AC Port of Spain in the TT Premier Football League but was not part of Eve's squad. Muckette's ability to retain possession with quick, short passing might have helped TT who struggled against the midfield press of Nicaragua.
TT enjoyed 61 per cent of the ball first half but their final count was just 51 per cent at the final whistle, after a disjointed second half.
Eve said it is unfortunate the team did not seal an automatic Gold Cup spot.
"Disappointed. We worked really hard to be in this position...I thought for the most part, the boys gave a fair effort, you can't fault any of them for trying and what they did tonight. It is just unfortunate.
"We did not lose the match, but we still lost the objective that we were trying to achieve."
The TT players were constantly fouled in the first half as Nicaragua played aggressively and tried to trick the referee by diving. The Nicaraguan subs were also constantly off their bench complaining to the referee.
Eve was not pleased by the sportsmanship shown by Nicaragua.
"I think it was a match of nasty, dirty tactics. I thought the referee was very lenient on them...a lot of diving all over the pitch which was not good for the game at all today. We tried to pass, we tried to play. They definitely came here to play for a draw. They were playing five at the back in the first half."