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T&T fall 2-1 to Nicaragua in drab Nations League opener, disjointed Warriors struggle in Managua

Trinidad and Tobago will return empty-handed from a bizarre trip to Managua, as the Soca Warriors fell 2-1 to Nicaragua in the wee hours of this morning in their opening 2022-23 Concacaf Nations League fixture.

There are still five group matches left in Group A of Concacaf’s second tier competition but today’s defeat, coupled with a surprise 1-0 win for The Bahamas over St Vincent and the Grenadines, means coach Angus Eve’s team will be in desperate need of three points when they host the Bahamians at the Hasely Crawford Stadium on Monday 6 June.

Photo: Nicaragua players Matias Moldskred (left) and Ariagner Smith exchange congratulations during their Concacaf Nations League outing against Trinidad and Tobago in Managua on 3 June 2022.
(Copyright Concacaf)

In nine matches at the helm so far, Eve has two outright victories, over Montserrat and Barbados. And his team have now gone five successive competitive matches without a win, excluding the penalty shootout triumph over French Guiana which Fifa tallies as a tie breaker rather than a triumph.

Coaching Trinidad and Tobago is no easy task at the best of times—far less with no technical committee in place for support, irregular warm-up fixtures and a managerial staff that cannot even be relied upon to get your 23 players to the match venue.

Eve did not travel to Nicaragua himself, with a TTFA release claiming the coach had ‘a personal family emergency’.

Hopefully Eve’s family is okay now. It has to be said though that local football personnel have not exactly earned themselves the benefit of the doubt with the overall lack of transparency under normalisation committee chairman Robert Hadad, which seems to be a continuation in approach of the David John-Williams presidency.

Photo: Fifa-appointed normalisation committee chairman Robert Hadad (right) with Trinidad and Tobago Men’s National Senior Team and U-20 Team head coach Angus Eve in March 2022.
(Copyright Daniel Prentice/ Wired868)

The reality is the Soca Warriors were suffering from self-inflicted wounds long before Triston Hodge’s deflection sent a speculative effort from Nicaragua right back Josue Quijano past Trinidad and Tobago custodian Marvin Phillip, just seconds before halftime.

At a match in which the two island republic started with four full backs, Nicaragua’s full back got the only goal of the first half. Who says God does not have a sense of humour?

Up until that point, the game had been keenly contested but lacking in quality. Trinidad and Tobago were conceding possession while trying to catch Nicaragua in transition through the pace and directness of the ever dangerous Levi Garcia.

But Garcia seemed to have too much to do on his own and Nicaragua restricted him to mostly rushed shots from outside of their penalty area.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago star attacker Levi Garcia (red shirt) runs at the Guyana defence during an exhibition match at the Hasely Crawford Stadium on 29 March 2022.
(Copyright Daniel Prentice/ Wired868)

Trinidad and Tobago began with their typical 4-2-3-1 formation, but it was an unusual roster of players—as Eve started with four full backs, three central defenders, two orthodox midfielders and two attackers. 

It was not atypical of Eve, though. The Soca Warriors head coach has played with at least one career defender in midfield for three of his last four matches—and started with eight defenders against Mexico at the 2021 Concacaf Gold Cup.

Last night, full backs Shannon Gomez and Keston Julien lined up as wingers with the clear assignment of disrupting Nicaragua’s attempt to build the ball and providing extra security on the flanks. And they did just that for the most part, right up until Quijano’s deflected item.

Control can be elusive in sport, as in life, and there is a reason why someone once suggested that ‘fortune favours the brave’.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago right back Shannon Gomez (left) was used in the right wing position against Nicaragua on 3 June 2022.
(via TTFA Media)

At the interval, the Warriors—led by assistant coach Reynold Carrington who surely had Eve at the end of the phone—made a double change straightaway, with teenage playmaker Molik Khan and the experienced Joevin Jones replacing Daniel Phillips and John-Paul Rochford.

Within seconds of the restart, Trinidad and Tobago were ahead. Gomez, still impersonating a right winger, tried to cross the ball into the area, only for it to deflect off the chest of opposing defender Christian Reyes and beat Nicaragua goalkeeper Douglas Forvis at his near post.

Concacaf recorded it, correctly, as a Reyes own goal. God was having a laugh again.

In the 60th minute, Carrington made two more changes with Marcus Joseph and Mekeil Williams replacing left back Triston Hodge and midfielder Leston Paul. 

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago defender Mekeil Williams (foreground) tries to keep the ball away from Guatemala attacker Darwin Lom during 2021 Concacaf Gold Cup action.
(via TTFA Media)

As a result, Julien dropped to his usual full back position with Joseph a far more attacking option—although the latter player prefers to play upfront or on the opposite flank where he can cut inside to his shooting foot. But Williams, a central defender with a limited passing range, was anchoring the midfield.

It was hard to tell at that point whether Eve was trying to play off the front or back foot.

Then, in the 68th minute, the power went out at the Managua match venue. Judging by the manner in which supporters calmly turned to their refreshments, one could only assume that chaos is not an infrequent visitor to Friday night limes in Nicaragua.

After about 30 minutes off their feet, both teams resumed action in the downpour. And, in the 78th minute, Nicaragua were ahead again.

Photo: Nicaragua attacker Byron Bonilla (right) tries to wriggle clear of Trinidad and Tobago midfielder Leston Paul during Concacaf Nations League action in Managua on 3 June 2022.
(Copyright Concacaf)

Joseph lost possession in his own half of the field and, although Phillip appeared to spare his teammate’s embarrassment with a vital block from Nicaraguan midfielder Matias Moldskred, the visitors never regained the ball. A rapid exchange of passes saw Bryon Bonilla collect the ball with space on top of the opposing box and he arrowed his shot to the right of the Trinidad and Tobago goalkeeper.

By then, Nicaragua had taken to dropping deep when they did not have the ball to deny open space to Garcia. And apart from one sprint by late substitute Michael Kedman, an England-born left back who debuted at left wing for T&T at just after midnight, the Warriors never looked like penetrating the opposing defence.

Ace midfielder Kevin Molino is still regaining his rhythm from a long-term injury and is not in the 23-man squad, Duane Muckette is without a club for two years and was left in Trinidad. And Judah Garcia never got off the substitutes’ bench.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago midfielder Judah Garcia (left) holds off Montserrat left back Joseph Taylor during Concacaf Gold Cup playoff action on 2 July 2021.
(via Concacaf)

In Managua, the Warriors could have done with some guile from any of that trio—with Jones looking off the pace and Khan still finding his feet at this level.

On Monday, Trinidad and Tobago will reacquaint themselves with the Bahamas, the plucky minnows who extinguished the Warriors’ Qatar 2022 World Cup qualifying campaign and cost coach Terry Fenwick his job with a goalless draw in Nassau.

Eve needs a result. Otherwise the Bahamas could make it two from two.

(Teams)

Trinidad and Tobago (4-2-3-1): 1.Marvin Phillip (GK) (captain); 6.Kareem Moses, 4.Sheldon Bateau (16.Michael Kedman 80), 2.Aubrey David, 18.Triston Hodge (17.Mekeil Williams 60); 23.Leston Paul (9.Marcus Joseph 60), 5.Daniel Phillips (10.Molik Khan 46); 14.Shannon Gomez, 15.John-Paul Rochford (3.Joevin Jones 46), 19.Keston Julien; 11.Levi Garcia.

Unused substitutes: 21.Denzil Smith (GK), 12.Judah Garcia, 20.Justin Sadoo.

Coach: Reynold Carrington

Nicaragua (4-1-2-3): 23.Douglas Forvis (GK); 2.Josue Quijano, 6.Christiam Gutierrez, 20.Christian Reyes, 3.Oscar Acevedo (21.Francisco Flores 71); 4.Henry Niño; 11.Juan Barrera (captain) (8.Richard Rodriguez 85), 17.Matias Moldskred; 22.Brayan Lopez (9.Jaime Moreno 82), 7.Ariagner Smith, 10.Byron Bonilla.

Unused substitutes: 1.Alyer Lopez (GK), 12.Denvorn Fox (GK), 5.Marvin Fletes, 13.Henry Garcia, 14.Jason Coronel, 15.Melvin Hernandez, 16.Bancy Hernandez, 18.Jonathan Moncada, 19.Junior Arteaga.

Coach: Marco Figueroa

Referee: Keylor Herrera (Costa Rica)

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago winger Levi Garcia (right) takes on The Bahamas left back Lesly St Fleur during 2022 World Cup qualifying action in Nassau on 5 June 2021.
(via TTFA Media)

Concacaf Nations League

Group C of League B

(Friday 3 June)

Nicaragua 2 (Josue Quijano 45+1, Bryon Bonilla 78), Trinidad and Tobago 1 (Christian Reyes OG 46) at Managua;

The Bahamas 1 (Lesly St Fleur 68 pen), St Vincent and the Grenadines 0 in Nassau.