A brief review of the T&T-Mexico clash
Last Friday when Kevin Molino lashed home from distance, and the “Soca Warriors” managed to hold out a late salvo from Panama, it seemed that new head coach Dennis Lawrence had steadied the rocking “Soca Warriors” ship. Then came the Mexico game and that disallowed goal, coupled with an imperious header from Diego Reyes which ultimately sealed our fate, careening the ship off course once again into the riptide.
This is the Hexagonal and it’s going to get worse before it gets better it seems, as the “Soca Warriors” travel to the US on June 8, then to Costa Rica on the June 13 – two teams we routinely capitulate against especially on the road.
I will interject in the doom-and-gloom pragmatism and say however, that considering the chaos that ensued late last year into the new year with the TTFA sending Stephen Hart packing and hiring the Belgian nomad who himself jumped ship at the earliest opportunity, the team doesn’t look too bad at all over the last two qualifiers.
There were a few things to be happy about from last night, which I will highlight further shortly. That being said though, it was disappointing that we failed to leave the Hasely Crawford Stadium with anything after what was a cagey contest where a win for either team would have pushed them up the table.
With the Joevin Jones rocket being wrongfully disallowed, T&T fans were left to chew a bitter pill (or take a swig of puncheon for that matter) and pontificate of what could have been if the goal stood in the 33rd minute. Which brings me to my first point.
Improved ball retention and movement
There were of course a couple scares in the early moments, but T&T managed to hold firm at the back, and moved the ball around with neat passes in the first half. Chances were being created, albeit on the counterattack – one of which led to Jones’ laser from just outside the penalty area. *Phweeet!* The ref’s whistle blew and pointed to for a free kick for the offside, all while beer was still being rained down on fans in jubilation. T&T needed every advantage they may have gotten against the best team in CONCACAF – Mexico have yet to lose in qualifying – but had a legitimate goal stripped away which would come inevitably back to haunt them.
The Chicharito hack job
The tackles were flying in at blinding speed. It was pretty clear that Javier Hernandez was under the microscope during the match, and Daneil Cyrus in particular followed him like a loan shark on collection day. The “little pea” as he’s known in Mexico was chasing his 47th and record-setting goal for “El Tri” and may have gotten it if he could have kept his footing in a one-on-one during the second half. The T&T midfield and defence in particular made sure that that statistic stayed at 47 and it even boiled over when Chicharito had a spat with Molino near the centre circle, culminating in all 20 outfield players getting involved in the melee. It was clear that coach Lawrence gave instructions to keep the lethal forward in check, and his troops obliged. I hope to see more of this defensive discipline in the years to come.
The downside to having a defensive bite is that legs will quickly get tired on a team whose fitness is not up to international standard. We saw it against the USA in November 2015, and again against Costa Rica at the start of the Hex. Against Honduras four days after the clash against “Los Ticos”, the players were knackered from the start! We don’t yet have the lungs for the pressing game. Add the instructions to “counter-attack at will” in the mix and now you have a serious problem in finding the balance between defensive cover and attacking guile. Lawrence has until June to figure out this particular conundrum as it limits the team, especially against formidable opposition (basically everyone in the Hex).
And as we’re on the topic of approach play, it seems that the new head coach has inherited some of the problems that Stephen Hart did in the qualifiers last year, namely the lack of a contingency plan. Jones, Molino and Cordell Cato are devastating on their day, especially with the speed of Jones and Cato on the flanks. But when teams that do their home work come to town and neutralise their combined threat, and in the case of Mexico Tuesday; cut off the passing lanes to the lone striker, it’s game over T&T. I think that that is the biggest problem for the “Soca Warriors” to be honest. There needs to be an alternative to the “bomb-forward” football that in all fairness, produced the 4-4 and 3-3 thrillers against Mexico in 2015, and saw us qualify for two back-to-back Gold Cup quarter-finals.
To be fair to Lawrence though, he has only had the team for six weeks.. and even less when you consider the arrival of the foreign-based pros. At that time he has managed to establish the playing style he wants – possession-based football which we saw against Mexico – and now he has more time to fine tune as the campaign continues. And with a support staff including Stern John, Stuart-Charles Fevrier, Ross Russell and Sol Campbell, improvements should be continued to be made as well. And will need those improvements to help steady the ship in time for our dates with USA and Costa Rica.
I just wish that we could have gotten more from the two games. Oh wait… we were good for a draw against Mexico. Shame on you, Valdin Legister. Shame.