The Soca Warriors’ qualification for the 2006 World Cup in Germany may have eased the pain of November 19, 1989, when the USA beat the Strike Squad to stop Trinidad and Tobago qualifying for Italy 1990, but it had not erased it.
Twenty-eight years later, the demons were finally exorcised with Trinidad and Tobago completing a shock 2-1 win over the USA in the final round of the hexagonal stage to prevent the Americans qualifying for Russia 2018 as results elsewhere saw them slip from third to fifth. Similarly to the Strike Squad, a draw was all that was needed by the US, which is still trying to come to terms with what has transpired.
It is a bitter pill to swallow for the proud Americans who were too dainty to wade through ankle-high water at the Ato Boldon Stadium in Couva to train on Monday. And while the flooding is something that needs to be addressed, the condescending nature of their snide remarks about “River to Russia” certainly gave the qualifier a certain edge.
“It’s justice for the Strike Squad,” national defender Alvin Jones said yesterday, after scoring a remarkable 40-yard shot that left his foot like a bullet and did not stop until it bulged the American net to make it 2-0. Jones, whose father Kelvin played for the Strike Squad, said his dad and the rest of the Strike Squad could sleep comfortably from now on as revenge has been taken.
And while some will say the result is meaningless to TT which is celebrating the USA’s failed campaign when this country is in the same boat, the result is something that can be built on. We are not blind to the fact that TT is ranked No 99 in the world by FIFA for a reason. But the stranglehold of not being able to beat a full-strength USA when it counts is gone.
The national team has also shown it can tussle with Mexico with 4-4 and 3-3 draws in the past few years, as well as a spirited performance in a 1-0 defeat at home in national coach Dennis Lawrence’s second match in charge earlier this year. Even our 1-3 loss on Friday in Mexico came following a late meltdown after taking a 1-0 lead in the 66th minute through a Shahdon Winchester goal. No longer must the USA and Mexico be looked at as automatic World Cup qualifiers from CONCACAF with TT scrapping for one of the next two spots.
While Lawrence’s record (three wins, eight defeats, one draw) is not impressive, he is still learning what his best team is. Early elimination from Russia 2018 allowed him to try a number of young players such as Winchester, Jones and Leston Paul. Winchester looks to have done enough to cement his spot as TT’s number one striker as Lawrence moves away from the era of former captain Kenwyne Jones.
Kenwyne has served faithfully and with some success, but at 33 years old, he is past his prime and will be 38 years old when the curtain is raised for the Qatar 2022 World Cup. Lawrence must identify a crop of players to work with and provide them enough friendly matches to gain the international exposure needed to excel on the biggest stage.
The TT Football Association has its part to play to give Lawrence the tools he needs despite the challenging economic times. We believe the talent is there but it is important to harness that talent to produce quality players capable of taking Trinidad and Tobago football to a higher level. Our 2018 Russia qualifying campaign has failed but there is much to learn from it.