1989 Concacaf Championships
DUBBED the “Strike Squad” during the qualifying campaign, this looked to be TT’s best chance to go to Italia ‘90, featuring players such as Anton Corneal, Hutson Charles, Dexter Skeene, and two “little-known” youngsters, Russell Latapy and Dwight Yorke. The Strike Squad beat Guyana 5-0 on aggregate to qualify for the championships. The top two teams from the final round would go on to the World Cup.
TT drew their first match against the USA in Torrence California thanks to an 88th minute goal by Hutson Charles. The next game against Costa Rica came down to the wire again for the Strike Squad. Charles sends a cross into the box. A Trinidadian player gets a head on to it but it was deflected by the Costa Rican keeper but Philbert Jones (uncle of retired TT captain Kenwyne Jones) corrals the ball and puts the ball in the back of the net to gain another point for the TT cause. Costa Rica would come back the following month to beat TT 1-0 who would later rebound with a 2-0 win again El Salvador thanks to a double from Leonson Lewis in front of a packed National Stadium. Both goals off corners. Lewis gathered a headed ball and struck it past the keeper. The other Lewis headed himself towards the back of the net.
The Strike Squad would go into El Salvador and come out with a draw then won two straight games against Guatemala. The first win came in Guatemala City with a 57th minute goal from Kerry Jamerson from outside the box. The second was at home in Port-of Spain where Philbert Jones would equalise thanks to a well placed ground cross in the six-yard box from Charles. The game would remain tied until the 88th minute when after a free kick was taken out of the box, a ball was lined up outside of the box and Kerry Jamerson just shot it like a gun to the bottom-left corner of the goal, to pick up three more crucial points. This put TT at second place in the table ahead of the US who would go on to draw two of their next three games.
The game: TT vs United States. The venue: National Staduim in Port-of-Spain. The date: November 19, 1989 – "Red Day". The stakes: one team goes on with Costa Rica as a representative of Concacaf in Italia 90. The other team, watches on the couch. A win or draw for the Strike Squad gets them to the World Cup. America has to win, period.
In the 30th minute, in front of a "Sea of Red", American defensive midfielder Paul David Caligiuri receives a pass from Bruce Murray, cuts right to avoid his man, fires from outside the box with a left-footed shot that gets past goalkeeper Michael Maurice, the only goal of the game. The Strike Squad went full on attack in the second half but it was to no avail. “The Shot Heard ‘Round the World” would once again keep TT out of the World Cup. The spectators of Trinidad and Tobago were awarded the FIFA Fair Play Award in 1989 for good behaviour at the game, despite the heart-breaking loss and overcrowded stadium.
The Gold Cup Era
In 1991, Concacaf would create what we know today as the Gold Cup, with it’s round-robin group stage and subsequent knock-out rounds. In the competition's first four editions, TT would fail to make it out of the group stages, with only two wins in that span and did not making the Gold Cup in 1993. At the turn of the millenium, TT would go on to advance further in the Gold Cup than they have before and to date.
Finishing runners-up to Jamaica in the Caribbean Cup allowed TT to qualify for the 2000 Gold Cup. Apart from Concacaf members, Colombia, Peru and South Korea were invited to participate in the competition as well. In Group C, TT would suffer a hard defeat against Concacaf powerhouse Mexico but would later advance out of the group with a 4-2 victory against Guatemala with goal contributions from the likes of Latapy, Dwarika, Yorke and David Nakhid.
They met Costa Rica in the quarterfinals where Arnold Dwarika would open up the scoring in the 26th minute, and held off the charge from Los Ticos until star striker Paulo Wanchope score the equalizer at the 89th minute. But early in extra time, substitute Mickey Trotman would score the golden goal in the 92nd minute to propel Trinidad and Tobago to the semi-finals for the first time in their Gold Cup history. They would go on to lose 1-0 to Canada in the semi-final who would later shock Colombia to win their first Gold Cup and their first major football trophy since 1985. T&T would feature 3 players in the Gold Cup Best XI: Russell Latapy, Arnold Dwarika and Dwight Yorke.
After 2000, Trinidad and Tobago would see little success in the competition to come. In 2002, they didn’t make it out of the group stage. They missed the Gold Cup in 2003. Even the Gold Cups that bookended their 2006 World Cup appearance (2005 and 2007), the Soca Warriors failed to register wins and would finish last in their respective groups. They would go on to miss the next two Gold Cups in 2009 and 2011.
(To be continued)