Nineteen-year-old attacker Nathaniel “Natty” James was Trinidad and Tobago’s impact player against Curacao in their opening Concacaf Nations League contest on Thursday, as he netted the lone goal to give TT a 1-0 victory to start the tourney.
James was substituted on in the 82nd minute, replacing Kaile Auvray, 19, and found the back of the net five minutes later, to grab three crucial points for TT. This was his first goal as a senior player.
Despite being outplayed at the Hasely Crawford Stadium in Mucurapo in the first half, TT upped the ante late in the second period and were rewarded for their efforts courtesy James’s timely strike.
When he was called up on by head coach Angus Eve, with just eight minutes to go before the end of regulation time, James knew what he was being asked to deliver.
“I knew when the coach called me, it was to make an impact on the game. I wanted to be explosive and be an asset to the team. It was a great feeling (to score).
“The ball came (off a downward header from teammate Ryan Telfer).
"Everything just happened in slow motion. (There were) a lot of emotions running through my mind. I’m really proud and thankful for the opportunity,” James said in the post-match interview.
The La Horquetta-born player was pleased that Eve trusted him to help turn things around.
He added, “It was a big confidence boost. The coach showed me in a time like this, although so late in the game, he believed in me, and it showed me that he thinks I can compete at this level. I want to continue doing that and be part of the team and be big in personality.”
Eve did not attend the post-match briefing since he was “unavoidably absent,” according to TTFA media officer Shaun Fuentes.
Assistant coach Derek King was grateful for the team’s efforts as they shook off a listless first half to get the win. TT struggled to string together passes in the first half and enjoyed just 37 per cent possession for the game.
King said, “We went with our game plan as well. It’s a new team, in the sense that we played with just a few experienced players and we played a team with some new players and a new coach.
“So I think we did well today. We were disciplined. The more the game went on, in the second half the players were really outstanding, and we came out with the three points.”
The five substitutions in the second half – James, Andre Raymond, Duane Muckette, Reon Moore and Kristian Lee-Him – were crucial, King said.
He said TT’s pool of potential players remains bountiful, and sees a brighter future.
“We saw our midfield line, with the likes of Daniel Phillip, he did well. And the likes of Muckette and Moore coming on as more ball players. So I think we started to handle the ball in the second half and get joy going forward.
“It’s very important for us as a young team – step by step. The main thing was to get a good result at home, but we will build. We are still analysing players who will add to the team. We have a few players who are injured at the moment. Once we get the bunch together and gel, you’d see a different TT team.”
King also praised James’s performance.
“A young player – we saw him at youth level: he’s knocking on the door for an overseas contract. He’s someone that we really had to nurture as a youth. (By) just introducing him today, he did well, and that will build his confidence going forward.”
Additionally, captain and defender Aubrey David was also in good spirits, but stressed the importance of maintaining the momentum heading into Sunday’s away match against El Salvador.
FIFA World Cup 2026 qualification, he said, is the ultimate target.
“We defended well. I think it’s more or less believing in ourselves. It’s a young team and it’s confidence (that matters) at the end of the day. Once we believe in ourselves and maintain ball possession, we will come out with a result.
“We’ll be analysing the game (Curacao), then we’ll be prepared come Sunday.
“Our main focus is 2026. Within the next year FIFA World Cup qualifiers will start so we have to now groom those young players. What we need is to expose them to international football and get proper games (practice) for them as well.
“It’s now for us to stay focused (and) recover as fast as possible, because it’s going to be a challenging game. It’s been a great job by everyone that played, even the substitutes that came on, who changed the game for us.”