TT lost 4-2 on aggregate to the US in their Concacaf Nations League A 2023/24 quarterfinal tie, but coach Angus Eve's Soca Warriors won over thousands of fans at the Hasely Crawford Stadium on Monday night after getting an enthralling 2-1 win against the defending champions.
Trailing 3-0 on aggregate after the first leg in Austin, Texas on Thursday night, Eve and his team needed a herculean effort to overturn the visitors. Playing before roughly 10,000 supporters at the Mucurapo venue, the TT team had an almighty go at the challenging task. The Soca Warriors gave a gutsy performance against the US team, and tremendous goals by Reon Moore and defender Alvin Jones saw TT defeat the ten-man US team.
The US now advance to the Nations League semifinals and have also booked a spot in the CONMEBOL Copa America 2024 tournament. TT still have hopes of qualifying for Copa 2024, but their route will now be a lengthier one.
With ace striker Levi Garcia being ruled out on his birthday through injury, Eve turned some heads with his starting lineup which saw the trio of Real Gill, Nathaniel James and the bustling Moore all starting in attack. Moore had the Hasely Crawford venue jumping in the 43rd minute with a right-footed thunderbolt that flew past custodian Matthew Turner from a ridiculously tight angle to tie the scores at 1-1. The Defence Force attacker latched onto a sweet through pass from Jones and his finish was even sweeter.
Before that, the home spectators were yelling and shouting for other reasons, as US full-back Sergino Dest was sent off by referee Walter Lopez for a display of dissent in the 39th minute. The former Barcelona player got a pair of yellow cards within the space of roughly 30 seconds as he was firstly booked for hacking a ball into the covered stands after a call went against the US, while he got his second yellow after vigorously disagreeing with Lopez's original booking.
Dest was berated by Turner and his teammates for his petulance, but the talented flanker did have another meaningful contribution to the contest. In the 26th minute, he served up a delightful delivery from the right which was expertly headed in by Antonee Robinson to give the US a 1-0 lead.
The US had the better of the exchanges in the early stages of the high-octane match, as both Brenden Aaronson and Folarin Balogun forced fine saves from TT goalkeeper Denzil "Peng" Smith in the opening five minutes. Aaronson drew another good save from Smith in the 15th minute, after a turnover by TT left-back Andre Raymond, who had an otherwise stellar showing in defence for the Soca Warriors.
Raymond was arguably one of TT's most solid players on the night, with Daniel Phillips, Andre Rampersad and Shannon Gomez also having good showings.
The scores were level at 1-1 after Moore's wicked blast, and the home supporters genuinely believed their team was still in the quarter-final tie at halftime.
With the numerical advantage, the TT team came out full of vigour and intent in the second half, with James firing a warning shot over Turner's bar in the 47th minute. The industrious Phillips sent the next shot in anger seven minutes later, as he sent a long-range effort wide of the mark.
The next effort on goal was something special though, as Jones uncorked a brute of a right-footed free kick from 30-plus yards in the 57th minute. The rocket from Jones brought back memories for both sets of teams and supporters, as the right-back scored a similar jaw-dropping goal in a World Cup qualifier in 2017 to knock the US out of contention for Russia 2018. On Monday night, Jones's blast did not knock out the US, but it definitely reminded all and sundry of his prowess and accuracy from long range.
Owing to Robinson's away goal, TT needed to win by an improbable four goals to clinch the tie. Try as they might, the Warriors could not quite find the back of the net again. It was not for a lack of trying, and the hosts should have taken a 3-1 lead on the hour mark.
After a US corner, Gomez showed great strength to hold off a US player as he played James through on goal. The Jamaican-based forward won his foot race with US captain Tim Ream but he dragged his left-footed shot agonisingly wide of Turner's goal. The TT fans groaned in anguish as James' effort trickled wide of the post, as TT's slender hopes of a spot in the Nations League semis slowly faded away.
TT had a couple more chances in the encounter, as Gomez fired high and wide from a tight angle in the 62nd minute, while Andre Rampersad drew a fine save out of Turner just three minutes later.
TT rarely troubled the US in the latter stages of the game, as players such as Robinson and Yunus Musah retained possession well under pressure and kept TT at bay.
Even brought on the trio of Kristian Lee-Him, Duane Muckette and Malcolm Shaw in the latter stages of the game but TT did not pose a great attacking threat thereafter.
At the final blow of Lopez's whistle, the US advanced to the Nations League semis but TT won 2-1 on the night and gained the respect of thousands of supporters — local and abroad.
TT can still advance to Copa 2024 with a win in a March 2024 playoff against one of the other losing quarter-finalists in the Nations League. On the evidence of the performance in the second leg against the US, coach Eve and TT will fancy their chances against any potential opposition.