A number of football pundits are agreeing that Trinidad and Tobago’s senior men’s national football team has made steady strides over the period between the CONCACAF Gold Cup in July and the OSN Cup, which ended on Monday in Saudi Arabia.
Under new coach Stephen Hart, the “Soca Warriors” reached the quarter-finals of the Gold Cup for the first time since 2000. They also finished third at the OSN Cup behind the United Arab Emirates, who beat New Zealand 2-0 in Monday’s final in Saudi Arabia. The OSN tournament’s opening game saw the Soca Warriors rally from three goals down to draw 3-3 with 2013 Gulf Cup Champions UAE, before losing 7-6 on penalty kicks. T&T then beat Saudi Arabia 3-1 for third spot.
“There is something good happening with the national team,” stated former national captain Clayton Morris. “Before, we were not seeing any positive results. Now, you are seeing a fight, which we did not have before. It takes character to come from three goals down to get a draw.” Morris urged national coach Stephen Hart to continue to develop the locally-based nucleus by working regularly with them—possibly once a week where possible and even when there are no international match dates.
“The team will continue to improve,” Morris said. “But the coach needs to keep working with a nucleus of young players whether (there’s) a game or not. It is these players who will benefit most.”
Former national defender Brian Williams also sees improvement and thinks that to continue the upward curve, T&T’s young players need continued international exposure similar to the OSN Cup. Williams said it is important that T&T remain active during every FIFA international date, whether the team is in competition or not.
“We have to give Mr. (Stephen) Hart some credit. I think he is doing a good job—you are seeing it on the field. There is an improvement in the level of confidence and cohesion within the team,” Williams said. “I definitely can see some improvement because in the past we were struggling to even score goals,” stated Williams. “I must give (kudos) to Kenwyne Jones because we are seeing a little more responsibility from him and commitment to Trinidad and Tobago through his play.”
Former national player and coach Alvin Corneal also thinks that T&T’s performances have grown recently, but doesn’t necessarily feel that the hiring of former Canada coach Hart is responsible for it. Corneal believes that they are reaping the reward of developing the current young bunch of players, many of whom were on both the FIFA 2007 Under-17, the FIFA 2009 Under-20 World Cup team and the Olympic qualifying team.
“There is clearly an improvement, but I don’t think (the reasons) are what people think they were,” stated former national footballer and coach Corneal. “Most of these players have had over 60 international games and are now playing in Europe, USA and other places.On this trip (Saudi Arabia) we are starting to see the quality of our youngsters. Kenwyne Jones did not have to work hard to score goals. This team is gelling.”
“I am very pleased and optimistic going forward. I am looking down the road with a lot of hope,” Corneal added.