They scraped, they scrapped and they fought. Trinidad and Tobago's Soca Warriors got all the way to the final of the 2012 Caribbean Cup football tournament before losing 1-0 in extra-time to Cuba. The effort made for a somewhat bright ending to what was a trying and dismal year overall for the sport here.
The Warriors' early exit from World Cup qualifying after a humbling defeat in Guyana and the controversy between the Trinidad and Tobago Football Federation (TTFF) and the Ministry of Sport over funding dominated the headlines, as did the ongoing court matter over unpaid bonus payments between the TTFF and members of the 2006 World Cup squad.
In such a climate, not much was expected of the Caribbean Cup squad. Some said they did not have the talent of past teams. However, the current Soca Warriors have potential, and definitely a spirit about them.
Among those greatly encouraged by the performances of the current Soca Warriors at the recently concluded Caribbean Cup in Antigua is insurance man Raymond Tim Kee, who was appointed TTFF president a couple weeks before the team left for the tournament.
"We emerged Caribbean runners-up because of determination, hard work and commitment on the field," Tim Kee said. "You might not have seen Barcelona or Real Madrid, but you saw a committed bunch of footballers playing wholeheartedly for the country.
"What we would want to do now is the next step where we give them the proper preparation, so that they will also do the country proud when they go to the CONCACAF Gold Cup next year."
The future looks hopeful, if not yet absolutely bright. At the Caribbean Cup, T&T fielded a mainly young team with plenty heart and fight. The team contained as many as eight under-25 players and six under-23s, so the performance at the tournament is something to build on. If joint coaches Hutson Charles and Jamaal Shabazz can put in a training session or two per week between Pro League matches, it will go a long way to building up the local players.
However, this will require great support from local clubs to the national cause. The team also needs high qualify international warm-up matches and support.
For the 2013 Gold Cup, T&T also need to strengthen by including some of the foreign-based pros. But, it will be a shame if the powers that be repeat the past mistake of dropping the locals wholesale for overseas pros who are sometimes unfit, barely interested or on-a-vacation "sweat." Everyone should fight for their spot, for the Caribbean Cup showed that there is a base of players at home to build upon.
Of the foreign-based players worthy of consideration, Chris Birchall should be there because of his commitment, since even at the Caribbean Cup a bit of steel was lacking in central midfield. Darryl Roberts should be there for his mobility in front, Khaleem Hyland for his potential, Carlos Edwards for skill and class, even at age 34. Finally, Kenwyn Jones should also be included, if only because of his status as an English Premier League player.
Jones definitely has not excelled in a T&T shirt in the past, and should not be made captain. But his EPL status and experience will be needed to keep the Americans and Mexicans respectful at the Gold Cup.
CARIBBEAN CUP PLAYER REVIEWS
T&T are currently blessed with very good keepers in Jan-Michael Williams, Marvin Phillip and even someone like Cleon John who is not on the national team.
Jan-Michael Williams — Goalie and captain, he made a fatal error in the final against Cuba but otherwise, he led his troops by example, making timely saves to keep them afloat at difficult times.
Great penalty save against Martinique.
Marvin Phillip— Did not get a run, but is equal to Williams in ability.
The defensive unit of Seon Power, Carlyle Mitchell, Aubrey David, Daneil Cyrus and Curtis Gonzales was T&T's strength at the Caribbean Cup. Three of them David (22), Cyrus (22), and Gonzales (21) have played on two FIFA World Cup teams for T&T.
Seon Power — Power was an inspiration throughout, his fight and never-say-die attitude lifted his teammates.
Carlyle Mitchell - Solid.
Daneil Cyrus –Overcome an uncertain start and was better in the latter matches. Looked capable on both flanks.
Aubrey David – T&T found a solid orthodox left back, although he needed to work on crosses.
Curtis Gonzales–Fitted in well when called up. Looked equally good in midfield.
Kareem Moses - Did not play. His chance may come.
At times the midfield failed to act as a first defensive unit and put too much pressure on the back four. But when in flow, they impressed.
Densill Theobald – Was the main organiser, spreading the field. Inspirational leader both in training and in matches.
Kevin Molino – Has a load of talent but loses the ball in dangerous places and does not always track back, such as in the final against Cuba. Used well as a "super sub" off the bench.
Kevon Carter – Grabbed the opportunity presented by injuries to Lester Peltier and Hughton Hector and seemed to be getting back to form.
Maybe his best game was against Cuba in the final when he was getting behind the defence. Should shoot more.
Keyon Edwards – The surprise. Nervous when introduced in the Caribbean Cup qualifying tournament in Tobago but improved in every match in Antigua.
Joevin Jones –Presents a contradiction. Essentially a defender with midfield skills, but ironically does not like to defend when playing in the midfield. Good when he gets going however.
Ataullah Guerra– Delightful at his best, but does not bring it every match. Needs to make better use of counter-attacks. Must stop waiting for defenders to close down and then try to dribble.
Houghton Hector – Pure talent at his best, but lacks pace at times.
Doesn't always track back and did not seem fully fit before injury ended his tournament.
Lester Peltier – Did not bring the impact expected in the half he played before injury ended his tournament. But, a player.
The strikers failed to deliver goals in the final but theirs was a tough job since T&T mainly employed a 4-5-1 system.
Devorn Jorsling – Worked well with his back to defenders. Must be a little bit more mobile.
Jamaal Gay –Did not have the best tournament but is coming off an injury. Needs to work on improving his strength.
Willis Plaza – Did not get many chances but is a workhorse.
Richard Roy – Good player to be able to call upon. Hard worker. Great saving goal against Martinique.