“Our loss is the country’s gain.”
So said Anglican Bishop Claude Berkley about the nomination of Justice Paula-Mae Weekes as the sixth President of T&T.
It is a term more readily applied to West Indies cricket. But could T&T football now be turning the proverbial corner?
Soca Warriors head coach Dennis Lawrence would like to think so based on Tuesday night’s performance in a disciplined 2-1 win against the United States as he indicated such during his post-match press conference at the Ato Boldon Stadium in Couva on Tuesday night.
Lawrence declared that the result finally provided closure on T&T’s 1-0 defeat to the USA on November 19, 1989, which derailed T&T from the Road to Italy 1990 while needing just a draw.
“Everything was at stake for the US. I think 1989 is now behind us so we can go forward now.” Lawrence declared.
Since taking over as T&T head coach in February from Tom Saintfiet, when T&T had little more than a mathematical chance of qualifying for Russia 2018, Lawrence had just one qualifying win under his belt, 1-0 against Panama in March, but lost his next six qualifying matches consecutively before Tuesday night’s encounter. The former assistant coach at Everton F.C seemed to have finally found his groove as he commanded his troops to the historic win over the USA from the sideline.
He said: “I would like everyone to look at tonight’s (Tuesday) match and understand that this is the beginning of our new era. We’ve had a rough time, everyone knows we’ve had a rough time and taken a few punches. Tonight we punched back. Unfortunately the USA had to fall victim but that is not my concern.”
Like he did against Mexico in a 3-1 defeat in San Luis Potosi on Friday night, Lawrence left out some of his regulars against the USA, opting instead to continue to blood some of his less experienced talents onto the international scene.
His faith was repaid with two goals in the first half as T&T stunned the visitors, playing with an unfamiliar level of composure and purpose.
“Something we’ve been trying to work on is belief. The belief that as players we are as good as anyone,” Lawrence explained. He added: “I’ve been trying to educate the boys once we lost to Panama, the idea is to start to think about going forward. The Panama defeat wasn’t a failure, it was the beginning of what we’re going to start to do next. And that started tonight.”
With no major competitions in sight for the Warriors it is unclear just when Lawrence will have a chance to continue building on Tuesday’s result, but from all indication he has started plotting a new course.
“What I would like to happen is we have to play an international friendly on every FIFA date. That is part of the programme because I would like to have more contact time with the players.
I’ve told the boys that when they leave and come back, they must not drop their standard.”
While the T&T coach sounded purposeful and clear on what is his team’s future, USA coach and legend Bruce Arena was more contemplative when it came to the performance by his team which will now miss its first FIFA World Cup since 1986.
“It’s a blemish for us, we should not be staying home for this World Cup and I take the responsibility. This game in my view was perfectly positioned for the US to win and we failed on the day, we have no excuses. There are no excuses for us not qualifying for the World Cup.” he stated flatly. Arena had previously coached the US to the 2002 and 2006 World Cups before US Soccer Federation decided against a contract renewal for the 65-year-old. The Federation had a change of heart in November 2016, however, when it removed former coach and German standout, Jurgen Klinsmann and recalled Arena on a two-year contract with the sole mandate of getting the United States to an eighth consecutive World Cup tournament.