Disappointed and hurt sum up the way national football coach Dennis Lawrence feels following a disastrous CONCACAF Gold Cup campaign in the United States recently, but he insisted Wednesday that the results are a consequence of the non-functional T&T Pro League.
At a press conference at the National Cycling Centre (NCC) in Balmain, Couva, Lawrence said the team faced numerous challenges going into the tournament, ranging from visa issues, a mix-up in the Canada friendly match which resulted in injuries for some of the players before the start of the Gold Cup, poor attitude by players and a goal-scoring problem.
And with the CONCACAF Nations League set to kick off in September, the T&T coach admitted he will be making a number of changes to his squad, which will include call-ups to new local and international players, while attempts will also be made to secure international friendly matches against our regional neighbours.
At this year's Gold Cup, the T&T team was beaten 0-2 in its opening match to Panama before a 0-6 rout by the United States, which sparked calls for Lawrence to step down as coach. The Soca Warriors then finished Group D with another disappointing 1-1 tie with Guyana.
Lawrence, a former national defender, said he called the press conference because he wanted to give the media the opportunity to address its concerns to him and not anyone else.
"Football is a very unpredictable game. If we had managed to put in the performances we did against Thailand, Iran, Japan, Wales, then probably we would have gone further, but football is not like that when you go into a tournament. When you go into a tournament, you have to look at it in two ways, do you want to go and survive, or do you want to compete and win the tournament."
He added, "When we went into the tournament, we understood that one of the biggest challenges we had was that we were not scoring goals and we weren't creating enough chances. So by having the opportunity to introduce players like Kevin Molino back into the fold, it gave us a different dimension. It allowed us more to be on the creative side."
Lawrence said ideally he would have liked to have a core group of local players to make up his team, but that broke down with the issue of finance which the Pro League has been suffering with for the longest while.
In drawing reference to this, he said: "I was still in Trinidad in the year of 1999 when the Pro League came into existence. Our core base for the national team was a lot of local players like Angus Eve, Lyndon Andrews, Stokely Mason, Shurland David and myself. And during that period, we managed to do some good things. At one point we were ranked 25th on the FIFA rankings and we won Caribbean Cups at that time, so we saw the benefits of the Pro League."
He added, "We go to 2016 when the government's subvention was pulled and we saw the league starting to struggle, the league became shorter and I assessed it and looked at all our results from 2016 to now. So 2016, no subvention, clubs in problems, salary issues, all these things. Results started to go in the opposite direction. In 2017, no subvention, shorter leagues, then we go to 2018, the same situation. In my opinion, your national programmes are as strong as your league. We are the only country to take part in the Gold Cup that did not have a league."
Due to this, Lawrence said he believes the country's local footballers are not receiving the amount of football they need, which is a sad reality of part-time footballers going up against professionals when they play.
He, however, dismissed concerns that T&T did not have the quality of players to compete with their international counterparts, saying what our players need is to play more football.