TRINIDAD HOMEBOUND

Trinidad and Tobago goalkeeper Jan Michael Williams, right, stops the ball in front of Mexico’s Raul Jimenez, left, as Trinidad and Tobago’s Seon Power, rear, helps out on the play during the first half in the quarterfinals of the CONCACAF Gold Cup soccer tournament, Saturday, July 20, 2013, in Atlanta.
AP Photo/David Goldman

The 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup tournament completed quarterfinal games last weekend and the four teams left standing are Honduras in a match-up with the USA in one semifinal at 7:00 p.m. and Panama in a rematch with Mexico in the other at 10:00 p.m.; both semifinals were scheduled to be played on Wednesday, July 24, at Cowboy Stadium in Arlington, Texas. The final is set for Sunday, July 28, 4:00 p.m. at Soldier’s Field in Chicago, IL. All the games are on Fox Soccer Channel.

Cuba, the present Caribbean champion, and Trinidad and Tobago, second in the Caribbean, did well to reach the quarterfinal stage, but this revealed a gap between Caribbean teams and their CONCACAF counterparts. The Trinidad and Tobago Soca Warriors, though, showed great strides in closing that gap.

Trinidad, after a slow start in a 2-2 draw versus El Salvador in their Group B opener at Red Bull Arena in Harrison (NJ) and despite a setback versus Haiti, improved as the tournament progressed. It defeated group-winner Honduras, 2-0, to finish second in the group, but its performance in a 1-0 loss to Mexico in the quarterfinals reflect a measure of development and maturity the past three weeks and much promise for the future.

The Soca Warriors held their own against the two-time defending champion; they created enough chances to win the game and in the process revealed that it has players who can play for the world’s top clubs. Goal keeper Jan Michael Williams was more than equal to the task as he kept Trinidad in the game with several excellent saves; central defender Sean Power is an intelligent player; Daniel Cyrus shut down Mexico’s top attacker, Marco Fabian, from his right full back position and made smart overlapping runs that forced Mexico to retreat.

Midfielder Keon Daniel, who plays for Philadelphia Union in MLS, was sturdy in his role and Khaleem Hyland, who was recalled by his Belgium club and missed the quarterfinal game, proved a world class midfielder. Young forward Jamal Gay looks set to play a crucial role in the future and Kenwyn Jones of Stoke City in the English Premier League made his best showing for Trinidad and Tobago so far.

The Trinidadians came up short in the areas of fitness and finishing – effective play in the offensive third of the field. The Trinidadians were bigger, stronger and faster than the Mexicans, but had they been fitter, they would have been able to pressure Mexico higher up the field and for longer periods, which would have forced more Mexican turnovers closer to the opponent’s goal. The Soca Warriors, had they been better conditioned, would have been a more compact team throughout the game, which would have limited Mexico space to play. Against El Salvador, Trinidad created too much space within the team and allowed the Salvadorians to play their customary short-passing game.

With better fitness, Trinidad’s execution in front of Mexico’s goal would have been more effective, because they would have pushed more players forward much quicker and created more movement among the forwards. On defense, reactions would be swifter. In fact, Mexican Miguel Layun should have lost the ball after it bounced away from him on the right wing in the dying stages of the game; the fatigued defender was slow to react, and Layun recovered to cross the ball for Raul Jimenez to score with only six minutes to play.

The Gold Cup was a good experience for Trinidad and Tobago and presents much hope for a Soca Warriors revival.

At the quarterfinal stage, Honduras squeaked by Costa Rica, 1-0, in the nightcap of a doubleheader that also saw the USA defeat El Salvador in front of a sold-out crowd of 70,540 at Baltimore’s M & T Bank Stadium. The sell-out created an electrifying atmosphere with a pre-dominant crowd of Salvadorians and Hondurans, many with faces and other body parts painted in the countries’ national colors of blue and white. Ditto the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, an American football stadium packed to its limit, as Trinidad and Tobago battled Mexico in the 1-0 loss and Panama pummeled Cuba, 6-1.

RED BULLS DRAW

The New York Red Bulls played to a goalless draw at Toronto FC last Sunday. The Red Bulls host Real Salt Lake in a 7:00 p.m. game on Saturday night in Red Bull Arena. The Red Bulls (32 pts.) are in a second-place tie with Montreal in the Eastern Conference standings. Real Salt Lake is atop the Western Conference.

Honduras’ Marvin Chavez, left, and Costa Rica’s Juan Diego Madrigal struggle for possession during the first half in the quarterfinals of the CONCACAF Gold Cup soccer tournament, Sunday, July 21, 2013, in Baltimore.
AP Photo/Patrick Semansky

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