Hexagonal: T&T's future looks as unstable as the playing field it will use

You’re the last-place team in the Hexagonal, you’re on track for your worst Hexagonal showing ever, and because your main stadium is too expensive, your last qualifier has been moved to a smaller venue, which as of a day before said qualifier was flooded.

Not much has gone right for the Trinidad & Tobago national team, which sits last in the standings with three points and has only pride on the line for the Hexagonal finale Tuesday (BeIN Sports, Universo, 8 p.m. ET) against the USA at Ato Boldon Stadium in Couva.

This will be the fourth meeting of the teams in this World Cup qualifying cycle -- they also played twice in the semifinal round -- and since many of the T&T players are employed by teams in MLS and other American leagues, the sense of familiarity will be great. So will be the sense that the U.S. should win comfortably; it has outscored T&T, 6-0, in the three qualifiers played so far, though the first of those games was a 0-0 tie in the second game of the semifinal round on Nov. 17, 2015 -- nearly two years ago.



What has changed since start of qualifying. Since that game, both teams have changed head coaches. The changeover from Jurgen Klinsmann to Bruce Arena is well-documented. Curr rent T&T boss and former international Dennis Lawrence took the job last January, replacing Tom Saintfiet, a native of Belgium who lasted just five weeks and four games. His predecessor and the man in charge from 2013 to 2016 was another former T&T international, Stephen Hart, who had led the Canadian men’s team from the previous four years.

A 1-0 defeat Panama in March earned T&T its only points in the Hex and the scorer of that goal, Minnesota United attacker Kevin Molino, is suspended for incurring his second caution of the campaign in a 3-1 loss to Mexico last week. Molino, 27, is among a handful of veterans selected by Lawrence for the final two qualifiers; with his team long ago eliminated, Lawrence named 10 players aged 24 or younger.

Among those excluded were goalkeeper Jan Michael Williams, who staved off several attacks before and after Christian Pulisic scored both goals in a 2-0 U.S. victory last June, and defender and occasional captain Sheldon Bateau.

“The selection was based around the direction we are trying to go forward,” Lawrence said when he named the squad. “I know full well what Jan Michael Williams is capable of. I know what Sheldon Bateau is capable of. I think it’s a perfect opportunity to integrate these  players into the international set up at senior level so they can get an idea what it is going to be like. We have to start thinking ahead.”



How T&T can trouble the USA. What it’s been like so far is encouraging if also disappointing. T&T and Mexico were locked up at 0-0 in San Luis Potosi midway through the second half when a nervous, frustrated crowd turned angry when Shahdon Winchester, somewhat familiar with the venue from his time with Liga Ascenso (second division) club Murcielagos, latched onto a knockdown by Levi Garcia to float a shot inside the far post.

Twelve minutes later, Hirving Lozano equalized for Mexico, which tacked on two late goals to produce the final scoreline and drop T&T’s Hexagonal goal difference to minus-13 (five scored, 18 conceded). Every other team in the Hex has at least 10 points, which is probably the starkest evidence of just how inferior to the opposition T&T has been this year in competitive play.

Yet with the speedy flank play of the Sounders’ Joevin Jones, who came on as a sub against Mexico, and the sharp work in the box of Trevin Ceasar, who plays in the USL for Sacramento Republic, along with Winchester, T&T has the potential to bother and harass the USA just enough to exploit the right opportunity.

What can compromise USA. The Americans’ superior depth and quality could be compromised by any one of several factors: a bad field, a few inspired T&T players, weird officiating to which Concacaf officials are particularly prone, or just the malaise that sometimes infects the better team playing at a unfamiliar venue.

Speaking of said venue, it is named for sprinter Ato Boldon, who won a silver medal in the 100 meters at the 2000 Olympic Games and also won a total of three bronze medals in that event as well as the 200 meters. He was looking forward to the game, at least until social media displayed to the world just how bad the conditions were.

“I woke up this morning to that all over my Twitter, and I was a little annoyed at first because I felt like this supposed to be a fun week for me, because the US team playing in that stadium is kind of a thrill for me,” Boldon, 43, who works as a track & field commentator for ESPN and NBC, told Trinidad & Tobago Newsday.

“I have since spoken to people who live in the area and they said, ‘Listen, you don't understand the kind of rain that has been falling there.’ Stadia flood all over the world so I am looking at it a bit differently now. No amount of drainage would have probably helped that situation.”

It’s been that kind of Hexagonal campaign for T&T, which raised great hopes by qualifying for its first World Cup more than a decade ago and getting a point in the 2006 competition by tying Sweden, 0-0. Right now, its future looks as unstable as the playing field it will use on Tuesday.

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