Trinidad and Tobago used a dynamic opening 26 minutes Thursday night at Chicago’s Soldier Field to build a 3-0 lead over Guatemala, then had to hold off a second half comeback attempt before recording a 3-1 victory in the opening match of Group C in the CONCACAF Gold Cup.
The three points gave the Soca Warriors early command of the group before Mexico and Cuba met in the second match of the Chicago twin bill.
Sheldon Bateau, Cordell Cato and Joevin Jones scored the T&T goals against a Guatemala defense that looked both rattled and unprepared in the opening phase. Although the second half performance was much better from the Central Americans only veteran Carlos Ruiz, scoring his 58th goal for his country after coming out of retirement to play in this tournament, could find the back of the net.
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Steven Hart’s Soca Warriors were quicker, better organized and opportunistic in the opening half when they took advantage of Guatemalan mistakes at the back. Utilizing their own veteran attack leader, Kenwyne Jones, to occupy the central defenders while also serving as a very occasional target man, T&T attacked down the flanks effectively, then ran both the inside right and left channels to create opportunities.
Although their pace dropped noticeably in the second half, the winners did enough to make their chances of advancing to the final eight look very realistic in a group where Mexico is expected to dominate as the other three sides battle for second place.
Guatemala had no real answers until after the interval when they did manage to make the T&T defenders do some work, but they were always chasing too much of a deficit to get their Gold Cup campaign off on the right foot. Ruiz, Jose Contreras and, occasionally Marco Pappa managed to produce some attacking ideas without finding enough of a finishing touch. It was a case of Ivan Sopagno’s side not finding their feet until it was far too late.
Bateau’s opening goal in the 11th minute came directly off a Khaleem Hyland corner as he got inside Moises Hernandez at the far post. Just three minutes later it was Hernandez again the victim, his weakly-directed header back nicked on by Elias Vasquez, directly into the path of Cato, who walked past keeper Ricardo Jerez and had an open net for his finish.
Cato was instrumental in the third goal when he and Jones executed a neat 2-on-1 move down the inside left channel. Jones’ pass sent Cato in on Jerez, who could only parry the shot back into the path of Jones for a simple rebound strike in teh 26th minute.
Trinidad & Tobago could have had more before the break but Ataluah Guerra and Kenwyn Jones both failed to capitalize on opportunities just past the 35th minute.
Guatemala was much more in the match in the second half, but Pappa flashed a chance over from a set-piece orchestrated by Contreras in the 51st minute before Ruiz finally did get the goal that offered some hope. It came in the 62nd minute, a fine finish from the right side after Dennis Lopez headed the ball forward into space for the veteran to turn on with precision.