PHILADELPHIA — It was equal parts heartbreaking and heartwarming. Trinidad and Tobago’s head coach Randy Waldrum sat at the podium following a gut-wrenching loss in penalty kicks to Costa Rica, and restated his firm belief about how the qualifying process will end. As it was, the Costa Ricans’ 3-0 penalty win after the 1-1 draw was a World Cup clincher. T&T were that close. The Ticas could be heard celebrating in their locker room as Waldrum addressed the media.
“When we qualify…” Waldrum began when asked what it means to the region to have a new team qualify for the World Cup. “I say when we qualify because I am going to sit here and tell you tonight I still believe this team is going to qualify.”
Trinidad and Tobago get another chance Sunday against Mexico, 3-0 losers to the United States in the second semifinal at PPL Park. The winner there qualifies and the loser will play a two-leg playoff against Ecuador for the final spot in the World Cup field.
“Whether it’s Sunday or whether it’s with Ecuador, this team I believe strongly is going to qualify,” Waldrum reiterated. “I’ve been talking all week about the importance of what that would do to change the football in the Caribbean islands and for Trinidad in particular.”
Lauryn Hutchinson, who came off the bench to score an unlikely equalizer in the match but had her penalty saved by Dinnia Diaz, said there is already a noticeable uptick in support from back home.
“We’ve never been this far so to come this far and do this well it’s amazing,” Hutchinson said. “We have so much support back home and here as well. The support back home has just been an outrage which is awesome for us.”
Hutchinson was part of a substitution strategy that Waldrum needed to cover for two players returning from injury that were not quite as fit and ready as he had hoped. Taking the blame for the poor start to the match he said, “We thought Tasha St Louis and Karyn Forbes were ready to go. And you could see right from the beginning of the game their mobility wasn’t anywhere near what we needed.
“As coaches you always second guess your own decisions that’s why I said I made out the lineup wrong,” Waldrum said. “But we’ve been trying to rehab and get these players back because they’re so key to what we do. Unfortunately they weren’t as ready as we thought.”
Waldrum took off both St Louis and Forbes after halftime and found his goalscorer Hutchinson. Neither coach nor player appeared bothered by the fact that Hutchinson’s goal cost the squad an extra 30 minutes of play, no small bargain considering they have to play again Sunday afternoon.
In fact Hutchinson said it will be more of a challenge to bounce back from being a few penalties away from the World Cup than it will be to get their bodies ready for Sunday.
“Definitely mental,” she said. “You’re able to push your body to a certain point. And you have to believe it. If you keep telling yourself that ‘I can’t make that extra run,’ then obviously you’re not going to be able to do it. We work as a team on controlling our energy and that’s what we’re going to have to do. We’re going to have to take those ice baths, hydrate up, and mentally be prepared for Sunday because we’re going to come for the fight.”
As Hutchinson spoke her tone became gradually more serious and focused, almost as if she was putting the ending of Friday’s match behind her right then and there.
Said Waldrum: “This team will not give up.”
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