Sunday, May 07, 2006

#32: SoCa Warriors


Where? Southern Caribbean, just north of Venezuela.

How big? Not. Smaller than Delaware, fewer people than Greenville, South Carolina.

Tell me something about this country that I didn't know before I read the CIA Factbook entry on it... The largest ethnic group in the country isn't descendants of Africans or mixed race. Believe it or not, it's Indian. And Hindu is the second most common religion.

Why should I care about this country, in the geopolitical sense? Did you know that T&T is the largest oil exporter in the Caribbean? It has almost a billion barrels in reserves, which, per capita is pretty damn impressive.

No really, what's actually awesome about this country, and don't give me none of that nerd shit? T&T served as the site for the most recent Real World/Road Rules Challenge. The Gauntlet II, rookies vs. veterans.

Enough. Get to the soccer!


First, the history. This is T&T's first foray into the World Cup. They were this close to making the final in Italy '90, but the Paul Caligiuri goal in Port of Spain shocked the island and sent the US to the cup.

They finished 4th in the CONCACAF qualifying finals, sending them to a one-off playoff with Bahrain, which they drew on the road and won the return, booking their place in Germany.

The team actually has quite a lot experience in professional soccer, with 15 of the 24 players on rosters in England and Scotland. Two more play in MLS. And that doesn't count the most accomplished T&T player of all time, former Manchester United star Dwight Yorke.

One player to watch, and it's almost out of oddity, is Chris Birchall, who plays for Port Vale in England's League One. He scored the tying goal in Bahrain that put T&T in position to qualify for Germany. He's also the only white guy on the field, and in fact the only white player in T&T history.

So how are they going to do?

My prediction isn't bright for the SoCa Warriors, but in some ways, making the cup is the trophy itself (though I'm certain the players and the country aren't thinking that way). Yorke and Stern John pretty much have earned a gold watch by qualifying, and I think that's fantastic on its own. Now, to get a victory or a couple points out of the matches would be frosting on the cake. But I don't think it's going to happen.

I think their schedule doesn't do them any favors (although I think they're in the easiest group).

They open with Sweden in Dortmund, and I foresee a huge, partisan crowd against them. They give up two goals, and fail to find the net. Sweden can match their size, unfortunately.

And if the crowd in Dortmund was unforgiving, their next matchup should be even worse - England in Nuremburg. I don't think the English will hate T&T as much as, well, just about anyone else in the tournament. But they also won't mind putting a beating on their former colony. This could get ugly, especially if England starts slow (as they might) against Paraguay. I think a 3-0 England victory might be a best case scenario for T&T.

Finally, they face off against Paraguay in Kaiserslautern. If this match had been the opener, I'd give T&T a puncher's chance. But instead, I think both these teams will have suffered some rough defeats. At that point, I think pride matters, but not as much as being afraid of going home without any points. And I think Paraguayans will be less forgiving than people who live on a beach. They're happy to be here, so we shouldn't be surprised with a lackluster 3-0 loss.

Three losses in three games, a -8 goal differential, and no goals scored, leaves them last in the tournament. But they accomplished a ton just to get here. Cheers to them. Winning on the continent is tough for Brazil, Argentina and Mexico, so it'll be even tougher for hemispheric minnows. Of course, I'll be rooting for them, but I don't expect much.

If the World Cup were March Madness, then this team would be...
I'm thinking a small conference champion made up of senior leaders. A nice story, but nobody's picking them to go very far.

I feel bad for predicting this result. I wish there was something good about living in Trinidad to make up for it.

Edited to add a few things I forgot about...