To say that 2023 was an outstanding year for rising Trinidad and Tobago goalkeeper Denzil Smith would be an understatement.

Smith, who earned his first senior cap in March, has been a staple and standout performer for the Soca Warriors since, and by all indications, has no intentions of relinquishing his spot. In fact, the 24-year-old has boldly staked his claim as frontrunner to become the twin island republic’s next number one shot stopper.

“I always wanted this chance (to play for the senior team) and I waited for it for a long time. It’s a great feeling going out there to play against a big team and country. I feel great, to be honest,” Smith said, adding that his career path was inspired by the likes of now-retired Marvin Phillip and still in-action Andre Foncette and Canadian-based Nicklas Frenderup.

“Being around the national team for a while, I can say that these guys taught me a lot and I’m thankful for that,” he noted.

After two heroic performances between the sticks in Trinidad and Tobago’s 0-3 loss and 2-1 win against United States in the Concacaf Nations League quarterfinals, Smith has grown even more in confidence.

Though Trinidad and Tobago failed to make the Nations League semi-finals and qualify automatically for next year’s CONMEBOL Copa America, the Angus Eve-coached team still have a second shot at qualification for the prestigious South American tournament.

To do so, they will have to get by the other North American powerhouse Canada, in a single-match playoff scheduled for March, and Smith is cautiously optimistic about assisting his team towards the feat.

“What really motivated me during the Nations League was that chance to play in Copa America. I really want to play there and I know my teammates also want to play there, so that was our main driving force over the past few games,” Smith shared.

Until the opportunity comes to possibly deny Canada, Smith is looking ahead to the upcoming TTFL season to not only put his club Point Fortin in a position to challenge for the title, but also to improve his craft.

“I want to keep as much clean sheets as I can and help the (Point Fortin) boys to come and join me in the national team. I also want to help this side to qualify for the Concacaf tournaments. It will do wonders for the club,” Smith reasoned.

“My family is always behind me no matter what. My brother passed away a few years ago and everything I’m doing is for him. I really want T&T to qualify for the Copa American and, honestly, I want to get a big contract outside (of T&T),” he ended.

United States and Panama both placed a foot in the Concacaf Nations League semi-final and, by extension, next year's Copa America, after they registered identical 3-0 victories in the first legs of their respective League A quarterfinals on Thursday.

United States vs. Trinidad and Tobago

A late surge earned the United States victory over Trinidad and Tobago at Q2 Stadium in Austin, Texas.

Antonee Robinson had a goal and an assist, as the United States scored three goals in the final 10 minutes of regular time to secure a healthy cushion going into Monday’s return leg.

As expected, United States dominated proceedings from the start, but they posed little threat in front of goal against a well-organised Trinidad and Tobago defence.

A second yellow card to Noah Powder in the 37th, saw the Soca Warriors down to 10 men with more than a half to play, and that prompted their host to commit numbers forward even more in search of the opening goal.

Trinidad and Tobago were stout-hearted and defiant at the back, especially goalkeeper Denzil Smith, whose confidence grew by saving a Yunus Musah attempt from distance and then a Sergino Dest shot.

However, their resistance was inevitably broken in the 81st, when Robinson’s cross from the left wing was flicked in by Ricardo Pepi to make it 1-0 to the home side.

While the goal inspired United States to push for more, it broke the hearts of the Trinidadians, and they imploded defensively as a result. Minutes after supplying the assist on the go-ahead goal, Robinson added a goal himself with a powerful left-footed finish in the 86th.

United States were keen to tack on one more before the final whistle and they did it in the 89th when Gio Reyna gathered a pass Folarin Balogun and fired into net to complete the 3-0 scoreline.

 

Costa Rica vs. Panama

Panama for the second straight time outclassed Costa Rica in a Nations League fixture at the Estadio Saprissa in San Jose.

After defeating the Ticos 1-0 in Costa Rica in the 2022-23 Nations League group stage, the Canaleros achieved the same feat, this time by a wider scoreline.

It was a dream start for Panama, as a picture-perfect fourth-minute free kick Michael Murillo went blazing into the top right corner of the net.

Panama remained on the front foot, and they doubled their advantage in the 29th when a miscued clearance from Costa Rica's defence allowed Jose Fajardo to swoop in and finish a right-footed effort.

Costa Rica sought a response and Jimmy Marin went close to pulling a goal back with a 33rd-minute shot that grazed the post.

Costa Rica mounted pressure to start the second half, but it allowed Panama to counterattack with space, and the visitors made the most of a break in the 60th. That play ended with Adalberto Carrasquilla sliding a pass into Cecilio Waterman, whose finish made it 3-0.

With the three-goal cushion, Panama played to their liking, but also kept the Costa Rican attack at bay, as they saw out the remainder of the contest for the win.

The group stage of League A of the 2023-24 Concacaf Nations League came to a thrilling conclusion on Tuesday night, with Panama and Trinidad and Tobago emerging as the top two sides in Group A to qualify for next month’s quarterfinals.

Panama topped the group with 10 points, one point ahead of Trinidad and Tobago, who ended with nine points.

Panama vs. Guatemala

Panama enjoyed a commanding 3-0 victory over Central American rivals Guatemala at the Estadio Rommel Fernandez in Panama City.

Adalberto Carrasquilla has been one of the best players in the Concacaf region in 2023 and he showed why again by scoring Panama’s opener in the 14th when an initial clearance from the Guatemala defense fell right to the 2023 Concacaf Gold Cup Best Player Award winner, who volleyed into net for a 1-0 lead.

Panama kept pushing and a pivotal moment came in the initial moments of the second half when a fantastic first touch allowed Cristian Martinez to get past Guatemala’s Nicolas Samayoa in the area, with Martinez then getting fouled. 

A penalty was whistled, and a red card was issued to Samayoa, followed by Eric Davis converting the spot kick in the 48th for a 2-0 lead and a man advantage for almost the entire second half. 

Panama’s dream night was then capped in the 90th when Abdiel Ayarza guided a header past Guatemala goalkeeper Nicholas Hagen to seal the win.

El Salvador vs. Martinique

Martinique came up just shy in their bid for a quarterfinal spot in a 0-0 draw with El Salvador at the Estadio Nacional Jorge Magico Gonzalez in San Salvador.

Martinique finish in third place with seven points, while El Salvador earned their first point of the campaign.

Martinique had some good looks early and almost forced an own goal in the 24th when a back pass forced El Salvador goalkeeper Tomas Romero into a stretch save to prevent the opener.

El Salvador started to find their footing toward the end of the half and Mayer Gil’s strong shot was saved by Martinique goalkeeper Yannis Clementia right before halftime.

The second half saw El Salvador create two good scoring chances. The first fell for Leonardo Menjivar, who ended up missing over the crossbar at the far post in the 66th with the goalmouth open, followed by a Brayan Gil header in second half stoppage time that was saved by Clementia.

Martinique would muster the final chance of the night, as Crifar Mael’s effort in the waning seconds was saved nicely by Romero, who ensured the points were shared.

Curacao vs. Trinidad and Tobago

Curacao earned their first win of the group stage in impressive fashion with a 5-3 triumph over Trinidad and Tobago at the Ergilio Hato Stadium in Willemstad.

It was an ideal start for Curacao, who took a 1-0 lead in the seventh when a long ball was played up to Rangelo Janga and the experienced striker finished with aplomb past Trinidad and Tobago goalkeeper Denzil Smith.

Curacao were hungry for more and they doubled the lead in the 12th when Kenji Gorre found Godfried Roemeratoe, who fired into net past Smith.

The Curacao attack was unyielding and a hard run from Gorre in the 54th ended in a foul in the Trinidad and Tobago area and a penalty kick. Gorre stepped up and easily converted from the spot, extending the Curacao advantage to 3-0.

Trinidad and Tobago were finally able to pull back a goal in the 68th as Ryan Telfer found Reon Moore with a cross from the right wing and Moore finished.

That goal shifted the momentum in Trinidad and Tobago’s and they further reduced the deficit in the 74th when a rebound fell for Kristian Lee-Him to latch onto and fire into goal.

Curacao had a golden opportunity to restore a two-goal advantage from the penalty spot in the 75th after a Trinidad and Tobago handball, only to see Smith save Brandley Kuwas’ penalty.

But three minutes later it was 4-2 via the penalty spot after a foul in the area. This time Juninho Bacuna stroked it into net for Curacao.

Curacao’s three-goal lead was then restored in the 81st when Roshon Van Eijma’s header hit the crossbar, but Janga was there to head in the rebound to make it 5-2.

Their chances at winning the group were fading away, but Trinidad and Tobago wanted to make sure they held onto the second spot, and they made it a 5-3 final scoreline in the 86th when a free kick was played in front of the Curacao goal and Kareem Moses poked home the loose ball.

© 2023 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.