“It’s never easy playing away,” Trinidad and Tobago’s young Daneil Cyrus told FIFA.com, reflecting on their 2-1 win in Guatemala that kick-started 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ qualifying for the Soca Warriors. “The fans were so noisy and they got on us from the first minute. We didn’t have much of the ball and we had to defend most of the game.”
The versatile right-back, still just 24, is talking about the complexities of playing away, something all footballers know. But Cyrus might well be talking about his own fledgling career. The speedster, who can be regularly seen barrelling down the wing on the overlap and swinging in crosses, has had his troubles settling anywhere very long. He’s had a tough time finding a place to call home.
He began on his native island Tobago, the smaller of the two, before a move to Sporting Kansas City in USA’s Major League Soccer. But he was on his way out after only a few months, having played just two games. And after arriving back home, he was soon packing his bags again – this time for a more exotic destination than Missouri. The Vietnamese Premier League was calling.**
Long road to Hanoi
“It happened really, really fast,” Cyrus chuckled, explaining how he ended up in Hanoi. “The money was good so I couldn’t say no,” he said, reflecting the tough decisions and hard facts of a life in football outside the spotlight. “The players were smaller over there, so I was able to push a few guys around,” he added with a smile. Cyrus measures in at well over six foot and, though lean, he’s quite sturdy.
After a sparkling display in this summer’s CONCACAF Gold Cup, Cyrus returned to MLS and a loan deal with Chicago Fire. But even that move wasn’t smooth. Work permit woes and visa red tape delayed his debut, and he only made six appearances in 2015.
It is with the national team where Cyrus has found a real home, true continuity and community. He is part of a core of young players, like Sheldon Bateau, Aubrey David, Mekeil Williams, Kevin Molino and Khaleem Hyland, that came through the youth ranks together. This young crop is the beating heart of a Trinidad and Tobago side that many are comparing to the greats of years past.
Up next is a date with USA at home. “The US game will be quite interesting,” Cyrus said, admitting to a personal desire to show high-paid MLS stars like Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore what he can do. “They usually have the edge on us, but it’s a team we’d like to beat. It’s a rivalry that goes back a long way.”
The rivalry does indeed have deep roots. Cyrus wasn’t even born when American Paul Caligiuri looped home the so-called *shot heard ‘round the world *in Port of Spain to send USA to Italy 1990. It was a goal that began a soccer boom in the States that continues today. But on the islands, it broke hearts and a dark cloud descended. “I never heard the end of it as a kid,” Cyrus said. “It was like they stole something from us. All the American guys I know are obsessed with it. It started something big for them. But for us it cast a shadow.”
T&T eventually found their way to a first and only World Cup in Germany in 2006 under Dutchman Leo Beenhakker. “That was an exciting time to be a young player coming up on the islands,” said Cyrus, who started his career as a forward before switching to defence. “I watched those guy, like Dwight Yorke and Russell Latapy and I wondered how amazing it would be to play before a huge crowd.**
“And now to be playing on the same stage, competing in the same shirt, it’s just amazing,” added Cyrus, preparing for his 40th cap.
Link to the past
A link to that 2006 team remains. Dreadlocked skipper Kenwyne Jones was the youngest player in the team that famously drew with Sweden in Dortmund ten years ago. And he connects those glory days with a present bursting with possibility. “You can’t believe how much he [Jones] brings to the team,” Cyrus said of his captain, who scored the winner in the 2-1 win in Guatemala City.
So when Jones tells Cyrus and his mates that they “have the potential to be even better than that team in ‘06,” it’s more than just hot air. “He makes us believe because he’s the man who knows,” the defender said, aching to realise that boyhood dream of reaching a World Cup.
Training at the Hasely Crawford Stadium, Cyrus is feeling right at home. “We’re very comfortable here,” he said, surrounded by the familiar sounds and smells of Port of Spain. Among his mates from the junior ranks and with a veteran hero guiding the way, the old adage may never have been truer: there’s no place like home.