“Words can’t explain (what this knock out trophy means to us),” Guaya United captain and co-coach Ryan Stewart told Wired868. “We were here last year, we know what it felt like to lose and we had no intention of repeating it. Absolutely no intention!”
Not for the first time, Guaya United’s triumph was fashioned by their inspirational captain, as a swing of Ryan “Fry” Stewart’s left boot—nine minutes before the final whistle—settled a tense affair in the CNG National Super League Knock Out final.
It was just enough for the “Green Army” to edge past Petrotrin Palo Seco 1-0 at the Mannie Ramjohn Stadium in Marabella. In the process, Guaya erased the painful memory of defeat in last year’s final against former rival and newly promoted Pro League outfit, Club Sando.
“Guaya are a determined bunch,” said Petrotrin coach Dexter Cyrus. “They are very clear going forward, they know exactly what they want to do. I thought if we forced them to defend we could create some chances and we did.
“But we just were not able to capitalise on the day.”
There were over 3,000 supporters in the Mannie Ramjohn and it was Guaya’s green rather than the red of Petrotrin that was the predominant colour. At times, it felt like Petrotrin were challenging the whole of Mayaro and even Minister of Agriculture Clarence Rambharat—the defeated PNM candidate for the constituency—showed up to support Stewart and his soldiers.
Petrotrin, led by a heroic showing from central defender Angus John, resisted for as long as they could and had their moments too. But it always felt like a fight too much for Cyrus’ charges.
It did not help that striker Sylvester Teesdale and holding midfielders Romauld Aguillera and Brent Garcia were all carrying injuries.
“For Palo Seco to win, we had to win it in 90 (minutes),” Cyrus told Wired868. “Our most influential players were coming off of injury and I didn’t think they could last 90 much less two extra periods of 15/15…
“Brent Garcia had a thigh injury and Teesdale and Romauld both had hamstring (injuries). These are the players who have been carrying the team for the longest while.”
God forbid that Guaya ever discovered what it might be like to enter a match of such magnitude without Stewart.
“My co-coach Ryan Stewart,” said Guaya coach Akeno Morgan, “whenever you have a player like that on your team, anything is possible.”
On the sidelines, they refer to the Guaya captain as “Veron” and there is something in the comparison. Stewart is strong on the ball while his grasp of passing angles as well as the weight of his delivery is unrivalled in the local leagues, since the likes of Kerwin “Hardest” Jemmott, Aurtis Whitley and Densill Theobald in their pomps.
At only 32, it seems a crime that Stewart has, arguably, not sharpened his talent enough for international use, as Trinidad and Tobago could do with a sitting midfielder of his poise and elegance on the ball.
Two years ago, Central FC dragged Leston Paul out of Guaya with the lure of national caps. But Stewart, who is seven years older than Paul, is adamant that he’d rather take the “Green Army” into the top flight than play there without them.
And so, his big duels are—with all due respect—against the likes of Petrotrin Palo Seco rather than DIRECTV W Connection.
“Romauld is experienced enough to take care of Ryan and they both play in the same area of the field,” said Cyrus.
Aguillera represented Trinidad and Tobago at the 2007 CONCACAF Gold Cup and is indeed a solid, combative midfielder. But if that was Stewart being contained then nobody noticed.
Guaya should have gone ahead in the 36th minute as Stewart played striker Carlon Hughes behind the opposing defence, only for Hughes to shoot too close to Petrotrin custodian and captain, Kervin Mark, in a one-on-one situation.
Three minutes later, Hughes missed again; this time, he sent a diving header across the face of the opposing goal after a right side Leroy Jones cross.
Petrotrin were struggling for fluidity with Teesdale incapable of holding up the ball while Cyrus lost lively winger Lester Edwards to injury. At the interval, things went from bad to worse as Garcia—the cousin of Eredivisie-bound Trinidad and Tobago youth star Levi Garcia—admitted he could not continue.
Morgan introduced super-sub, Jody Allsop, off the substitute’s bench. There would be no mercy for the boys from Palo Seco.
Stewart and Hughes were always capable of conjuring something up in possession. But Petrotrin found joy against some of their less gifted teammates.
In the 63rd minute, the red shirts in the covered stand finally had something to get excited about as Wilian Garcia—another of the Garcia cousins—and Cebastian Bailey combined down the left flank and the latter player whipped a dangerous cross into the Guaya box.
Teesdale suddenly came alive as he darted across the body of Guaya defender Kernel Alfred. But he could not direct his header on target.
Cyrus spun to face the stands with hand over his mouth in shock.
“I had hoped to win the battle from the sides, by going around them,” said Cyrus. “But even with the delivery into the box, we were not able to take the chances. Because Teesdale was a yard off today due to the hamstring injury.”
Perhaps, at his best, Teesdale might have taken the opportunity. But it was a half-chance. Unlike the golden opportunities that Guaya were creating and spurning.
In the 70th minute, Stewart lofted a incisive ball behind the opposing defence for Hughes. But the striker delayed and was closed down by John.
Five minutes later, Stewart sent an acrobatic overhead at goal from a Kheelon Mitchell corner kick but was denied on the goal line by Petrotrin right back Antuan John.
Morgan admitted that he was getting nervous on the touchline.
“I was disappointed that they made us wait so long (for the goal),” said the Guaya coach, after the final whistle. “We created plenty chances… But at Guaya, we never give up.”
Morgan would have a few more palpitations as the final neared the 90 minute mark.
In the 78th minute, Hughes wriggled free from John (Angus) and skipped a lunging challenge from Tyrell Seales in a surging run across half the length of the field on a fast break. But, once within shooting range, the Guaya ace dragged a tame shot wide at the near post.
Stewart had another attempt on goal in the 80th minute but this time John (Angus) headed clear from the Petrotrin goalmouth.
Then, in the 83rd minute, Mitchell cut in off the right flank and unleashed a thunderous drive, which almost uprooted the crossbar only to rebound into play.
Would Guaya ever score?
There was barely time for heads to drop before Stewart took possession of the rebound. And, finally, Mark could not find a response in the Petrotrin goal.
Stewart smashed his left footed volley across the body of the Petrotrin goalkeeper and into the far corner and the pent up emotions in the stands erupted.
The Guaya captain sprinted towards the stands and threw his jersey into the crowd. Thankfully, they gave it back to him so he could complete the game, albeit with a yellow card for his celebration.
“Heart of a lion,” said Stewart, as he tapped the crest on his team shirt. “That is our logo and it never changes. We fight all the way. That is Guaya United.”
Petrotrin did try to punch back and, in the 88th minute, Aguilera found Teesdale with space on the right flank. But the striker could not outwit Alfred.
Somehow, Guaya still managed to manufacture two presentable chances and missed both. Hughes was wide from eight yards while Jones hit the upright with Mark well beaten.
But the job was already done.
“We still created chances and gave them a fight,” said Cyrus, “but in the end, I think they were deserving winners.
“I think Petrotrin did well with the resources we have. But I have to say ‘congrats’ to Guaya.”
Just as it seemed Hughes had exhausted the patience of his supporters, he created a party trick to seemed to put an exclamation mark on their superiority today.
In stoppage time, Hughes faced Aguillera—just in front of the Guaya fans—and, with the ball stuck to the outside of his left foot, pushed quickly towards the Petrotrin star’s right boot.
As Aguillera leaned his body weight on to his right foot, Hughes was already seamlessly swivelling the ball in the opposite direction. The only thing missing from the move was for the Petrotrin player to kiss him goodbye.
It was the perfect spanner.
The crowd went crazy again.
Stewart wants to take the Guaya show to the top flight eventually.
“My main aim is to bring Mayaro back on the map and Guaya United by extension,” said Stewart. “It has been 20 plus years since people from the south-eastern region really captured (the imagination) of Trinidad and Tobago. So my aim is to get a proper structure in place here in whatever capacity I can and give back to the community.”
As a downpayment, Guaya United gave its supporters the NSL Knock Out title, which came with a TT$100,000 cash prize. The National Super League crown, Morgan vowed, will be next.
Guaya United (4-2-3-1): 1.Erskine Johnson (GK); 23.Cio Morris (20.Kerneal Hagley 64), 19.Beville Joseph, 8.Kerdell Alfred, 4.Kheelon Ferrier; 25.Keston Jordan, 3.Akeel Paul (7.Jody Allsop 42); 11.Leroy Jones, 17.Ryan Stewart (captain), 27.Kheelon Mitchell; 10.Carlon Hughes.
Unused substitutes: 2.Kelvin Smith, 9.Earlon Thomas, 13.Andre Alfred, 14.Sherlon Campbell, 18.Keylon Thomas.
Coach: Akeno Morgan
Petrotrin Palo Seco (4-2-3-1): 20.Kervin Mark (GK) (captain); 18.Antuan John (10.Akiel Pope 84), 5.Angus John, 12.Wayne Huyghue, 24.Eustace Darius; 6.Brent Garcia (3.Tyrell Seales 46), 8.Romauld Aguillera; 25.Samuel John, 4.Wilian Garcia, 17.Lester Edwards (14.Cebastian Bailey 43); 9.Sylvester Teesdale.
Unused substitutes: 22.Arnold Seales (GK), 7.Kader Vargas, 21.Marvin Mark.
Coach: Dexter Cyrus
Referee: Keon Yorke
Man of the Match: Ryan Stewart (Guaya United)