Get it out the mud!
San Juan North Secondary kept their perfect start to the 2022 Secondary Schools Football League (SSFL) Premier Division season going as they eked out a 1-0 win over Trinity College East (TCE) in Trincity this afternoon.
The boys from Bourg Mulatresse did their business early today, as their captain and in-form striker Larry Noel banged in from close range after the Trinity defence failed to deal with a long clearance by San Juan goalkeeper Xavion Haynes.
San Juan North scored 21 goals in their first three Group B games and Trinity East fans would have been alarmed to go behind inside the first two minutes of play.
Yet, it was the Blue Hawks of Trinity who might have easily scored, as their best chance of the match arguably came seconds before Noel’s opener. Forward Desailly Bastien-Cowan got a clear sight of goal off a deep free kick, only for his right footed effort to be saved by Haynes from close range.
And, try as they might, Trinity could not find a leveller in the muddy, sluggish conditions in Trincity, as San Juan, led by coach Jerry Moe put on a defensive showing that rekindled memories of their run of four straight National Intercol Finals in the pre Covid-19 era.
“Goals win matches, but defence wins you championships,” Moe told Wired868, as he heaped praises on his defensive unit for their marshalling of Trinity East star and national youth player Jaheim Faustin. “Today, I think the defence kept us in the game because if they had made one mistake with a 1-nil lead, anything can happen—particularly in these conditions.
“They did well not to give the opposition too many chances. We are talking about a striker like Faustin who has some Pro League experience and probably international experience as well and they were able to keep him at bay.”
Faustin buzzed throughout but even the skilful attacker could not get the job done for the hosts. And Trinity’s hopes of an equaliser seemed to fade away in the 86th minute, when San Juan central defender Jaheshua Ferguson’s brilliant sliding tackle thwarted Faustin as he ran on to a tantalising pass from substitute Joshua Figaro.
From the embryonic stages of the game, Faustin distinguished himself from most of his teammates with his velvet-like touch, while he was never afraid to take on his opponent either.
On this day though, varying San Juan defenders had their battle time with the 17-year-old Faustin, who debuted for San Juan Jabloteh in the TT Pro League before the Covid-19 pandemic forced the stoppage of sporting activities across the country.
“We expected them to double up on Faustin, which they did,” said Trinity East coach Dwayne Davis. “The idea was to play it into him or use him as a decoy. But then the surface was so bad that it was affecting our ability to move the ball around, so we had to go a little more direct than we would have wanted to.”
Faustin drifted across the Blue Hawks front three as he looked to find a weak link in the San Juan defence, or perhaps a blade of grass that hadn’t already been turned to slush. The lively winger was out of luck on all counts.
San Juan’s central defensive pair of Ferguson and Joshua Lewis were uncompromising in their approach—Moe would have it no other way—while right back Desailly Lewis did a commendable job when the Blue Hawks star switched to the left flank in the second half.
Just past the half-hour mark, Faustin felt the brute force of a “Bourg wall” as he was left in a heap by Lewis near the centre circle, as he tried to initiate a Trinity counterattack.
Lewis jogged away from the scene of the crime while Davis and other members of his technical staff tended to a winded Faustin—as, surprisingly, referee Gyasi McDonald left his card in his pockets.
On the stroke of 90 minutes, Faustin’s jig was up as he was replaced by Terrel Davis, and Trinity’s hope of salvaging anything from the contest left the field as well.
“It was a good effort by the team—we fought hard,” Davis said. “The conditions were tough to play in, so the match kinda turned into an up and down battle with neither team really able to showcase their footballing skill. But, we fought and I think we matched them toe-to-toe.
“Unfortunately, when that opportunity came, they took their chance and we didn’t.”
The early chance spurned by Bastien-Cowan aside, the Blue Hawks rarely flew towards Haynes at the opposite end, as Trinity East custodian Brandon Dalrymple was easily the busier of the two goalkeepers.
After the early mishap, Trinity’s defensive pairing of John-Michael Romero and skipper Andre Providence did their best to cut out the supply for Noel, while central midfielder Khaden Caraby tried to deal with any loose ends.
Noel, who plundered ten goals in the first two games of the season against QRC and Chaguanas North Secondary, settled for long range cracks—after his early goal—which Dalrymple dealt with capably enough.
Davis said it was all part of the plan.
“We decided that both Larry [Noel] and [Lindell] Sween need space to be effective—once we restricted their space, it would make it hard for them,” Davis said. “They didn’t get as many chances as they’d like. We cut off their service from out wide. That was our plan and for me, the plan worked.
“Unfortunately, there was that one chance where the ball stuck in the mud. That’s how it goes.”
It’s a good thing Dalrymple was on his ‘A’ game as Sween, who turned 16 on Tuesday, looked intent on destroying the Trinity netting with his favoured left boot. Time and again, Sween took aim at Dalrymple’s goal with vicious intent, only for the Trinity goalkeeper to prove up to the task.
“I’m confident in my keeper with those long range efforts, I expect him to deal with it,” Davis said. “We wanted to stop them from getting close to the goal and I think we did a really good job of that.”
In the 28th minute, when Dalrymple wasn’t able to get a touch, Sween crashed a free kick from a tight angle on the right side off the bar, while he also blazed other presentable opportunities over the bar.
Moe felt as though his young attacker was trying too hard to get that elusive birthday goal.
“Sween has potential to do well but at times like today you could see that he was trying a little bit too hard to score sometimes,” said Moe, who never seems to get too high or low regardless of the result. “Sometimes you have to take what the game gives you and sometimes the football Gods will reward you with a goal or even an assist.
“He’s only 16 so he needs to learn those differences in the game—when to keep it and when he could score for himself. But it should come in time. Hopefully, he’ll be able to mature soon enough.”
One impressed spectator likened San Juan’s attacking duo of Sween and Noel to Manchester City’s lethal pairing of Belgian playmaker Kevin De Bruyne and Norwegian goal-scoring machine Erling Haaland. Moe suggested that his San Juan captain, Noel, is still learning his trade as a striker as well.
“Up to 2019, when he was in our SSFL team, [Noel] was more used as a winger or even a left back sometimes,” said Moe. “Now, he’s playing as a striker so he has to learn to play with his back to goal, knowing when to bring your midfield into it and run off the ball, or hold up the play.
“[…] As you could see, Larry Noel is still green. He reminds me of [former Trinidad and Tobago captain and St Anthony’s College standout] Kenwyne Jones at that age. But Kenwyne Jones had a little bit more in his locker than him.”
Incidentally, Jones, who now coaches QRC, has already seen Noel’s impact firsthand, as the San Juan skipper put four goals past the Royalians on the opening day of the season, including a thunderous left-footer which echoed through the Bourg Mulatresse community.
With what is likely to be a top-of-the-table clash with Presentation College (San Fernando) set for the final round of Group B on 15 October, Moe hopes Noel and Sween learn quickly, as they aim to capitalise on the efforts of the more industrious duo of Kedell Jones and Jardell Mitchell in the Bourg midfield.
“If two teams are going through, it really wouldn’t matter who wins that game between us and Presentation,” Moe said. “In order to win the Premier Division, you will have to go through a tough team from Group A. We really can’t worry about Pres because we have to run our own race […] whether we come first or second doesn’t really matter in the group.
“What matters is trying to put yourself in a winning position towards the end of the season.”
The “Pres Lions” kept up their own momentum with a comfortable 3-0 win over Moruga Secondary to make it four wins out of four.
Elsewhere in Group B, East Mucurapo Secondary notched their second win of the season as a Zion Harley double inspired a 2-1 win over Chaguanas, while QRC (seven points) moved up to third spot with a 4-2 win over Malick Secondary at St Mary’s College Grounds in St Clair.
Just four rounds into this truncated League season, and it appears as though the sheep are already separated from the goat in Group B, with San Juan and Pres (both 12 points) already five-points clear of their nearest challenger.
Nearer the foot of the table, Trinity East (three points), who currently occupy sixth spot, hope to tick two more boxes in the wins column to secure their Premier Division status for 2023.
Their remaining fixtures are against Chaguanas North, East Mucurapo and QRC.
“We definitely want to stay up, seeing that we are building a team with some young guys,” said Davis. “We want to get as many points as possible from the next three [games]. If we could get nine points, that would be great. If not, we would like to get as many as we could get.”
Trinity East lost three from their four outings so far in 2022, with defeats against Presentation, Malick and San Juan all carrying identical 1-0 score lines.
So close, yet so far. Davis will hope that is not the story of their season.
Trinity College East (4-3-3): 1.Brandon Dalrymple (GK); 2.Josiah Daniel, 12.John-Michael Romero, 6.Andre Providence (captain), 3.Anderson Barnwell; 20.Riley Hill (18.Joshua Figaro 62), 14.Jeremiah Frank-Williams (5.Dexter Croal 81), 21.Khaden Caraby; 17.Jaheim Faustin (16.Terrel Davis 90), 19.Desailly Bastien-Cowan (15.Jean-Luc Romero 81), 11.Jonathan Emrith (7.Seretse Browne 57).
Unused substitutes: 23.Alexis Ambrose GK), 25.Hasheem Hill.
Coach: Dwayne Davis
San Juan North Secondary (4-2-3-1): 1.Xavion Haynes (GK); 14.Desailly Lewis, 6.Jaheshua Ferguson, 2.Joshua Lewis, 15.Kent Guy; 12.Jardell Mitchell, 20.Kedell Jones; 11.Jadiel Joseph, 10.Lindell Sween, 7.Elizsha Rogers (18.Rondell Harewood 62); 9.Larry Noel (captain).
Unused substitutes: 30.Stephon Langaigne (GK), 13.Kyle Hypolite, 16.Isaiah Audin, 17.Jahdel Chase-Charles, 19.Daniel Lewis, 23.Michel Baptiste.
Coach: Jerry Moe
Referee: Gyasi McDonald
Wired868 Man of the Match: Joshua Lewis (San Juan North Secondary)
SSFL Premier Division results
(Wednesday 28 September)
Trinity College East 0, San Juan North 1 (Larry Noel 2) at Trincity;
Chaguanas North 1 (Justin Lewis), East Mucurapo 2 (Zion Harley ) at African Grounds, Enterprise;
Malick Secondary 2 (J’lon Matthews ), QRC 4 (Aydon Caruth, Zion Aberdeen, Mussadiq Mohammed, Stephon James) at Serpentine Road;
Presentation (San F’do) 3 (Micah Brathwaite 33, Caleb Boyce 45, Mackiel Edwards 81), Moruga Secondary 0 at Ato Boldon Stadium.
(Sat 1 October)
Presentation (San F’do) vs Chaguanas North, 4pm, Ato Boldon Stadium;
QRC vs Trinity College East, 4pm, QRC;
Moruga Secondary vs Malick Secondary, 4pm, Moruga
San Juan North vs East Mucurapo, 4pm, San Juan.
(Saturday 1 October)
Naparima College vs Pleasantville Secondary, 2pm, Ato Boldon Stadium;
(Wednesday 5 October)
Carapichaima East vs St Anthony’s College, 2pm, Ato Boldon Stadium;
St Benedict’s College vs Naparima College, 4pm, Ato Boldon Stadium;
St Augustine Secondary vs Fatima College, 4pm, St Augustine;
Speyside High vs Pleasantville Secondary, 3.30pm, Speyside.