DirecTV W Connection ended its 2012 CONCACAF Champions League campaign last night with a defiant display at the Ato Boldon Stadium, Couva as the Trinidad and Tobago Pro League team held Mexican outfit Chivas de Guadalajara to a 1-1 tie.
The result maintained Connection’s remarkable record of having never lost to Mexican opposition on local soil after four meetings at this level against Guadalajara (twice), Toluca and Pumas.
To put that statistic into perspective, Mexican clubs have won all of the last seven CONCACAF tournaments and captured a total of 28 Confederation crowns. The second most successful league in these parts is Costa Rica and it has won just six.
Guadalajara, who lost 2-1 in Trinidad five years ago, again failed to overcome a solid, composed Connection team that was buoyed by classy individual performances from the Trinidad and Tobago international duo of midfielder Clyde Leon and goalkeeper and captain Jan-Michael Williams.
“Tonight is a proud moment for us,” said Connection coach Stuart Charles-Fevrier. “I am very pleased with the result because Chivas is a quality team.”
Elsewhere in Honduras, towering striker Jamal Gay got his first goal this season for Neal & Massy Caledonia after an assist from substitute Abdallah Phillips. But the Caribbean champions could not hold on as CD Marathón’s substitute Jonathan Reyes grabbed an 80th minute winner for the host team.
Caledonia ended its first CONCACAF adventure with one draw and three losses.
Connection finished just one point better but was left to regret squandering a two-goal lead against group leaders, Xelajú, in its opening group match, which ended in a 2-2 draw. The “Savonetta Boys” also equalised twice away to Xelajú but still left Guatemala empty-handed after a late 3-2 defeat.
“In a three-team group, the first game is always very important,” said Fevrier. “We really shot ourselves in the foot against Xelajú.”
The Pro League had not started yet when Connection and Caledonia kicked off their CONCACAF campaigns while, even now, the local teams have played just two official games this season. In contrast, Guadalajara has played nine and Xelajú managed 12.
The generally low intensity of the domestic game plus sparse crowd support also serves as a disadvantage for Trinidad and Tobago clubs at this level. There were probably a little over 300 patrons at the Ato Boldon Stadium last night.
“I was extremely disappointed with the small turnout,” said Williams, in the post-game press conference. “If the public doesn’t respect the Pro League, I felt at least people would understand that we were playing a top Mexican team.”
Four of Guadalajara’s starters played in the 2010 Copa Libertadores finals when the club lost to Brazilian team, Internacional, in the South American equivalent of the European Champions League. Another three Guadalajara players were on the field when Mexico beat a star-studded Brazil national side at the 2012 London Olympics in July while its coach, John Van’t Schip, once managed Ajax and was assistant to Marco Van Basten on the Netherlands technical staff.
In contrast, the modestly-assembled Connection team was without in-form left winger Joevin Jones, suspended striker Shahdon Winchester and injured midfielder Silvio Spann. Guadalajara travelled without the injured duo of star striker Marco Fabian and defender Miguel Ponce while attacker Rafa Marquez Lugo was suspended.
“I never look for excuses,” said Fevrier.
His players certainly did not appear to be moping although they were given a thorough examination in the first 45 minutes.
Twice, Williams was forced into sharp, reflex saves to deny Jesus Sanchez and then Xavier Baez as Guadalajara, set up in a 4-2-3-1 system, bossed the game and looked especially dangerous down the flanks.
“(Guadalajara) started tremendously fast,” said Williams.
Five minutes before the halftime whistle, the Mexicans went ahead as striker Erick Torres clipped the ball over the Connection custodian after Guadalajara right back Omar Esparza outwitted three opposing defenders to run on to a simple wall pass and squared for Torres.
Fevrier apparently delivered some stern words in the dressing room at the interval and Connection responded with raised tempo after the break.
There seemed to be little noticeable change in Leon’s approach though. There was no need.
The 28-year-old midfielder saunters around the field as if he were in his own kitchen. Chin up, back straight and with a measured touch to match, Leon glided past opponents, solved problems with nonchalant flicks of his boot and looked the equal—at least—of any player in a Guadalajara shirt.
His confidence proved contagious and Connection grew increasingly constructive against its more illustrious opponent.
Twenty minutes into the second half, Leon capped a classy display with a vicious right footed strike from a free kick that Guadalajara goalkeeper Luis Michel got a hand to but could not keep out. Michel was one of the club’s heroes from its memorable 2010 Copa Libertadores run but Van’t Schip would think that he was well placed to make the save.
At the other end, Williams was impeccable and made two more superb stops from distance against Victor Perales and at close quarters from substitute Luis Morales to thwart a Mexican revival.
“We didn’t want to end the Cup with one point,” said Williams. “That was the driving force for us.”
Van’t Schip praised Connection for its structure and spirit. In Mexico, Guadalajara trounced the Trinidad team 4-0 but the Dutchman admitted that scoreline did not do Fevrier’s men justice.
“There was not much difference (between Connection’s performance in both legs),” said the former Netherlands World Cup winger. “The difference is we got the second goal in Mexico (but) we made it tough for ourselves tonight.”
Fevrier looked pained as he contemplated a missed opportunity, though. There was a warning—presumably to club owner David John Williams—that Connection still needs to add to its ranks to better compete at CONCACAF level.
Leon aside, Connection has not fielded many players that take the breath away in recent times like prior teams that boasted of Gefferson Goulart, Earl Jean and William de Silva Oliviera or, in later years, George Isaac, Andre Toussaint and Hughton Hector.
“Our ambition is to win the CONCACAF competition and get in to the (FIFA) World Club Championship,” said Fevrier.
On Friday, Connection will turn its attention back to the domestic game with a First Citizens Cup semifinal meeting against rivals Caledonia AIA from 8 pm at the Hasely Crawford Stadium, Port of Spain.
DirecTV W Connection 1 (Clyde Leon 65), Chivas de Guadalajara 1 (Erick Torres 40)
CD Marathón 2 (Harrison Róchez 53, Jonathan Reyes 81), Neal & Massy Caledonia 1 (Jamal Gay 72)
18.Jan-Michael Williams (Capt); 13.Kurt Cupid, 4.Daneil Cyrus, 19.Leslie Russell, 32.Kurt Frederick (26.Stefano Rijssel 65); 12.Gerard Williams, 8.Clyde Leon, 29.Jomal Williams (25.Christian Ocoro 58),7.Rennie Britto, 9.Matthew Bartholomew (17.Andrei Pacheco 79), 14.Hashim Arcia.
Unused Subs: 22.Aquelius Sylvester, 3.Akeem Benjamin, 6.Kemuel Rivers, 35.Anthony Parris.
1.Luis Michel; 6.Omar Esparza, 4.Hector Reynoso (Capt), 29.Victor Perales, 13.Abraham Coronado; 5.Patricio Araujo, 25.Antonio Gallardo (12.Luis Morales 56); 17.Jesus Sanchez (14.Jorge Enriquez 67), 18.Xavier Baez, 15.Jesus Padilla; 19.Erick Torres.
Unused Subs: 30.Liborio Sanchez, 2.Mario De Luna, 3.Kristian Alvarez, 11.Julio Nava, 23.Michel Vasquez.