Trinidad and Tobago Pro League club DIRECTV W Connection will be fighting for its CONCACAF Champions League survival from 8 pm tomorrow on Tuesday August 20 when the “Savonetta Boys” host United States Major League Soccer (MLS) team Houston Dynamo at the Hasely Crawford Stadium in Port of Spain.
Anything short of three points would virtually bury Connection’s hopes of advancing to the knock-out phase of the tournament after just two matches.
No Trinidad and Tobago club has ever advanced to the quarterfinal round since 2008/09 when the tournament was expanded to 24 teams from the confederation rather than eight.
Connection registered ten new players for its 2013/14 Champions League campaign with eight of them being foreigners, which brings their roster up to 14 imports. But the benefit was negligible as the Pro League team crashed to a 3-1 loss in its group opener on August 9 away to Arabe Unido in Panama City.
The Panamanian team was already five games into its domestic competition, at the time, while Connection is still effectively in its pre-season as the Pro League does not kick off until later this month.
Connection will again be at a disadvantage tomorrow in terms of match fitness as Houston Dynamo is more than halfway through its season with 23 games under its belt.
Tomorrow’s match has a lot to recommend it to local football fans.
Trinidad and Tobago international utility player Joevin Jones, arguably the Pro League’s most outstanding player last season, will captain Connection from his familiar role as a midfield playmaker as Couva-based club seeks its first points of the campaign.
Connection coach Stuart Charles-Fevrier will hope for a sparkling home debut from Brazilian right back Joao Ananias, a loan signing from Brazil’s top flight club Nautico, who had a poor debut against Arabe but is arguably the Pro League’s most illustrious signing.
Colombian playmaker Yefer Lozano and combative Brazilian midfielder Celio Da Silva showed glimpses of their ability in Panama but will hope to offer more substance against Dynamo. Eighteen year old attacker Neil Benjamin will also look to give further evidence of his promise after he came off the substitutes’ bench to score Connection’s consolation item in Panama.
Italian striker Mirko Delia, a former Catania player in Italy’s Serie A, is also on the Connection roster to face Dynamo although he did not play in the club’s Champions League opener.
In the other camp, Dynamo has advanced to the knockout stage in two from three attempts over the past four seasons and is not short of calibre or know-how in its roster.
The Dynamo midfield is bolstered by veteran Honduran winger Oscar Garcia and team captain and midfielder Brad Davis while Jamaican defender Jermaine Taylor will shore up the backline.
But it is the younger attacking talents of Alexander Lopez and Giles Barnes that might need special attention.
The 25-year-old Barnes, a former Premier League footballer with Derby County, made his senior professional debut at 17 and was once considered a prodigy in England where he mocked defenders by shouting “whoosh” as he flew past them.
Barnes made a dozen international appearances for England’s under-19 squad before injuries derailed his ascendancy. At present, he is Dynamo’s joint leading scorer alongside striker Will Bruin.
Lopez, 21, only joined Houston this month after featuring at the Gold Cup for Honduras where he played in a 2-0 loss for the Central American nation against the “Soca Warriors.”
In Honduras, Lopez is nicknamed “the Honduran Maradona” and, three years ago, he turned down a move to Spanish La Liga team, Malaga, after being disappointed with the salary on offer. As a designated player for Dynamo, money may no longer be an issue for Lopez. But he is yet to live up to the hype against Trinidad and Tobago.
Jones and company will aim to ensure it stays that way tomorrow as Connection tries to secure a valuable triumph in Port of Spain.