DIRECTV W Connection improved on its opening 3-1 CONCACAF Champions League loss away to Arabe Unido but it was still not enough for its first win of the 2013 campaign. At the Hasely Crawford Stadium in Port of Spain last night, the “Savonetta Boys” left with mixed feelings after being held goalless by a makeshift Houston Dynamo team.
“I’m really disappointed that we didn’t at least score a goal,” said Connection coach Stuart Charles-Fevrier, after the match. “Three points would have been huge for us; and not just us but Trinidad and Tobago and Caribbean football as well.”
Eighteen-year old striker Neil Benjamin has won rave reviews since he broke into the Connection first team last season with a flurry of goals while he was also the club’s sole scorer against Arabe in Panama. Last night, for the first time, he was cast in the role of villain.
Twice, Benjamin was played into a wonderful scoring position against the United States Major League Soccer (MLS) outfit. And, both times, the opportunity was spurned without opposing goalkeeper Tally Hall having to make so much as a save.
“Soca Warriors” senior team coach Stephen Hart was present although he is unlikely to have seen much to get excited about.
Gifted defender Daneil Cyrus was omitted from the squad as precaution before he travels to Belgium for a trial with top flight club, Racing Genk, which already employs his national teammate Khaleem Hyland.
In Cyrus’ absence, there were just four Trinidad and Tobago players in Connection’s starting line-up: team captain and 2013 Gold Cup utility player Joevin Jones gave a subdued performance and was replaced after an hour, attacker Hashim Arcia was hauled off at halftime and central defender Mekeil Williams failed to assert himself.
The lively Benjamin was the pick of the local bunch although he did not quite display his finishing prowess last night. His misses gave the MLS visitors a point they scarcely deserved.
Houston coach Dominic Kinnear, a former United States international defender, used only three regular first team members in its starting line-up yesterday while two players made first team debuts against Connection and another two players had featured in less than half of the club’s domestic fixtures.
Kinnear’s makeshift starting line-up meant that Houston lacked the cohesion expected from a team more than 20 games into its season. But Connection rarely looked like capitalising in a flat first half.
Still, the hosts had the best scoring chance of the opening 45 minutes. Arcia found left back Kurt Frederick in space and his firm, low cross beat everyone including Connection’s new Italian signing Mirko Delia.
Jones had started encouragingly with a firm but wild shot in the opening seconds. But he faded quickly and came off second best against Houston’s new signing Alexander Lopez, who is referred to as “the Honduran Maradona” in his homeland.
Lopez moved the ball about neatly without ever threatening the Connection backline. Houston winger Jason Johnson was more dangerous and gave Williams a torrid time without ever getting a clear sight of Connection goalkeeper Alejandro Figueroa.
For the Savonetta Boys, Kittian holding midfielder Gerard Williams gave a disciplined, committed performance in front the Connection defence while Brazilian right back Joao Ananias was tidy and skilful in possession and his compatriot Celio Da Silva was a combination of powerful running and assured passing.
Connection only really got going when Fevrier withdrew Jones and pushed Da Silva into an advanced midfield role in the 59th minute.
“Joevin was jaded,” said Fevrier, who pointed to his 21-year-old starlet’s numerous national tours . “He hasn’t had an off-season in about three years.”
In the 70th minute, Da Silva sent substitute Jerrel Britto clear with a well weighted pass and Britto slid the ball across the opposing goalkeeper to allow Benjamin to tap into an empty net. But the teenager, possibly distracted by a retreating defender, could only find the side netting.
Benjamin got a chance at redemption in the 82nd minute and neatly clipped the ball over Hall but, this time, watched his shot rebound off the bar.
Fevrier listed fitness and rhythm as Connection’s two major issues at the moment, which is not surprising since Houston was only the club’s second opponent this season while the Pro League team is also trying to bed in new players.
“The United States has just won the Gold Cup and defeating one of their best clubs would have been great,” said Fevrier. “I can take some comfort from a draw considering where we are right now (in terms of match fitness). But we should have won this game.”
Connection’s fate in the Champions League is now out of its hands. The Savonetta Boys, who are bottom of the three-team Group 1, must win their next two games at home to Arabe and away to Houston to advance and, even then, they would need Houston to either draw or defeat or Arabe in one of their two meetings.
It could be worse for Connection. But it should have been better.
W Connection (4-2-3-1): 21.Alejandro Figueroa (GK); 24.Joao Ananias, 25.Christian Ocoro Viveros, 15.Mekeil Williams, 2.Kurt Frederick; 3.Gerard Williams, 6.Celio Da Silva; 65.Neil Benjamin, 10.Joevin Jones (Captain) (7.Silvio Spann 59), 14.Hashim Arcia (31.Jerrel Britto 46); 16.Mirko Delia (9.Andrei Pacheco 74).
Unused substitutes: 18.Julani Archibald (GK), 19.Leslie Russell, 27.Yefer Lozano, 40.Jomal Williams.
Coach: Stuart Charles-Fevrier
Houston Dynamo (4-2-3-1): 1.Tally Hall (GK); 8.Kofi Sarkodie, 2.Eric Brunner, 4.Jermaine Taylor, 6.Michael Chabala; 5.Warren Creavalle, 10.Alexander Lopez (16.Adam Moffat 83), 20.Andrew Driver, 25.Brian Ching (Captain) (23.Giles Barnes 65), 14.Jason Johnson (22.Brian Ownby 84); 15.Cam Weaver.
Unused substitutes: 28.Erich Marscheider (GK), 19.Alex Dixon, 21.Anthony Arena, 32.Bobby Boswell.
Coach: Dominic Kinnear