Caledonia AIA will be looking for respect at the Hasely Crawford Stadium from 8 pm tonight as the Trinidad and Tobago Pro League football club takes on top Guatemalan team, CSD Comunicaciones, in CONCACAF Champions League action.
Anything but a win could leave one or both of tonight’s opponents on the verge of elimination as Mexican outfit, Toluca, already has six points from its opening games at home to Caledonia and away to Comunicaciones.
But Shabazz had more than Comunicaciones in mind as he addressed the importance of a good showing tonight.
“The Caribbean is still looked upon as the lowest rung of CONCACAF,” Shabazz told Wired868. “The players themselves have to take some responsibility for that and not just the coaches. It is the player who is not getting the contract or getting minimum wage in the MLS.
“We want to change that thinking of the Caribbean player in CONCACAF.”
Comunicaciones will not make it easy for the Morvant/Laventille-based club. The “Creams” have a 100 percent record in their domestic competition so far this season after four wins from as many outings.
If Caledonia regulars like right back Kareem “Tiny” Joseph and central defender Nuru Muhammad crave international football, then Comunicaciones represents a wonderful challenge. There are 13 Guatemalan international players within the visitor’s ranks as well as a handful of South American imports.
Uruguayan forward Carlos Ramirez is the club’s leading scorer with three goals from four games this season. But it is his compatriot, 33-year-old Paolo Suarez, that might most interest local fans.
Suarez, a journeyman attacker who spent most of his professional career in El Salvador, is the elder brother of Liverpool and Uruguay international star Luis Suarez. He wears the number eight shirt for his present Guatemalan employer.
Like Suarez, Comunicaciones is a tough, street-smart team and Shabazz expects a tough contest.
“We saw clips of them against Toluca,” said the Caledonia coach. “I thought it was a very robust game and one of their players was actually sent off… They are a very organised team.”
Caledonia is without midfielder Akim Armstrong and new striker Julian Wade who failed to shake off knocks while attacker Andre Toussaint has just returned to full training after being unwell.
Veteran “Soca Warrior” Densill Theobald has shaken off an indifferent campaign at the 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup and Shabazz expects the Caledonia midfielder to be an important figure today. Theobald was selected as the national team captain but played in just two of Trinidad and Tobago’s four Gold Cup matches.
“I think Densill is really sharp and ready to go,” said Shabazz. “But we don’t want to burden him with too much responsibility; everyone has to take up their responsibility.
“He is mentally a tough youth. He has had big setbacks and big moments and now is no different.”
Caledonia intends to compensate for the disparity in resources between the two sides by showing a superior attitude and effort today. Theobald and team captain Stephan David would be expected to set the tone in midfield.
Twenty-three year old winger Nathan Lewis and 24-year-old predatory striker Jamal Gay could also be key to Caledonia’s ambitions.
As always, the “Eastern Stallions” are not divorced from goings-on in the Morvant/Laventille district and Shabazz wants his squad to help calm down the tense neighbourhood. Perhaps they can offer some example of the merits of hard work, discipline and positive attitude tonight.
“We are trying to bring out the community but we are really challenged with all that killing (that happened recently),” said Shabazz. “The thing seems to be out of control at the moment. We plan to go into community and talk soon.
“Hopefully, we can get some credibility with a good result.”
Possible Caledonia AIA starting team: 33.Glenroy Samuel; 12.Kareem Joseph, 3.Nuru Muhammad,14. Jamaal Smith, 2.Aubrey David; 7.Stephan David (captain); 20.Noel Williams, 9.Keyon Edwards, 21.Densill Theobald, 27.Nathan Lewis; 23.Jamal Gay.