Seven points separate second place DIRECTV W Connection from third place North East Stars in the Pro League at present and bear in mind that Connection also has a game in hand.
Yesterday evening that potential 10-point gap seemed to flatter Stars.
San Juan Jabloteh and Point Fortin Civic have had their own reasons to be relatively pleased with their performances this season but the reality is the local top flight has now become a duopoly between Couva rivals, Central FC and W Connection.
At the Marvin Lee Stadium in Macoya, Central eased past Caledonia AIA 2-0 to move five points clear at the top of the table while the Connection team, which has played a game less, defeated Stars by a similar score line.
The fact that the final score summaries seem civil arguably represents the weakness in the strength of the Pro League leaders. They are walking through this competition and they know it.
Central and Trinidad and Tobago international attacking midfielder Ataulla Guerra perhaps is the best personification of this conundrum. The tall, athletic, regal playmaker is the best player in the country. Yet, he has barely started half of his team’s outings this season.
Guerra has twice been suspended and had the odd injury. Otherwise, Central coach Zoran Vranes has opted to leave him on the sidelines in an apparent effort to provoke a reaction from the player and partly because the team can afford to start without him.
Not for the first time, Guerra came off the bench to inspire Central to victory over his former employer, Caledonia. But this was not because the “Couva Sharks” lacked the tools while he sat on the bench. Rather, there is a hint that Guerra’s nonchalance is spreading and Vranes did not have his Chief Whip, veteran Marvin Oliver, on the field yesterday to keep the squad in check.
When a solid, bustling midfielder like Leston Paul is repeatedly putting his foot on the ball, slowing down the play and making backward passes, there is the hint of a team lacking in ruthlessness. It might not harm their title chances much or affect their upcoming Caribbean qualifiers. But, without a fierce appetite to push themselves to the limit, their time in the CONCACAF competition will be brief.
Connection’s problem is slightly different. The “Savonetta Boys” are in transition and doubt remains as to whether the club has found the quality to replace recent exports. At times, Connection lacks guile upfront while the deep-lying midfield role, which is so vital to their tempo, has not been adequately filled since former “Soca Warrior” Clyde Leon’s health problems forced him to take a sabbatical from the game.
Yet, neither Caledonia nor Stars seriously tested either team yesterday.
Caledonia played some neat football, mind you, and did not lack intent. Wingers Jameel Neptune and Nathan Lewis gave fine individual performances and almost combined for the opening goal in the 49th minute, only for Central goalkeeper Jan-Michael Williams to thwart Neptune’s close ranged effort.
Once Guerra was introduced, during the halftime interval, there was only going to be one winner though. The gifted player crashed an effort off the crossbar in the 61st minute and Willis Plaza reacted quickly to poach the opener.
And, in the 87th minute, Guerra doubled Central’s lead with a tidy finish after good approach work from Plaza, Jason Marcano and Sean De Silva. The less said about Caledonia’s defensive effort for Guerra’s goal—and particularly Plaza’s mazy dribble past three static defenders who never tried to inconvenience him with a tackle—the better.
In between Guerra’s two decisive moves though were more than a few instances of showboating and self-indulgence paired with shouting matches about where and how he should receive the ball.
Guerra figured his teammates were there primarily to give him wall passes. His teammate Marcano, in particular, did not agree.
Central often lacked fluency as a result and Vranes must find a way to better harness Guerra’s talents if the Sharks are to play to their potential. To be fair to the Serbian-born coach, many have tried and failed at that task before him.
The second outing was the typical cagey fare one has come to expect of meetings between Stars coach Angus Eve and Connection’s Stuart Charles-Fevrier.
Eve is a reactive coach by nature and, on paper, Stars started with five defenders, four workmanlike midfielders, one playmaker and no striker; although they actually lined up in a 4-2-3-1 formation.
Incidentally, Stars should have scored first off a Jayson Joseph free kick, which was won by attacker Keron Cummings after a trip by Trinidad and Tobago National Under-20 defender Maurice Ford. Jesus Perez, one of six national youth team players used in the affair, met Joseph’s free kick with a firm downward header that Connection goalkeeper Julani Archibald did well to block with an outstretched hand. Midfielder Kion Joseph was first to the loose ball but, under pressure, leaned backwards and clipped his effort off the top of the bar.
There were a stream of crosses later in the match and some speculative angled shooting from Cummings. But Stars never came as close to breaching Archibald’s goal again.
Colombian midfield import, Yhon Reyes Lopez, spanked a long ranged effort off the bar in the 23rd minute before Akeem Garcia, another teenaged Warrior, put Connection ahead with a precise finish in the 41st minute after a feed from Devaughn Elliot.
And Fevrier packed his midfield in the second half to restrict Stars to the flanks before Hashim Arcia grabbed a late insurance goal. Striker Jerrel Britto did the hard work with a bit of invention on the edge of the area as he spun opposing captain Keryn Navarro and stabbed his shot off the far post.
Arcia was in the right place at the right time to mop up with the goal at his mercy.
Another week with comfortable results for the Pro League’s top two clubs.
It is a good thing to win when you are not at your best. But only if that is a spur to improvement and the three point haul is not an end in itself.
If the Pro League is to make an impact at Caribbean and CONCACAF level, Connection and Central must do much better than this.
W Connection (4-2-1-3): 18.Julani Archibald (GK); 27.Shannon Gomez, 26.Maurice Ford, 5.Mekeil Williams, 36.Triston Hodge (2.Kurt Frederick 80); 8.Yhon Reyes (40.Jomal Williams 74), 3.Gerard Williams; 14.Hashim Arcia; 29.Akeem Garcia, 12.Jerrel Britto, 13.Devaughn Elliot (25.Christian Viveros 73).
Unused substitutes: 22.Aquelius Sylvester (GK), 10.Yefer Steven, 20.Christian Rodriguez, 43.Shirvone St Prix.
Coach: Stuart Charles-Fevrier
North East Stars (4-2-3-1): 22.Cleon John (GK); 4.Keithy Simpson, 25.Keryn Navarro, 15.Glenton Wolfe, 38.Jesus Perez; 6.Jeromie Williams (41.Neveal Hackshaw 42), 14.Dwane James; 23.Kennedy Hinkson, 12.Jayson Joeph (26.Zavion Navarro 86), 44.Kion Joseph (40.Jomoul Francois 77); 10.Keron Cummings.
Unused substitutes: 1.Stefan Berkeley (GK), 5.Aquil Selby, 18.Kaashif Thomas.
Coach: Angus Eve
Referee: Rodphin Harris
Pro League results
(Tue Mar 10)
Central FC 2 (Willis Plaza 61, Ataulla Guerra 87), Caledonia AIA 0 at Macoya;
W Connection 2 (Akeem Garcia 41, Hashim Arcia 84), North East Stars 0 at Macoya;