Pro League frontrunners DIRECTV W Connection and Central FC will aim to get Trinidad and Tobago back into the CONCACAF Champions League when they start their CFU qualifying matches this week.
Connection, the reigning Pro League champions, face the Guyana Defence Force, Antigua’s SAP FC and Jamaica’s Waterhouse FC on Wednesday April 15, Friday April 17 and Sunday April 19 respectively at the Ato Boldon Stadium in Couva.
Central, the current Pro League leaders, are making their debut in this competition in Guyana where they will tackle Suriname’s Inter Moengotapoe and Guyana’s Alpha United on April 17 and 19 respectively.
Last year, for the first time in 10 years, no Trinidad and Tobago clubs advanced to the CONCACAF Champions League after Defence Force and Caledonia AIA were both eliminated in the CFU’s preliminary group stage.
Caledonia AIA drew with Inter before being crushed 4-0 by Waterhouse in Haiti while Defence Force were booted from the competition after a 2-0 loss to Alpha United in Guyana.
Connection, who are led by Trinidad and Tobago international defender Mekeil Williams, aim to settle the score against a Waterhouse team that bettered Panama’s Tauro FC in the 2014/15 Champions League despite failing to advance from their group.
“At the start of the season I told the players one of (our) main goals this season is the preparation for the CFU tournament,” said Connection coach Stuart Charles-Fevrier. “We have won this competition before and take it very seriously since it’s an opportunity to market the club and for the players to test themselves against the best in the Caribbean and, by extension, CONCACAF.”
Central team administrator Kevin Jeffrey said the “Couva Sharks”, who will be marshalled by a “Soca Warriors” trio of Ataulla Guerra, Willis Plaza and Jan-Michael Williams, are confident of success in their first go on the regional stage.
“Of course, any game at this level will have its challenges,” said Jeffrey, “but the team is confident of winning through to the final round.”
Central will offer live updates of their contests on the club’s Facebook page.
If Connection and Central both top their current groups, they will meet in the Caribbean Club Championship semifinal on May 22. The winner will qualify automatically and contest the regional final on May 24 while the loser must win a third-place play off to advance.
The other two Caribbean groups are:
Group 3: America FC (Haiti), Montego Bay United FC (Jamaica) and SV Excelsior (Suriname).
Group 4: Don Bosco FC (Haiti), Helenites Sporting Club (US Virgin Islands), Unite Sainte Rose (Guadeloupe) and Lyford Cave Football Club (Bahamas).
“Strangely, it will be harder to qualify for the final round than qualify for CONCACAF,” said Jeffrey. “In the final round you can lose a game and still qualify in the third place play off. But in the group stage, a loss will almost certainly mean you will not progress.”
Fevrier’s 18-man squad for this week’s CFU action includes: Julani Archibald, Aquelius Sylvester; Mekeil Williams (captain), Maurice Forde, Shannon Gomez, Christian Viveros, Kurt Frederick, Triston Hodge; Gerard Williams, Alvin Jones, Christian Rodriguez, Yhon Stiven Reyes, Jomal Williams, Hashim Arcia; Shahdon Winchester, Neil Benjamin Jr, Jerrel Britto and Akeem Garcia.
New Central FC coach Terry Fenwick will be accompanied to Guyana by: Jan-Michael Williams, Javon Sample; Kaydion Gabriel, Akeem Benjamin, Marcelle Francois, Elton John, Jamal Jack, Kevon Villaroel, Keion Goodridge; Leston Paul (captain), Sean de Silva, Marvin Oliver, Jason Marcano, Darren Mitchell, Nathaniel Garcia, Ataulla Guerra, Willis Plaza and Dwight Quintero.
CFU Group Stage fixtures
(Wed Apr 15)
Alpha United v Inter Moengotapoe, 4 pm, Group 1, Providence Stadium, Georgetown;
SAP FC v Waterhouse, 5.30 pm, Group 2, Ato Boldon Stadium, Couva;
W Connection v Guyana D/Force, 8 pm, Group 2, Ato Boldon Stadium, Couva;
(Fri Apr 17)
Central FC v Inter Moengotapoe, 4 pm, Group 1, Providence Stadium, Georgetown;
Guyana D/Force v Waterhouse, 5.30 pm, Group 2, Ato Boldon Stadium, Couva;
W Connection v SAP FC, 8 pm, Group 2, Ato Boldon Stadium, Couva;
(Sun Apr 19)
Alpha United v Central FC, 4 pm, Group 1, Providence Stadium, Georgetown;
Guyana D/Force v SAP FC, 3.30 pm, Group 2, Ato Boldon Stadium, Couva;
W Connection v Waterhouse, 6 pm, Group 2, Ato Boldon Stadium, Couva.