DIRECTV W Connection travelled to Mexico yesterday with six teenagers and 14 players under the age of 23 as the “Savonetta Boys” start their 2015/16 Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League campaign with a fresh-faced squad.
Connection face reigning and five time Liga MX Champions, Santos Laguna, tomorrow from 10 pm at the 30,000-seater Corona Stadium in Torreon.
Only five Connection players, Colombia utility player Felipe Ocoro Viveros, St Kitts and Nevis ball-winner Gerard Williams, St Lucia wing back Kurt Frederick and the Trinidad and Tobago duo of playmaker Jomal Williams and journeyman goalkeeper Aquelius Sylvester, have more than two full Pro League seasons under their belt.
Versatile 21-year-old defender Alvin Jones, who captained the Trinidad and Tobago National Under-23 Team at the 2015 Pan American Games, is another survivor from the Connection squad which lifted the 2013/14 Pro League title.
Otherwise, coach Stuart Charles-Fevrier will put his faith in youth to compensate for another exodus of senior players.
Last season’s top scorer, Jerrel Britto, moved to Guatemalan top flight club, Deportivo Malacateco, on a free transfer while captain and “Soca Warriors” defender Mekeil Williams joined Antigua GFC on loan.
Playmaker Hashim Arcia is already in training with the Defence Force in lieu of a move there while Trinidad and Tobago international defender Daneil Cyrus and forward Shahdon Winchester are awaiting moves abroad.
Colombia midfielder Stiven Reyes failed to agree terms on a new deal while St Lucia players Tremain Paul and Devaughn Elliot are out of contract.
In their places, ex-Trinidad and Tobago National Under-20 Team players Shannon Gomez, Aikim Andrews and Maurice Ford will be expected to play key roles alongside Pan Am Games teammates left back Triston Hodge and attacker Neil Benjamin Jr.
Benjamin, whose senior career has been plagued with injuries, is recovering from a hamstring injury at present.
“Every player we put on our roster, we believe in their ability,” W Connection chairman David John Williams told Wired868. “I like to go back to the 2011/12 season when nobody gave us a chance. Jomal (Williams), Joevin (Jones), Shahdon (Winchester) and Britto were teenagers then and we won the league.”
Twenty-one year old Surinamese attacker Dimitrie Apai, who sparkled on his Pro League debut season two years ago, should be another important player to Connection’s chances of success this season, although he is returning from a long-term injury.
Another teenaged winger, ex-National Under-20 player Akeem “Froggy” Garcia, is still recovering from a knee injury but also showed promise at senior level last season.
The 2014 Secondary Schools Football League (SSFL) Premier League MVP and ex-National Under-20 Team playmaker, Jabari Mitchell, has also committed himself to Connection this season and is with the squad in Mexico.
Williams is not sure if the 18-year-old Mitchell will skip Upper Six at Naparima College but he does not expect the talented schoolboy to return to the SSFL.
Gomez left Form Six at St Augustine Secondary to turn pro last season.
“He is not going back to (the SSFL),” said Williams. “I’m 100 percent sure. He is playing full time with Connection.”
The baby of the squad is 16-year-old Presentation College (San Fernando) left back Keston Julien, who represented the Trinidad and Tobago National Under-17 Team earlier this year.
Connection also signed former Central FC and North East Stars midfielders Kevon Goddard and Kion Joseph respectively, who are both ex-Trinidad and Tobago national youth team players.
There was a considerable shrinkage in the number of Caribbean islanders at Connection with just five players from outside Trinidad and Tobago.
Nineteen year old Grenada striker Jamal Charles and 21-year-old Dominica holding midfielder Anfernee Frederick join the first team roster alongside 24-year-old St Kitts and Nevis goalkeeper Julani Archibald, Frederick and Williams (G).
Williams revealed that Benjamin, who is still recovering from injury, will not start against Santos tomorrow as the young Connection outfit faces the might of Mexico’s champion club.
Central FC will also start their Champions League campaign from 10 pm on Thursday when the “Couva Sharks”, led by new coach Ross Russell, tackle United States’ MLS club, LA Galaxy.
The Sharks are still in Trinidad while they have not released their squad details yet.
(W Connection team)
Goalkeepers: Julani Archibald, Terrence Lewis, Aquelius Sylvester;
Defenders: Shannon Gomez, Alvin Jones, Maurice Ford, Felipe Ocoro Viveros, Triston Hodge, Keston Julien, Kurt Frederick;
Midfielders: Anfernee Frederick, Gerard Williams, Kion Joseph, Kevon Goddard, Jabari Mitchell, Jomal Williams;
Forwards: Jamal Charles, Aikim Andrews, Neil Benjamin Jr, Dimitrie Apai.
Staff: Stuart Charles Fevrier, Earl Jean, Eligah Joseph, Chandeo Boodoosingh and John Jerry.
2015/16 CONCACAF Champions League fixtures
(Home teams listed first)
Santos (Mex) v W Connection, August 4;
LA Galaxy (USA) v Central FC, August 6;
Saprissa (CRC) v W Connection, August 20;
Comunicaciones (GUA) v Central FC, August 27;
W Connection v Saprissa (CRC), September 16;
Central FC v Comunicaciones (GUA), September 17;
W Connection v Santos (MEX), September 22;
Central FC v LA Galaxy, September 23.