“Before, when we were playing against a Mexican team, we were happy to lose 1-0,” said DIRECTV W Connection coach Stuart Charles-Fevrier. “Now, we are very angry…”
Connection bowed out of the CONCACAF Champions League competition last night. Beaten but not disgraced after a 1-0 defeat to former Mexico champions, Santos Laguna, at the Hasely Crawford Stadium in Port of Spain.
“They scored a scrimmage goal very early,” said Fevrier, “and never got a single chance after.
“We had about five chances to score and were very wasteful.”
Remarkably, Fevrier’s assertion that the “Savonetta Boys” troubled a Mexican team that operates in a different financial stratosphere was fairly accurate.
Santos goalkeeper Agustín Marchesín has two senior international caps for Argentina while he and compatriots Diego Gonzales and Carlos Izquierdoz all have 100 appearances or more in Argentina’s top flight competition, despite still being in their 20s.
Santos number 10, Bryan Rabello, wore Chilean colours at every international level possible and was capped by respected Spanish top flight club, Sevilla, while left back Adrian Aldrete and striker Javier Orozco represented Mexico at the 2015 Copa America and 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup respectively.
Pako Ayestaran, Santos’ new Spanish coach, was relieved to have three points but admitted the game did not go as planned.
“We cannot be pleased with the way we played,” said Ayestaran, who was assistant manager to current Real Madrid boss Rafa Benitez during the latter’s spells at Valencia and Liverpool. “We wanted to be dominant on the ball but we couldn’t because (Connection) was very aggressive and pressed well…
“It was difficult to play in the middle of the park and we didn’t close down well enough.”
Of course, there was little hint of the battle that would ensue when Santos went ahead after one minute and 27 seconds.
The Connection defence failed to deal with an inswinging Luis Mendoza corner kick and Andres Renteria slapped home on the second attempt.
Only sharp saves from Connection custodian Julani Archibald kept Santos from doubling the lead through strikes from outside the penalty area by Renteria and Gonzales respectively.
On the touchline, Ayestaran was shadowing every play. Yesterday was his fifth game in charge at Santos and he lost three of his previous four outings.
Connection, with nothing but pride to play for and missing suspended midfielders Gerard Williams and Jomal Williams, did not give Ayestaran or Santos a comfortable evening.
In the 26th minute, Fevrier’s men had the first clear chance to pull level as teenaged Connection utility player Aikim Andrews played a clever diagonal pass into the path of winger Dimitrie Apai. But the Surinamese international was denied by Marchesín’s right leg.
Suitably inspired, Connection pressed higher and higher up the field.
Shahdon Winchester, who started behind debutante centre forward and ex-Central FC employee Dwight Quintero, gave an accomplished performance with good hold-up play and impeccable passing.
At the back, Tristan Hodge, who played at left back last season, again did himself justice in central defence while Connection attacked with gusto and ingenuity down either flank.
There was no doubting the technique and physical strength of the likes of Renteria, Gonzales, striker Edison Rivera and towering midfield enforcer Sergio Ceballo. But Connection was quicker and, arguably, more positive.
In the 52nd minute, Fevrier changed the look of his offence by replacing the direct Quintero with the more subtle Andre Toussaint and, like against Deportivo Saprissa last week, Connection immediately became more dangerous.
Just four minutes after his introduction, Toussaint released Kurt Frederick down the left flank and his low cross found its way to Apai at the far post. With the goal at his mercy, Apai chose to pass responsibility to Winchester instead and the latter’s shot was charged down by Aldrete.
In the 57th minute, Andrews broke clear down the same wing and, this time, it was Winchester who got on the end of the cross and teed up Apai. The resulting shot beat Marchesín but not a retreating defender.
Apai completed a hattrick of misses in the 61st minute as his flicked header from another Andrews cross missed the far post.
Ayestaran responded by summoning firepower from the bench including Cape Verde striker Djaniny, who scored twice against Connection in the first leg, and Mexico international Orozco, whose second half cameo helped “El Tricolour” past Jamaica in the 2015 Gold Cup final.
But, although stretched at times, Connection was not breached again.
Ayestaran complimented Connection in the post-game press conference. And Fevrier agreed with his assessment.
“I think we have closed the gap on the top clubs in the (CONCACAF) region,” said Fevrier. “If you don’t just look at the results and look at the games, we have been able to match our opponents and we were always in the game…
“I hope people now have a little more respect for the league.”
But why did Connection take so long to show up in the competition? The Savonetta Boys, after all, conceded eight goals from their opening two Champions League outings.
The Pro League’s schedule, which means local clubs are still in pre-season mode when they face the best clubs in the confederation, has often been criticised as unhelpful.
However, Fevrier admitted that some of their problems were self-inflicted.
“We lost a lot of players we didn’t expect to lose,” said Fevrier, “and we had problems keeping the squad together…
“We still haven’t completed our squad (for the upcoming season).”
Central FC, the Pro League’s other representative at CONCACAF level, has also had its off-field issues in recent months.
The “Couva Sharks” close off their own Champions League campaign from 8 pm tonight against a weakened LA Galaxy team, which travelled to Trinidad with just 16 players exclusive of former Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard, ex-Tottenham star Robbie Keane and current Mexico stand-out Giovani Dos Santos.
Central would do well to address Galaxy coach Bruce Arena’s slight on the playing field.
W Connection (4-2-3-1): 18.Julani Archibald (GK); 21.Shannon Gomez, 4.Maurice Ford, 5.Tristan Hodge, 2.Kurt Frederick; 16.Alvin Jones (captain), 26.Briel Thomas; 17.Aikim Andrews (11.Neil Benjamin Jr 72), 9.Shahdon Winchester (27.Jhonatan Gerhardt 79), 12.Dimitrie Apai; 19.Dwight Quintero (14.Andre Toussaint 52).
Unused substitutes: 1.Terrence Lewis (GK), 13.Kion Joseph, 35.Keston Julien, 48.Stiven Lopez.
Coach: Stuart Charles-Fevrier
Santos Laguna (4-2-3-1): 1.Agustin Marchesin (GK); 2.Javier Abella, 3.Kristian Alvarez, 14.Nestor Araujo, 16.Adrian Aldrete; 6.Sergio Ceballos (4.Jesus Molina 65), 8.Diego Gonzales; 7.Andres Renteria, 10.Bryan Rabello, 9.Luis Mendoza (21.Djaniny Tavares 65); 18.Edison Rivera (27.Javier Orozco 81).
Unused substitutes: 32.Julio Gonzales (GK), 24.Carlos Izquierdoz, 87.Oscar Bernal, 96.Kenyi Adachi.
Coach: Pako Ayestaran
Referee: Baldomero Toledo (United States)
Man of the Match: Shahdon Winchester (W Connection)
CONCACAF Champions League result
(Tuesday September 22)
Santos Laguna 1 (Andres Renteria 2), W Connection 0 at Hasely Crawford Stadium;
Today’s Champions League fixture
(Wednesday September 23)
Central FC v LA Galaxy, 8 pm, Hasely Crawford Stadium.