DirecTV W Connection and Defence Force will contest the 2016 Digicel Pro Bowl final on Friday May 27 at the Ato Boldon Stadium in Couva, after both teams eked through a forgettable 180 minutes of football last night at the Hasely Crawford Stadium in Port of Spain.
Connection needed kicks from the penalty mark to eclipse Japs North East Stars, as they emerged 4-2 victors from the spot after neither team managed a goal during regulation time.
While, in the second match of the Port of Spain double header, an own goal from Play Whe San Juan Jabloteh defender Aquil Selby settled the affair, 1-0, in Defence Force’s favour.
Semifinals are normally cagey, uninspiring affairs—whether they involve Manchester City or San Juan Jabloteh. But with the Pro League title already sewn up by Central FC and the Trinidad and Tobago National Senior Team selected yesterday for exhibition matches against Peru, Uruguay and China, there is an anti-climactic whiff about the local top flight.
The “Soca Warriors” enter a live-in camp tomorrow in Couva, although all 14 Pro League players—who comprise more than half of coach Stephen Hart’s team—still have domestic fixtures outstanding.
Worse, Jabloteh and Defence Force are still fighting for a sole CONCACAF Champions League qualifying match but each club will lose a key player—Nathan Lewis (Jabloteh) and Curtis Gonzales (Defence Force)—for their decisive closing fixture on May 21, as the Warriors fly to Lima on May 20.
And, when Connection and the Army/Coast Guard combination contest the TT$100,000 Pro Bowl final on May 27, their fixture will clash with the Warriors’ high profile friendly against Uruguay, which should be beamed live to local fans.
Five Connection players—club captain Hughtun Hector, Daneil Cyrus, Jomal Williams, Shahdon Winchester and Triston Hodge—will be in Montevideo rather than Couva.
The scheduling conflicts would have jarred, even if the Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) president David John-Williams wasn’t a club owner with Pro League CEO Dexter Skeene as a TTFA board member.
Still no word either from the almost permanently silent TTFA as to whether, for only the second time in the last 36 years, there will be no TTFA FA Trophy competition this year.
Last night, there wasn’t quite enough on the field of play to distract from the uncertainties off it.
Stars veteran Kerry Baptiste clipped the bar with a header, midway through the first half. But, that apart, both teams saved the drama for the second half.
And 24 year old Connection custodian and St Kitts and Nevis international, Julani Archibald, gave the “Savonetta Boys” the advantage with a brilliant save low to his left to deny Stars midfielder Kerry Daniel.
Stars midfielder Chike Sullivan drilled his team’s next penalty off the base of the post as all four Connection kickers converted to book their place in the final.
The second contest similarly flickered without ever coming to life.
Jabloteh goalkeeper and Grenada international Shemel Louison made a fine save to his right to keep out a Devorn Jorsling free kick for Defence Force in the 14th minute. And Fabian Reid just missed the top left hand corner with an overhead kick in the 16th minute, after a Tyrone Charles cross.
Otherwise, both teams struggled to get behind their opponents.
Defence Force midfielder Hashim Arcia eventually helped provide the breakthrough, although he still needed help from Selby, who inadvertently deflected the former player’s cross past the Jabloteh goalkeeper.
Jabloteh coach Keith Jeffrey, as usual, was late with his substitutions but any of his three changes might have altered the course of the match.
Utility player Kennedy Hinkson’s goal-bound stab from inside the six yard box took a telling deflection off a Defence Force player and dribbled out for a corner kick in the 77th minute.
Josiah Trimmingham came even closer for the “San Juan Kings”, as he ran on to a long ball from central defender Adrian Reid and poked around opposing custodian Sheldon Clarke, only for Akile Edwards to clear off the goal line.
And, in stoppage time, Jabloteh attacker Brent Sam almost conjured up an equaliser with an angled drive but was kept out at the near post by an alert Clarke.
Jabloteh will try to avenge their defeat by pipping Defence Force to second spot and a place in the 2017/18 CONCACAF Champions League qualifying series. But, due to scheduling conflict, they won’t have Lewis to help.
Defence Force (4-1-4-1): 25.Sheldon Clarke (GK); 13.Marvin Jones, 8.Curtis Gonzales, 2.Glen Franklin, 21.Akile Edwards; 20.Levi Serries; 12.Jemel Sebro, 10.Hashim Arcia (52.Stephan Campbell 85), 11.Akeem Roach (99.Jerwyn Balthazar 75), 17.Ross Russell Jr; 9.Devorn Jorsling (captain) (26.Richard Roy 81).
Unused substitutes: 80.Aaron Enil (GK), 3.Jamali Garcia, 7.Jelani Felix, 30.Kishun Seecharan.
Coach: Marvin Gordon
San Juan Jabloteh (4-2-3-1): 30.Shemel Louison (GK); 18.Jevon Morris, 21.Aquil Selby (17.Josiah Trimmingham 84), 24.Adrian Reid, 6.Akeem Benjamin; 11.Damian Williams (captain), 8.Keyon Edwards (23.Kennedy Hinkson 76); 13.Fabian Reid, 10.Tyrone Charles, 27.Nathan Lewis; 7.Jamal Gay (9.Brent Sam 89).
Unused substitutes: 35.Andrew Durant (GK), 14.Sean Bonval, 4.Garth Thomas, 16.Kaashif Thomas.
Coach: Keith Jeffrey
Referee: Gyasi McDonald
Man of the Match: Curtis Gonzales (Defence Force)
Pro Bowl semifinal results
(Friday May 13)
W Connection 0, North East Stars 0 at Hasely Crawford Stadium,
*—Connection won 4-2 on kicks from the penalty mark;
Defence Force 1 (Aquil Selby OG 71), San Juan Jabloteh 0 at Hasely Crawford Stadium;
Pro Bowl Final
(Friday May 27)
W Connection vs Defence Force, TBA, Ato Boldon Stadium;
Remaining Pro League fixtures
(Tuesday May 17)
San Juan Jabloteh vs Central FC, 7 pm, Hasely Crawford Stadium;
W Connection vs St Ann’s Rangers, 7 pm, Ato Boldon Stadium;
(Friday May 20)
Central FC vs St Ann’s Rangers, 6 pm, Ato Boldon Stadium;
Club Sando vs W Connection, 8 pm, Ato Boldon Stadium;
(Saturday May 21)
Defence Force vs Morvant Caledonia United, 4 pm, Larry Gomes Stadium;
San Juan Jabloteh vs North East Stars, 4 pm, Mannie Ramjohn Stadium;
Point Fortin Civic vs Police FC, 6 pm, Mahaica Oval.