Marvin Gordon copped his first piece of silverware as Defence Force head coach last night, as his Army/Coast Guard battalion overcame a youthful but depleted DirecTV W Connection team to lift the Digicel Pro Bowl trophy at the Ato Boldon Stadium in Couva.
The Pro Bowl finale brought the curtains down on the local 2015/16 football season and the “Teteron Boys” were made to sweat for their 2-1 victory. Connection were without 12 first team players due to international duty, including captain Hughtun Hector, Jomal Williams, Shahdon Winchester, Daneil Cyrus, Triston Hodge and Alvin Jones who were with the “Soca Warriors” in South America.
Williams and Winchester dismantled the Army defence in last December’s Toyota Classic final. But Gordon and company would have been happy that the tricky pair were strutting their stuff against Uruguay in Montevideo instead last night.
“Even though they had players out, I knew it would have been a difficult task because W’s program is a good program,” Gordon told Wired868. “The message was by any means necessary we have to get the job done tonight.”
Connection had three teenagers in their starting line-up last night and seven on their substitutes’ bench. And they would have known a serious battle was in store after just 10 seconds, as stand-in skipper Kurt Frederick was left woozy after a scary clash of heads with Army utility player Jelani Felix.
Still, the “Savonetta Boys” responded to the challenge and created a bevy of chances inside the first 20 minutes.
Connection playmaker Andre Toussaint, who was a marked man on the night, was played in by teenager Jordon Riley in the 12th minute but saw his goal bound stab cleared off the line by Felix.
And St Lucia striker Malik St Prix really ought to have put Connection ahead in the 19th minute but sent his header overbar from close range, after a cross from his countryman, Frederick.
It was a miss that Connection quickly regretted, as Defence Force carved out an opener some eight minutes later after a smooth build-up down the left flank. Full back Akile Edwards picked out his skipper, Jerwyn Balthazar, who easily tapped the cross past opposing goalkeeper Terrence Lewis.
And, before their opponents could regain their composure, the Army delivered what turned out to be the knockout punch on the half hour mark.
This time it came via route one, as former Connection employee Hashim Arcia finished neatly into the far corner after a knock down off a goal kick by Defence Force custodian Sheldon Clarke.
It was the second time in three weeks that Arcia, once Connection’s go-to man, had put a dagger into the heart of the Savonetta Boys.
Clarke then ensured that his team maintained their two-goal lead before the halftime interval with a brave close range stop from Kevon Goddard in the 40th minute.
The Defence Force shot-stopper continued his good form after the break, as he somehow thwarted Toussaint from less than six yards out. Although the veteran Connection playmaker did not seem to realise that he had the freedom of the penalty box when he opted for a tame header instead of a shot at goal.
As the second half wore on, it was clear that Connection’s hopes of a comeback lay with either Toussaint or the lively Andrews. And when Connection subbed in defender Stephon Smith in the 66th minute, Andrews was moved from his wingback position to a more attacking role.
Connection coach Stuart Charles-Fevrier sent on defender Stephon Smith and pushed Andrews from right back to a more attacking role. And the former Trinidad and Tobago National Under-20 player responded with an absolute rocket into the top corner from 35 yards, off a short free kick in the 77th minute.
Jones would have been proud of the effort.
Connection upped their urgency in the dying moments and even introduced Shiva Boys Hindu College student Mark Ramdeen, who turns 16 on Wednesday, to try and reel in the Army.
Andrews had another chance from a free kick too but sent his long ranged missile just wide in the 86th minute, as Defence Force held on for the title that will have to compensate for missing out on a 2017/18 CONCACAF Champions League qualifying spot.
“As I said before the game, winning a major trophy in your first (full) season as head coach is brilliant,” said Gordon. “I’m humbled by the achievement. I want to give a lot of credit to the players and the backroom staff who worked with me.
“It was a sour pill (to miss out on CONCACAF Champions League) because I think at the end it wasn’t up to us. We wanted to determine things on our own terms but in the end we had to depend on another team to help us.
“I think during the league we had some ups and downs and that would have put us in the position where we were fighting for second.”
Gordon, who took over from long-standing Defence Force coach Ross Russell during the 2014/15 season, suggested that the Pro League schedule did not help.
“The breaks, along with our attitude, had a lot to do with our inconsistency,” Gordon stated. “I think the league has too many breaks for international football, plus the Carnival and Christmas and all those things. And it would have affected a lot of teams apart from (just) us.
“It would have hampered some and it would have helped some.”
Although they played the role of bridesmaid in the Toyota Classic and narrowly missed out on the Champions League, Gordon and company can revel in winning the final trophy of the season.
W Connection (4-3-3): 1.Terrence Lewis (GK); 17.Aikim Andrews, 4.Maurice Ford, 27.Jelani Peters, 2.Kurt Frederick (captain); 23.Kevon Goddard, 26.Paolo De La Guardia, 48.Zaine Pierre (42.Stephon Smith 66); 65.Jordon Riley (30.Mark Ramdeen 73), 14.Andre Toussaint, 43.Malik St Prix.
Unused Substitutes: 21.Ishmael Salaam (GK), 36.Matthew Joseph, 39.Jeron Pantor, 44.Judah St Louis, 45.Jarod Gordon.
Coach: Stuart Charles-Fevrier
Defence Force (4-1-4-1): 25.Sheldon Clarke (GK); 3.Jamali Garcia, 2.Glen Franklin, 52.Stephan Campbell, 21.Akile Edwards; 20.Levi Serries (4.Dave Long 81); 7.Jelani Felix, 10.Hashim Arcia (11.Akeem Roach 46), 99.Jerwyn Balthazar (captain), 17.Ross Russell Jr; 9.Devorn Jorsling (26.Richard Roy 73).
Unused Substitutes: 80.Aaron Enil (GK), 13.Marvin Jones, 16.Kellon Serette, 30.Kishun Seecharan.
Coach: Marvin Gordon
Referee: Keon Yorke
MVP: Sheldon Clarke (Defence Force)
Digicel Pro Bowl Final
(Friday May 27)
W Connection 1 (Aikim Andrews 77), Defence Force 2 (Jerwyn Balthazar 27, Hashim Arcia 30), Ato Boldon Stadium.