Central FC failed to make to use of home advantage in their 2016/17 Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League opener last night as they were edged 1-nil by Major League Soccer (MLS) outfit Vancouver Whitecaps at the Ato Boldon Stadium in Couva.
The “Couva Sharks”, who are still in preseason, showed some positive signs—particularly in the first half—but they lacked that potent bite last night and succumbed to a 34th minute item by the lively Cristian Techera.
The diminutive Techera was busy down the left flank last night, and he got his just reward after teammate Erik Hurtado fed him on a platter after beating the pair of Kaydion Gabriel and Andre Ettienne inside the penalty area.
A few days ago, local football fans would have been licking their lips at the possibility of seeing Keron “Ball Pest” Cummings and Soca Warriors skipper Kenwyne Jones turn up for Central. But a delay in Jones’ International Transfer Clearance (ITC) prevented him from donning the Sharks’ outfit in Couva.
However, Cummings, who had not seen competitive action since being shot in his leg last year, gave the 2,000-plus crowd a solid performance in his stint as a second half sub. But, even with Cummings, Sean De Silva and skipper Leston Paul pulling the strings in midfield, Central still were not able to unlock the Whitecaps defence.
“I think tonight we weren’t bad at all,” said Central coach Dale Saunders, at the post-game conference. “I think the guys gave their all. I think we tried to execute the stuff we did in training and I’m pleased with the performance.
“I’m pleased with the efforts of the guys. We tried to put down the ball and play and we made one mistake and conceded.”
Things started brightly enough for Central, as winger Darren Mitchell and playmaker De Silva linked up nicely in the opening minutes. And Saunders and his coaching staff may have been thinking that things were looking up when De Silva forced Whitecaps goalie Spencer Richey into a sharp save in the 10th minute.
But the visitors, who fielded an entirely different starting eleven from their MLS clash with FC Dallas on Sunday—and travelled without regulars like Blas Perez, Christian Bolaños and top goal scorer and captain Pedro Morales—were soon into the thick of the action.
The “Caps” troubled the hosts from set pieces and diagonal crosses in the first half, and stand-in skipper Pa-Modou Kah sent a powerful header over bar after meeting a Techera corner in the 13th minute. The silky Uruguayan was then denied at point-blank range by goalkeeper Javon Sample two minutes later after Ettienne was caught out by a lofted ball from the right flank.
The lack of match sharpness seemed to hinder the hosts as they struggled to curtail the acceleration of Techera and wing-back Jordan Smith down the flanks. And Sample had his left-back Kevon Villaroel and his lucky stars to thank as Fraser Aird looked certain to give the Caps the lead in the 33rd minute but for Villaroel’s last gap headed clearance.
There was nothing Villaroel or Sample could do mere seconds later as Techera took a short breather from the wing to squirt a shot into the net from the middle of the penalty area, after some determined running by Hurtado down the left flank.
Skipper Leston Paul then conjured up Central’s best chance of the half in first half stoppage time as he unleashed a 26-yard drive which the lanky Richey just managed to fend away, while the speedy Mitchell saw his follow-up effort brilliantly stopped by a retreating David Edgar.
“We tried to put a lot of things into practice tonight and unfortunately we weren’t able to execute in front of goal,” said Central and Trinidad and Tobago international midfielder, De Silva. “And we made one mistake, and at this level it only takes one mistake and that cost us tonight.”
Saunders altered his game plan early in the second period, as Cummings replaced Nicholas Dillon in the 51st minute. The skilful midfielder got into the heart of the action straight away as he linked up the play nicely in Central’s midfield. But soon enough, Vancouver midfielder Ben McKendry was monitoring his every step.
“I think over the past few weeks Keron Cummings has been working really hard to get back to full fitness,” said Saunders. “He got about 40 minutes tonight and I thought he looked fairly well. I think you can expect a little more from him in the future.”
Although they started the second half smartly, Central’s energy and attacking ideas seemed to diminish after the 65-minute mark, as they failed to regularly trouble the Vancouver defence while the wily Jason Marcano did not look himself in his lone foray up top.
And Vancouver coach Carl Robinson found it fitting to peg Central back by inserting the brisk and willing 15 year-old attacker Alphonso Davies. The Liberian born Davies signed an MLS contract with the Caps last month and became the second youngest player—behind former youth prodigy Freddy Adu—to turn out in the MLS when he debuted against Orlando City on July 16.
“Of course he’s got a long way to go, we know that,” said Vancouver coach Robinson. “He’s a terrific talent. As everyone who watches football knows, talents come and go. And they have to be handled properly.
“My job is to make sure that we handle him, play him at the right time and ensure that we keep the press circus away from him and allow him to enjoy his football because he’s 15 years of age.”
The young Davies showed that he was definitely enjoying himself in Couva last night as he showed some neat skill—he rolled the ball through Cummings’ legs at one point to ooohs from spectators—and almost helped himself to a goal in the dying stages. But Sample denied the 15 year-old a fairytale ending, as he pulled off a stunning save to thwart a point-blank Davies header in the 89th minute.
The damage had already been done, though.
“We played in Sunday against Dallas in 41 degrees heat, so most of the guys who played in that game didn’t play here today,” said Robinson. “(…) I am pleased [with the win]. Yeah. It’s not an easy place to come and play at.
“The pitch is sticky. They are a very good team, we know that. And there were some meaty, tasty challenges coming in.”
While Central may have won the physical side of the contest, according to Robinson, the Caps won the more meaningful football contest. Central’s bitter cross town rival, DIRECTV W Connection, will hope for better fortunes when they entertain Pumas UNAM of Mexico at the same Couva venue from 8pm today.
Tickets are priced at $80, while children under 12 will pay $40.
Central FC (4-2-3-1): 1.Javon Sample (GK); 15.Kaydion Gabriel, 4.Andre Ettienne, 3.Keion Goodridge, 24.Kevon Villaroel; 19.Nathaniel Garcia, 6.Leston Paul (captain); 14.Nicholas Dillon (10.Keron Cummings 51), 8.Sean De Silva (16.Kadeem Corbin 87), 11.Darren Mitchell (99.Marcus Joseph 73); 7.Jason Marcano.
Unused Substitutes: 30.Akel Clarke (GK), 12.Elton John, 18.Jomoul Francois, 26.Mickaeel Jem Gordon.
Coach: Dale Saunders
Vancouver Whitecaps (4-2-3-1): 39.Spencer Richie (GK); 6.Jordan Smith, 18.David Edgar, 44.Pa-Modou Kah (captain), 46.Brett Levis; 30.Ben McKendry, 31.Russell Teibert; 8.Fraser Aird, 11.Nicolas Mezquida (38.Kianz Froese 90), 13.Cristian Techera (67.Alphonso Davies 66); Erik Hurtado (47.Kyle Greig 74).
Unused Substitutes: 24.Marco Carducci (GK), 14.Cole Seiler, 32.Marco Bustos, 51.Same de Wit.
Coach: Carl Robinson
Referee: Sherwin Moore (Guyana)
CONCACAF Champions League
(Tuesday 2 August)
Central FC 0, Vancouver Whitecaps 1 (Cristian Techera 34) at Ato Boldon Stadium.