Caribbean club champions Central FC battled to an entertaining 2-2 draw with Major League Soccer (MLS) outfit, Sporting Kansas City, in 2016/17 Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League action at the Ato Boldon Stadium in Couva last night.
And although Soca Warriors skipper Kenwyne Jones scored a clinical debut goal in the second half, the “Couva Sharks” had to thank their stand-in custodian Javon Sample for ensuring that they came away with a point last night.
“We were good on the flanks and we had some good services into the box,” said Sporting Kansas City coach Peter Vermes, at the post-game conference. “I have to credit their goalkeeper because he made some very, very good saves.”
Even the usually buoyant “Abasali brothers” would not have been able to make a case for Central’s prospects of progressing from the group stage with zero points from a possible six after two home games.
However, 21 year-old Sample, who was deputizing for the injured Jan-Michael Williams, pulled off a bevy of saves in the final ten minutes of the game to give Central a fighting chance in Group C with two road games still to come.
Perhaps most spectacularly, Sample stopped Diego Kostner from point-blank range in the 86th minute when it looked harder for the striker to miss the target.
Sporting KC, who fielded just one starter—right back Saad Abdul-Salaam—from their 2-2 draw away to MLS Western Conference leaders FC Dallas on Saturday, threw the kitchen sink and more at Central in the latter stages of the game. But Sample was solid like a rock between the uprights.
“The inspiration and pushing from my coaches, including goalkeeper coach James Baird, put the confidence in me to go out and perform in a big game like this,” said Sample.
The start of the contest was not as problematic for Sample and his back line, and the home team should have taken the lead inside the first two minutes. However, the newly acquired Jones sent a tame left-footed shot at opposing goalkeeper Jon Kempin after strike partner Marcus Joseph telepathically flicked on a long ball by centre back Andre Ettienne.
Jones, who is currently on loan from MLS expansion franchise Atlanta United, was playing his first competitive fixture since last turning out for Al Jazira in May. And although he may lacked some match sharpness, the Sporting KC defence was made aware of his presence from the jump.
“Kenwyne Jones came in and really gave us much punch up front so credit must go to him as well (…) we had Kenwyne on the park so I think we were good for two goals,” said Central coach Dale Saunders.
Central’s strategy was uncomplicated and direct, as they sought out Jones from set pieces and open play. On the other hand, Sporting KC took a liking to the flanks, particularly the left, as they built patiently before playing through passes beyond the Central defence.
“A lot of teams tend to play centrally, not just here but in our league,” Vermes said. “It seems that when you open the game up on teams it’s a lot of ground to cover.”
Ettienne was working especially hard as he tried to provide cover for right-back Elton John, who often had passes played inside him. The aggressive defender made a timely interception in the ninth minute as he thwarted a slick attack down the left by Seth Sinovic and Connor Hallisey.
Sporting KC’s left-sided pair continued to combine sweetly and, in the 28th minute, Hallisey carved through the Central midfield before finding skipper Roger Espinoza, who saw his nicely shaped left-footer well saved by a diving Sample.
Sporting’s aggressive pressing did push Central back somewhat in the first half, but the Sharks still managed a few sniffs on the counter attack. Jones and Joseph don’t quite motor around like Justin Gatlin and Usain Bolt but their synchronised movement caused Kevin Ellis and Amer Dedic a few problems in central defence.
Joseph shot just wide after a lovely feed from Jones in the 39th minute, while the duo were left cursing their luck on the stroke of half time as the speedy Darren Mitchell opted for a shot instead of a pass in a favourable three-on-two situation on the edge of the area.
Jones also had a headed item disallowed in the 41st minute for a foul on Kempin.
But Central’s strike duo were back in business shortly after the restart as they scored within two minutes of each other to give Central a 2-1 lead, after Sinovic opened the scoring for Sporting KC six minutes after the interval.
Jones’ 56th minute item was particularly pleasing on the eye as Joseph caught the opposing defenders napping with a well-disguised reverse ball into the big man’s path. And the former Sunderland striker did the rest with a smart finish at the near post.
But just as Central seemed to be seizing the initiative in the encounter, they opened the door for Sporting KC to get right back in. Substitute Keron “Ball Pest” Cummings tried to be cheeky by passing his way out of the back following an opposing set piece and the Sporting players duly obliged by taking away possession.
A few short passes later, Brad Davis sent Ellis through on goal to round Sample and score in the 70th minute to make it 2-2.
“As one person now said, we are still in preseason so we really try to get the team to full fitness,” said Saunders. “You will get little lapses in concentration and little lapses in discipline. And that’s what went on tonight. We conceded two soft goals but all in all we didn’t do badly…
“I thought we were supposed to win the game in the first half. The saying always goes goals win matches, if you muff your chances they will come back to haunt you.”
Saunders and the 2,000-plus home crowd were very nearly haunted in the final stages of the game, as a Sporting barrage ensued…
It was Kostner, it was Davis, it was substitute Nuno Coelho; they all had a go. Central defender Keion Goodridge came off in the 81st minute with a suspected rib injury and his absence did not help as Sporting KC just cued up in and around the penalty box.
“I thought the game was interesting (…) but we had a million chances,” Vermes said. “I think we are a bit unlucky to be coming out here with just a point. At the end leaving here with a point is not a bad thing. They still have to travel to us, and we will have to take care of Vancouver at some point.”
Sporting KC will now face group leaders Vancouver Whitecaps twice in the space of seven as they will host the “Caps” on Saturday in MLS action before traveling to Vancouver for a pivotal Champions League match next Tuesday.
Both MLS clubs will be gunning for the Group C lead when they clash on Tuesday. And, luckily for Central, a flying Javon Sample has kept them in with a chance; even though it’s an outside one.
Central FC (4-2-2-2): 1.Javon Sample (GK); 12.Elton John, 4.Andre Ettienne, 3.Keion Goodridge (15.Kaydion Gabriel 81), 24.Kevon Villaroel; 19.Nathaniel Garcia, 6.Leston Paul (captain); 8.Sean De Silva (7.Jason Marcano 76), 11.Darren Mitchell (10.Keron Cummings 53); 9.Kenwyne Jones, 99.Marcus Joseph.
Unused Substitutes: 30.Akel Clarke (GK), 14.Nicholas Dillon, 17.Johan Peltier, 26.Mickaeel Jem Gordon.
Coach: Dale Saunders
Sporting Kansas City (4-2-3-1): 1.Jon Kempin (GK); 17.Saad Abdul-Salaam, 55.Amer Didic, 4.Kevin Ellis, 15.Seth Sinovic (24.Ever Alvarado 66); 93.Soni Mustivar, 27.Roger Espinoza (captain); 11.Brad Davis, 6.Paulo Nagamura (12.Nuno Coelho 67), 22.Connor Hallisey (39.Cameron Porter 81); 9.Diego Kostner.
Unused Substitutes: 25.Alec Kann (GK), 16.Lawrence Olum, 23.Emmanuel Appiah, 77.Tyler Pasher.
Coach: Peter Vermes
Referee: Henry Bejarano (Costa Rica)
Man of the Match: Javon Sample (Central FC)
CONCACAF Champions League Result
(16 August 2016)
Central FC 2 (Marcus Joseph 54, Kenwyne Jones 56), Sporting Kansas City 2 (Seth Sinovic 51, Kevin Ellis 70), Ato Boldon Stadium.