DirecTV W Connection might have their eyes on the Pro League title again after adding former Central FC and Point Fortin Civic forward Marcus “Lobo” Joseph to their offensive line-up for the upcoming TT Pro League season.
Joseph’s move to his former employer’s bitter Couva rivals looks like one of the most eye-catching signings so far, although there appear to be significant changes at Central FC and North East Stars too.
If Connection now have one of the Pro League’s most lethal attackers, then Stars can boast of acquiring the safest hands as new owner/coach Terry Fenwick confirmed that Soca Warriors goalkeeper Jan-Michael Williams will follow him to the Arima Velodrome this season.
The Pro League is expected to kick off on Friday 26 May with a clash between league champions Central FC and Pro Bowl winners Defence Force.
Fenwick and Williams worked together when Central FC won their maiden title in the 2014-15 Pro League season. Williams went on to win two more Pro League crowns at Central before opting for a change of environment.
Fenwick, who took over at Stars last month, said the Trinidad and Tobago custodian will operate as a player/goalkeeping coach with Stars.
“Jan-Michael is still the best goalkeeper in the country at 32 and has another five to eight years left at least in the Pro League,” Fenwick told Wired868. “He is a good role model who is the type of person I want around the younger players… We want to build a competitive vibrant club around good individuals [who set] good standards for the younger players.”
Fenwick confirmed that former National Under-20 playmaker Duane Muckette and pacy winger Jomoul Francois—both under-23—will also represent Stars this season, as he freshens up the squad. But he said local football fans will have to wait until next week for more names.
“We have a very young, fast team who we will be very competitive with exciting players like Muckette and Jomoul Francois,” said Fenwick. “But I want to hold off on the other names until next week when we will do a launch at the Arima Velodrome.
“What I can say is that we have the players who will be the core of the next national team after this campaign. And we are looking to have the striking partnership of the national team for years to come in two of the players that we are bringing in.”
If Stars can boast of future talent, Connection might feel they have the tools to do the business right now.
Joseph, a former two-time World Youth Cup attacker and still just 25 years old, helped Central to the Pro League title in the 2015/16 season before falling out with the club’s management midway through the last season.
His thunderous left foot is arguably the most lethal weapon in the local game and Connection assistant coach Earl Jean thinks Joseph’s best days are ahead of him.
“I think Marcus’ talent speaks for itself,” Jean told Wired868. “He is a player that everybody is afraid of when he is on form. It is just a matter of managing him off the field.
“He is a quiet person and a nice boy and has done well so far in pre-season. He needs to get stronger and do more gym work and once he dedicates himself to the game, he will do well.
“Once you build a team around Marcus, you will get goals.”
Another new face for the “Savonetta Boys” is former St Ann’s Rangers midfielder Jameel Antoine while former National Under-20 Team winger Akeem “Froggy” Garcia is set to resume his career after almost two years out with a knee injury.
The trio will help compensate for the departures of winger Aikim Andrews and defenders Daneil Cyrus and Jelani Peters. Peters and Andrews have moved to Toronto FC II while Cyrus is still mulling over his next move.
Central operations director Kevin Harrison was cagey about his own squad and claimed that there are no confirmed departures from the “Couva Sharks” just yet. But he confirmed that Williams, former captain and midfielder Leston Paul and playmaker Sean De Silva have not taken part in the club’s pre-season preparations.
“We have still have registrations of all the players except [Philippines-based midfielder] Darren Mitchell,” said Harrison. “So until someone asks for a transfer, they are still registered with us and we expect that some players will come back [for the start of the Pro League season next month].”
However, veteran Warriors defender Seon Power, who is returning to the local game after a spell in the Far East, is one of several new faces in the Sharks squad over the pre-season along with National Under-20 defender Taryk Sampson and ex-2009 World Youth Cup forward Juma Clarence.
Former World Cup 2006 and Sunderland winger Carlos Edwards, who is on the current Warriors team, is expected to sign with Central tomorrow.
Central coach Dale Saunders still has bustling midfielder Nathaniel “Spanish” Garcia, wingers Jason Marcano and Johan Peltier and promising defender Keston George from his 2016-17 title winning team.
But Harrison suggested there will be more than a few foreign players in the Sharks squad this season. Teenaged Antigua and Barbuda left back Vashami Allen is expected soon along with talent from a range of countries included Haiti, Grenada, Britain and the United States.
“We are looking at about eight to nine foreigners,” said Harrison. “Some of them will be short-term loans who are only here for the Caribbean Club Championship. But we are looking at what we can get for our money and if you can get a foreign international for cheaper than a local, then it makes sense.”
Central’s success on the field has been tarnished somewhat by financial issues off the field. Former club captain Marvin Oliver won a case for unfair dismissal against the club, just over a year ago, while Fenwick is among well over a dozen former employees still owed bonuses.
Harrison said he was proud to see players like Yohance Marshall and Power win spots on the Trinidad and Tobago squad while at Central. But he suggested that the club suffered a lot from their policy of fielding an almost entirely local team.
“We won the Caribbean Cup with all Trinidad players [last year] but you get nothing for it,” said Harrison. “We didn’t even get a congratulations from the Ministry of Sport or people in sport. So what’s the point of banging our heads against the wall?
“We have resisted going foreign before but now we think we are arriving at the decision that Connection made five or six years ago. These [foreign] players are coming here for an opportunity to move on to greener pastures which they were not getting where they are.
“I don’t know what the standard of living is in Haiti but I’d expect there is a higher standard of living here…”
One local talent who will give Central a hand for the upcoming Caribbean Football Union (CFU) club competition is the Pro League’s reigning golden boot winner, Akeem Roach, who is on loan from Club Sando.
The CFU competition, which will be staged in Trinidad, runs from 12-21 May 2017.
Sando coach Angus Eve explained that he allowed Central to use his player so as to give him the best possible chance of breaking into the Warriors squad for their upcoming June qualifiers away to the United States and Costa Rica.
“I wanted to give Dennis [Lawrence] an opportunity to see him and give him some match practice,” said Eve. “I think the players who are based in Trinidad could be at a disadvantage because they are not getting game time now. So at least the national coach can see him [in the CFU competition].”
Eve expects that he might need a replacement for Roach as soon as June anyway. The attacker leaves for trial then and Eve, who still holds the official record for international appearances with Trinidad and Tobago, believes Roach is too good for the Pro League.
“I don’t think he should be in Trinidad,” said the Sando coach. “I think he has all the attributes as a centre forward. He is good in the air, he can use both feet, run into space, hold up the ball… The potential is immense.”
Eve confirmed that Sando have signed former Morvant Caledonia United captain and playmaker Akim Armstrong, who will act as their ‘10’ this season. And they are closed to snapping up talented Point Fortin Civic midfielder Akeem Redhead.
“Other than that, I don’t want to say anything about the rest of my squad just yet,” he said.
San Juan Jabloteh coach Keith Jeffrey was cagey about giving too much away as he is also finalising his roster. He confirmed that skilful winger Tyrone Charles, forward Jamal Gay and midfielder Keyon Edwards—all former senior Warriors players—have moved on along with central defender Aquil Selby.
Former Rangers captain and central defender Shakiyl Phillip has joined Jabloteh along with winger Julio Noel and Venezuelan flanker Jose Parra. Current Warriors international defender Carlyle Mitchell is also with the “San Juan Kings” although he is still undergoing rehab for a groin injury.
“By next week, we will have our full roster sorted out,” said Jeffrey.
The Trinidad and Tobago National Senior Team play away to Grenada on 29 April in an exhibition match at St George’s. And there might be a few more interesting local transfers after that outing with goalkeepers Marvin Phillip and Glenroy Samuel, midfielder Leston Paul and playmaker Keron Cummings all believed to be in the shop window.