Central FC and San Juan Jabloteh started their respective 2017 Caribbean Club Championship final group stage campaigns with comfortable wins over Antigua’s Grenades FC and Haiti’s Racing Club FC respectively at the Hasely Crawford Stadium in Port of Spain last night.
Central conceded first but roared back to win 3-1 in the Group A opener with the decisive goal coming off the boot of 38-year-old World Cup 2006 veteran Carlos Edwards. While in Group B, Jabloteh’s flying winger, Nathan Lewis, was decisive once more as the “San Juan Kings” recorded a 2-0 triumph over Racing.
Action continues tomorrow evening as Racing try to rebound against Jamaica’s Portmore United from 5.30pm at the same venue while Grenades face Dominican Republic outfit Cibao FC from 8pm in the second game of a double header.
Once again, though, the Caribbean tournament looked to be well in the grip of the Trinidad and Tobago Pro League clubs.
In the 20 years since the Caribbean Football Union (CFU) launched this competition, there have only been six occasions when the trophy has not ended up with a team from the two island republic. And there was little encouragement for the Pro League’s regional guests last night as the two local teams eased to successive triumphs, despite the fact that they are still in their pre-season.
Half of Central’s starting eleven only landed in Trinidad within the past two weeks. Operations director Kevin Harrison explained that his foreign legion are here as visitors and taking advantage of an immigration rule that allows them to work without permits for up to 30 days.
But then last night might have felt more like sightseeing than hard labour for coach Dale Saunders’ international recruits.
Grenades scored from their first attack in the sixth minute and showed the odd flash of menace in the first half. But they were dead on their feet by the hour mark and simply could not live with the tempo of their opponents, even though Central rarely got out of first gear.
Grenades got here by eliminating Montego Bay United in Jamaica, two months ago, and patrons sat up straight when they went ahead as Antigua and Barbuda international striker Tevaughn Harriette turned in a right side cross by captain Rakeem Henry from close range.
Harriette celebrated with finger on lips towards the covered stands. But he had gotten ahead of himself.
The “Couva Sharks” had done most of the running up until that point and were soon pulling the strings again. Saunders had just four starters from his squad that won a record third successive Pro League trophy earlier this year. The nationalities of his first team read: five Trinidad and Tobago players, two Haitians and one apiece from England, Jamaica and the United States.
Tellingly, it was the locals who delivered though.
Versatile frontman Jason Marcano equalised with a sweetly timed volley off a right side cross from full back Lloyd Bannister in the 38th minute.
And, after Grenades’ Jamaican right back Lamar Hodges made a mess of another Bannister cross in the 44th minute, Edwards put the hosts ahead with a cracking strike off a Sean De Silva tee-up. Not a bad debut for the veteran Soca Warriors flanker whose goals at international level have come at a rate of about one every four years.
Grenades showed little appetite for the contest after that and it was only excessive individualism by some of Central’s attacking players—Haitian forward Richard Pierre and substitute Johan Peltier spring to mind—that spared the Antiguan team from an embarrassing result.
Midfielder Nathaniel Garcia, who gave a largely muted performance in front of Soca Warriors coach Dennis Lawrence, did put some gloss on the score summary with a late cracking effort that found the top right hand corner despite a touch from Grenades goalkeeper Michaud Barrett.
Central’s best player, though, was creative midfielder Sean De Silva who, stationed on the left flank, moved the ball tidily and effectively throughout. Utility player Kevan George wore the armband—the club’s fifth captain in barely three years after Marvin Oliver, Jan-Michael Williams, Leston Paul and Darren Mitchell—but De Silva’s steady head and precise feet already look like one of the club’s best assets this season.
From the foreign contingent, United States midfield anchor Graham Smith impressed with a workmanlike performance while Pierre operated competently between the opposing midfield and defensive lines, albeit without much success.
Central would get better as they go along though, which is a worrying prospect for the rest of the field as the Sharks chase a third straight regional crown.
The Pro League’s other representative, Jabloteh, gave a typical showing. Strong, compact, not especially fluent and heavily reliant on the pacey Lewis. And, as is often the case, it was enough for three points.
Racing are one of a handful of Caribbean teams who have actually won the CONCACAF Club title; but that was 54 years ago. And, an awkward, inswinging corner kick by captain Ojulesse Valcourt apart, they offered few scares to Jabloteh custodian Javon Sample who won the Caribbean crown with Central last season.
Lewis missed two presentable first half opportunities while Jabloteh’s winger-cum-forward, Vurlon Mills, was denied by the legs of Racing custodian Maurisseau Bergeot in the 26th minute.
But a Jabloteh goal was inevitable and, for the umpteenth time, Lewis obliged in the 50th minute, as he collected from left back Kion Joseph and cut in off the flank before steering expertly into the far corner.
Jabloteh coach Kevin Jeffrey promised a faster, more dynamic style this season but it was only when nifty substitutes Julio Noel and Kadeem Corbin entered the fray in the second half that they looked like delivering it.
The final goal came off a Haitian boot, though, as Racing central defender Mitchelson Joseph inadvertently turned the ball into his own net after an effort by Jabloteh attacker Keithy Simpson—another Jamaican—pinged off Bergeot and ricocheted off the hapless defender to give the hosts a two goal cushion.
By the looks of things so far, the Pro League teams will do just fine without such acts of generosity.
(Pro League Teams)
Central FC (4-1-4-1): 1.Ryan Thompson (GK); 15.Lloyd Bannister, 28.Fresnel Simil, 12.Taryk Sampson, 6.Carlos Edwards; 24.Graham Smith (44.Callum Harris 57); 7.Jason Marcano (18.Tyrik John 87), 19.Nathaniel Garcia, 5.Keston George (captain), 8.Sean De Silva; 42.Richard Pierre (11.Johan Peltier 62).
Unused substitutes: 30.Akel Clarke (GK), 10.Keron Cummings, 40.Clinton Olagunju, 46.Kaydion Gabriel.
Coach: Dale Saunders
San Juan Jabloteh (4-2-3-1): 1.Javon Sample (GK); 18.Jevon Morris (5.Shakiyl Phillip 84), 24.Adrian Reid, 6.Akeem Benjamin, 12.Kion Joseph; 7.Elijah Manners, 11.Damian Williams (captain); 27.Nathan Lewis, 9.Keithy Simpson, 16.Jairo Lombardo (10.Kadeem Corbin 70); 17.Vurlon Mills (13.Julio Noel 75).
Unused substitutes: 30.Shemel Louison (GK), 3.Josiah Trimmingham, 8.Micah Lansiquot, 14.Hayden Tinto.
Coach: Keith Jeffrey
2017 Caribbean Club Championship results
(Sunday 14 May)
San Juan Jabloteh 2 (Nathan Lewis 50, Mitchelson Joseph OG 73), Racing FC 0, Group B, Hasely Crawford Stadium;
Central FC 3 (Jason Marcano 38, Carlos Edwards 44, Nathaniel Garcia 85), Grenades FC 1 (Tevaughn Harriette 6), Group A, Hasely Crawford Stadium;
(Tuesday 16 May)
Portmore United (Jamaica) vs Racing FC (Haiti), Group B, 5:30pm, Hasely Crawford Stadium;
Cibao FC (Dominican Rep) vs Grenades FC (Antigua), Group A, 8pm, Hasely Crawford Stadium.
(Thursday 18 May)
San Juan Jabloteh vs Portmore United FC (Jamaica), Group B, 5:30pm, Hasely Crawford Stadium;
Central FC vs Cibao FC (Dominican Republic), Group A, 8pm, Hasely Crawford Stadium;
(Sunday 21 May)
Group A runner-up vs Group B runner-up, CFU third place play off, 5pm, Hasely Crawford Stadium;
Group A winner v Group B winner, CFU finals, 8pm, Hasely Crawford Stadium.