Trinidad and Tobago Pro League champions, Central FC, left themselves with a mountain to climb to advance past the CONCACAF League Round of 16 stage, after a 2-1 loss to Árabe Unido last night at the Hasely Crawford Stadium in Port-of-Spain.
Attacker Johan Peltier scored first after 20 minutes but the hosts could not hold off the Panamanian outfit who equalised before the interval through Carlos Small while second-half substitute Enrico Small settled the affair with a majestic swing of his left boot in the 62nd minute.
The “Couva Sharks” must defeat Árabe at the Rommel Fernandez Stadium in Panama City next Thursday by better than yesterday’s 2-1 scoreline or face early elimination from the second tier CONCACAF competition.
In truth, it was remarkable that Central were not embarrassed last night as the Sharks continue to haemorrhage talent—although it could still happen in Panama next week.
Former World Cup 2006 veteran Carlos Edwards looks to be the latest departure although the story of his absence last night differed according to whom you spoke to.
“Carlos is away because he had some problems with his mom,” said Central assistant coach and ex-World Cup 2006 star Stern John, in the post-game news conference. “His mom wasn’t well so we gave him some time out to look after his mom.”
Edwards, who only joined Central in May, confirmed that his mother, Elizabeth Edwards, was unwell recently—although she has recovered. But he said that was not why he missed last night’s CONCACAF contest. He will, he revealed, soon return to Britain, where he once represented Sunderland in the England Premier League.
“They are too disrespectful in terms of how they treat and pay their players,” Edwards told Wired868. “It is as if you have to beg for your own money. […] I plan to take my family back to England.
“I cannot handle the dishonesty and lack of communication; it is too much.”
Edwards’ pending exit adds to an eye-watering list of departures over the past two years, which includes Willis Plaza, Marcus Joseph, Andre Ettienne, Kevon Villaroel, Elton John and Rundell Winchester plus four captains in Marvin Oliver, Jan-Michael Williams, Leston Paul and Darrell Mitchell.
Last night, Central’s team included just seven players who played any notable role in their record third straight Pro League title win. Otherwise, there was one Trinidad and Tobago National Under-20 Team addition, Taryk Sampson, another teenager in ex-St Anthony’s College midfielder Jules Lee, a string of former TT Super League talent and a lanky striker, Kerville Jeremiah, whose CV was a mystery to even the assistant coach.
Central’s recruitment policy might be best reflected between the uprights. Last season, the Sharks had two-time CONCACAF Goalkeeper of the Year nominee Williams in goal. Against Árabe, Central started Stephon Seepersad who, last term, was back-up custodian for a Morvant Caledonia United team which finished second from bottom in the 10-team table.
And yet, remarkably, Central gave Árabe a game. Twenty minutes into the contest, Central managing director Brent Sancho—another World Cup 2006 veteran—and operations manager Kevin Harrison might have been smiling from ear to ear as Peltier put the hosts ahead with a precise glancing header off a Kaydion Gabriel cross.
“One of our plans was to come out and be hard to beat,” said John. “We knew the opponents like to play through their midfield and our main objective was to stop them from playing. We did that for 25 or 30 minutes and we had a goal.”
Gradually—and not altogether unexpectedly—Árabe began to assert themselves on the soggy Hasely Crawford Stadium surface. And the equaliser came in the 39th minute as forward Carlos Small converted from close range off a cross from overlapping left-back Daniel Ortíz.
Ironically, the error came from a mistimed jump by the Central left-back who filled in for Edwards. And it was John’s son, Tyrik John, who is a forward by inclination but was asked to play in defence last night for the biggest game of his fledgling career so far.
“[It was] a defensive blunder which, at this level, […] you will have to pay for,” said John, “and we paid for it.”
The Panamanian outfit started the second half brightly and it took a goal-line clearance to keep out Small (C) in the 46th minute, after a clever threaded pass by silver-haired playmaker Nelson Barahona.
Two minutes later, Seepersad took the opportunity to announce his own capabilities with a fine block off a penalty kick from Árabe’s other maestro, José Gonzáles.
Árabe looked as though they could score at any minute. But, to be fair, so did Central with Peltier generally at the heart of the action.
In the 54th minute, Central midfielder Nathaniel “Spanish” Garcia brought the small crowd to the edge of their seats as he dribbled past three opponents before finding attacker Jason Marcano. His threaded pass towards Peltier led to a panicked, reflex block by opposing custodian Miguel Lloyd and a hooked clearance from a retreating Árabe defender.
In the 59th minute, after a probing run by flanker Jem Gordon, Marcano caused another scare with a shot on the turn from 20 yards that sailed over the bar.
The game was hanging in the balance and Árabe, who travelled to Trinidad with six international players in their ranks, were in danger of defeat to a team almost thrown together on the hoof—surely a testament to the abilities of Central’s technical staff, which is led by head coach Dale Saunders.
So, just to be sure, Árabe head coach Sergio Guzmán sent on striker Enrico Small, who has two international caps for Panama and was one of three regular starters who had been rested in Trinidad.
Within 60 seconds of the change, Enrico ran on to a diagonal pass in the opposing area and rifled the Panamanians ahead with a superb left-footed effort that flew into the top left-hand corner and crashed in off the underside of the bar.
Saunders’ own bench comprised less illustrious talent—unknown even at Pro League level—but he gambled by sending on former QPCC midfielder Ross Dowden and the lanky Jeremiah.
“When I came to Central FC, we had a lot of seasoned, professional players and most have moved on,” said John. “[Now] we have a bunch of young players who we have to coach [so] the job is that much more difficult. But the staff is relishing the challenge.”
Dowden got 13 minutes against the 2016 Panamanian club champions while Jeremiah received five. Neither looked especially out of place during their brief cameos. But the difference between success and failure can be slim.
In the 80th minute, Garcia unleashed a 30-yard rocket of a free kick which took a wicked deflection. The surprised Lloyd could only fend the ball away and it fell fortuitously at the feet of Dowden,standing just 10 yards from goal.
The former Queen’s Royal College schoolboy took aim—and fired wide at the far post.
He buried his head in his shirt while his teammates beat the ground in frustration.
“Overall, the lads worked really hard and I think we had the better chances […] but we didn’t take them,” said John. “At this level, it is very important that you take your chances.”
On Tuesday evening, the Pro League’s other CONCACAF representative, San Juan Jabloteh, were whipped 6-2 in their Round of 16 affair against Costa Rica’s Santos de Guápiles FC. And, by this time next week, Trinidad and Tobago’s participation in the competition could be over.
The manner of the defeats and, in particular, the complaints from Edwards—recipient in 2006 of a Chaconia Medal (gold), the country’s second highest award—hint at the depth of the issues affecting the Pro League at present,, both on and off the field.
Central FC (4-4-2): 1.Stephon Seepersad (GK); 15.Kaydion Gabriel (44.Kerville Jeremiah 85), 5.Keston George, 12.Taryk Sampson, 18.Tyrik John; 24.Jules Lee (29.Ross Dowden 78), 19.Nathaniel Garcia, 8.Sean De Silva (captain), 26.Mickael Jem Gordon; 7.Jason Marcano, 10.Johan Peltier.
Unused substitutes: 30.Prince Walter (GK), 11.Jabari Carasquero, 13.Rhondel Gibson, 17.Jesse Joseph, 40.Sean Bateau.
Coach: Dale Saunders
Árabe Unido (4-2-2-2): 1.Miguel Lloyd (GK); 8.Angel Patrick, 12.Roberto Chen, 15.Cristian Valencia, 29.Daniel Ortíz; 5.Leslie Heraldez, 25.Abdiel Macea (captain); 10.José Gonzáles (30.Josimar Gómez 75), 90.Nelson Barahona; 58.Carlos Small (13.Gabriel Pino 83), 80.Renan Addles (11.Enrico Small 61).
Unused substitutes: 26.Adán Córdoba (GK), 2.Rigoberto Niño, 6.Rolando Algandona, 20.Alejandro Hincapié.
Coach: Sergio Guzmán
Referee: Hector Martinez (Honduras)
CONCACAF League result
(Tuesday 1 August)
Santos de Guápiles FC 6 (Kenny Cunningham 4 pen, Starling Matarrita 31, Youstin Salas 39, Edder Monguio 58, Osvaldo Rodriguez 72, Juan Diego Madrigal 78 pen), San Juan Jabloteh 2 (Keithy Simpson 50, Nathan Lewis 89) at Estadio Saprissa, San José;
(Thursday 3 August)
Central FC 1 (Johan Peltier 20), Árabe Unido 2 (Carlos Small 39, Enrico Small 62) at Hasely Crawford Stadium, Port of Spain;
(Tuesday August 8)
San Juan Jabloteh v Santos de Guápiles FC, 8pm, Hasely Crawford Stadium, Port of Spain;
(Thursday 10 August)
Árabe Unido v Central FC, 8pm, Rommel Fernandez Stadium, Panama City.
Editor’s Note: Click HERE to read as Soca Warriors full back Carlos Edwards opens up on his fall-out with ex-Sport Minister Brent Sancho and imminent departure from Central FC, as well as his issues with the Pro League and his brief stint as Trinidad and Tobago youth team assistant coach alongside Jason Scotland.