HydroTech Central FC will represent the Trinidad and Tobago Pro League in the semifinal round of the 2018 Club Championship after the “Couva Sharks” held on for a gutsy 1-0 win over Dominican Republic outfit, Atlántico FC, yesterday at the Estadio Cibao in Santiago, Dominican Republic.
Atlántico, unbeaten in the competition until yesterday, needed a draw before kick-off—which would have not only ensured their progress but also eliminated Central.
Instead, the hosts fell 1-0 to the spirited Sharks whose grit, shape and fitness spoke well for the work done by rookie coach and ex-national stand-out Stern John.
John, who took over as Central head coach last season and is assistant to Soca Warriors coach Dennis Lawrence at present, had roughly three weeks to get his squad ready for battle. Only three players from his starting team had represented the Sharks in the 2017 Pro League season.
At the final whistle, it was an own goal that separated the two teams as Atlántico defender Yoan Melo inadvertently turned home an effort from Central midfielder Darren “Chucky” Mitchell.
It was no more than Central deserved and God knows how the visitors didn’t go ahead in the 12th minute when a Jason Marcano header from close range was met with a brilliant save from opposing custodian Cristian Blanco. Blanco, an Argentine, was one of seven South American players in the Atlántico squad.
Marcano, who scored twice in Central’s 3-0 win over Haiti’s Racing FC, should have done better with his second headed attempt in the 61st minute when he contrived to direct a Tyrone Charles cross straight at Blanco in the 61st minute.
It looked to be a costly miss as the Dominican Republic team threw numbers forward and would have conjured an equaliser in the 67th minute but for a goalline clearance by Central right-back Anthony Wolfe.
It got worse for the visitors as the referee awarded the hosts a penalty in the 71st minute, only for ex-Trinidad and Tobago National Under-23 goalkeeper Montel Joseph to produce a flying save to his right to deny Argentine forward Joel Perucci.
Atlántico would not get close again as defenders Carlyle Mitchell and Taryk Sampson dealt capably with a late aerial bombardment while veteran midfielder Densill Theobald, his energetic sidekick Rhondel Gibson and the wily Marcano and Charles protected the ball well and ran the clock down at every opportunity.
In the closing minutes, the hosts totally lost their composure as Blanco had to be dragged away from confronting Marcano—after the Arima native went down one time too many, as far the South American goalkeeper was concerned, for medical attention—while Atlántico players tried to provoke physical confrontations all over the field.
There was a late red card too as Colombian defender Yeison Murillo hauled Mitchell (D) to the ground when the latter player looked to be clean through on goal during a counter attack.
In the end, the result arguably owed as much to know-how and experience as anything else with the likes of Theobald, Marcano, Wolfe, Neptune, Charles and the Mitchells showing the value of their globe-trotting expeditions, successfully defying the intimidating atmosphere in Santiago.
Central will now join Dominican Republic team Club Atlético Pantoja and Jamaican clubs Arnett Gardens and Portmore United FC in the regional semifinals.
The eventual overall champion will represent the Caribbean in the CONCACAF Champions League while second and third will face Central American opposition in the second tier league competition.
The fourth-placed team from the Caribbean semifinals will face the winner of the Caribbean’s tier two club competition—which includes teams from Suriname and Guyana—for the final berth in the CONCACAF League.
At present, Central FC managing director Brent Sancho is trying to negotiate a long-term deal with HydroTech to sponsor the club or buy it outright.
Central FC general manager David Muhammad, who was hired by HydroTech, did not commit his company to continuing its sponsorship of the Sharks—which has reached roughly TT$250,000 already. However, he said that dialogue will continue between the two parties.
“The team’s performance was excellent [in the Dominican Republic,” Muhammad told Wired868. “Coach Stern John did very well to assemble a group of players and mould them into a working squad with an incredible chemistry and sense of collective understanding. We look forward to the next stage.”
W Connection, the Pro League’s other representative in the Caribbean tournament, were eliminated at home in Group A, having finished bottom of the table.
Central FC (4-2-3-1): 30.Montel Joseph (GK); 17.Anthony Wolfe, 12.Taryk Sampson, 5.Carlyle Mitchell (captain), 22.Jameel Neptune; 13.Rhondel Gibson, 18.Densill Theobald (vice-captain); 27.Nathan Lewis, 11.Darren Mitchell, 9.Tyrone Charles (15.Kaydion Gabriel 80); 19.Jason Marcano (3.Tyrik John 89).
Unused substitutes: 1.Javon Sample (GK), 7.Saleem Henry, 10.Keron Cummings, 8.Cornell Glen, 24.Jules Lee, 26.Trevin Latapy, 29.Jesse Joseph.
Coach: Stern John