It was nervy, tense and, in the end, a totally rewarding climax to the Trinidad and Tobago Super League (TTSL) season for FC Santa Rosa, as the ‘Big Cannons’ sealed their second league title in three years after a hard-fought 1-1 draw with Cunupia FC at the Larry Gomes Stadium in Malabar yesterday evening.
Rosa entered yesterday’s clash with a three-point cushion over second place Queen’s Park Cricket Club (QPCC). And with QPCC entertaining the lowly Club Sando, Rosa knew a draw would be enough to be champions.
Last season, the Big Cannons were in a similar position only to fall 1-0 to UTT at the same venue, which saw the TTSL title go down south with Guaya United. World Cup 2006 forward Cornell Glen was the thorn in Rosa’s side on that day, as then head coach Keith Look Loy finished his senior coaching career as with a runners-up medal.
Yesterday, Rosa coach Derek King had an inspired Kevon ‘Showtime’ Woodley to deal with, as the lanky Cunupia forward tried to rain on Rosa’s parade.
“We used [what happened last year] as motivation,” King told Wired868. “It was the same ground last year and it was a 3:30 kick off on Sunday as well. I think it left a bitter taste in the majority of the players’ mouth and even the management team…
“We used that as a motivational factor and we told them they couldn’t afford to slip as we were playing one of the top teams.”
Perhaps Showtime, who cemented his position atop the 2018 TTSL scoring charts with his 23rd League goal yesterday, was inspired by Rosa’s final game last term as well—and, in particular, by Glen’s sterling performance.
The lanky marksman, who operated in a three-man midfield, certainly lived up to his sobriquet in Malabar as he and his Cunupia teammates threatened Rosa’s title aspirations with a fluid first half display.
“In the first half our game plan was to kinda isolate Woodley,” said King. “But I don’t think the guys were getting close to him and they were giving him too much respect.”
For all of Cunupia’s early territorial advantage—with Woodley and midfielder Isaiah Mejias pulled the strings—it was the visitors who drew first blood in the 32nd minute, after a tap in from close range by Akeem “Froggy” Garcia.
Cunupia wing back Theon James casually allowed a ball to bounce over him in his half of the field, gifting possession to tricky Rosa flanker Kishun Seecharan. And the hosts were off to the races with Froggy eventually prodding home after opposing goalkeeper Keston Malchan parried a low, curling shot from Rosa skipper Ryan “Fry” Stewart.
Rosa fans were in seventh heaven after their predatory opener, but Showtime soon brought them back down to earth.
In the 39th minute, Cunupia attacker Michael Yaw Darko won a corner when his devilish shot ricocheted off defender Alfie James. And from the ensuing set piece, Showtime controlled the lofted ball—just inside the opposing box—before sending a sweet right-footed volley past Rosa goalkeeper Jesse Peters and into the top corner.
“Before the second half, I told them if we are to win the game we have to shut down Woodley,” King said. “I think in the second half, the midfield three were playing together and they were able to shut him down a bit. But give him credit, he’s a top player and respect goes out to him.”
Showtime did wow the crowd again in the second half with one of his trademark moves from the beach soccer arena, as he controlled a lofted pass on his chest before allowing it to roll down his back.
But by then, King’s charges had started to pick up momentum and missed only a finish to match.
In the 47th minute, Garcia hit the bar when it looked easier to score, after Malchan again struggled to deal with a low Stewart effort—instigated by Seecharan. Stewart and substitutes Kevon Cornwall and Kheelon Mitchell also missed presentable opportunities to kill the contest in the second half; but King was pleased with the way his players asserted themselves.
“I think it was a very competitive game and credit must go to Cunupia,” King said. “One or two senior men kinda calmed the team and I think in the second half we were much better with some of our ball movement and so on. As I told them, we couldn’t afford to give away much.
“We went out there and we fought 100 per cent and we came away with the Championship.”
While Rosa were edging their way to the title in Malabar, QPCC kept the pressure on in a topsy turvy encounter against Sando at Fatima College grounds on Mucurapo Road.
The ‘Parkites’ led twice in the first half through items from Benedict Barrett and Devon Modeste—only to be pegged back on both occasions. Modeste eventually grabbed the winner in the second half with his 16th League item this season.
The victory was academic in the end though, as Cunupia failed to trouble Rosa in the closing 45 minutes.
King has something of a managerial hot hand at the moment. Yesterday’s TTSL League triumph followed on the heels of North East Stars’ surprise Pro League win last year. And the former Trinidad and Tobago international defender, who had his playing career cut short through injury, just wants to get better at his trade.
“As a young, budding coach I’m always willing to learn and I think I’m humble as well,” said the 38 year old King, who was the youngest coach ever to win the Pro League. “I think this is a good stepping stone for my career as a young coach. I don’t know what the future holds but I’m always looking to better myself as a coach. This period is now to relax and enjoy with the family and think about the next move…
“I must say thanks to the coaching staff I work with, the president of the club [Keith Look Loy] and the Arima community who were behind the team 100 per cent. The Mayor [Lisa Morris-Julien] was always supportive as well and I think we owe everyone who supported us that acknowledgment.”
King and Rosa can still achieve more this season, as they will reacquaint themselves with Cunupia next Sunday in the TTSL League Cup semifinal at the Arima Velodrome. QPCC and Petit Valley/Diego Martin United (PVDMU) will contest the other semifinal fixture.
QPCC are still desperate for success, and Showtime will surely have more tricks up his sleeves as well.
The Big Cannons await all comers.
Cunupia FC (4-3-3): 1.Keston Malchan (GK); 7.Theon James, 18.Maestro Mensah (captain), 12.Stefon Pierre, 17.Kerri McDonald (23.Darieon Bernard 67), 5.Stephen Julien, 19.Kevon Woodley, 9.Isaiah Mejias; 21.Jemal Osborne (15.Gerald Meloney 66), 10.Michael Darko, 3.Hakeem Legall.
Unused Substitutes: 13.Christopher Byng (GK).
Coach: Michael De Four
FC Santa Rosa (4-2-3-1): 1.Jesse Peters (GK); 6.Sheldon Nesbitt, 5.Alfie James, 19.Jesse Reyes, 15.Osei Sandy; 21.Durwin Ross, 24.Andre Rampersad; 12.Kishun Seecharan (11.Keron Clarke 83), 17.Ryan Stewart (captain), 4.Noel Williams (18.Kheelon Mitchell 70); 10.Akeem Garcia (9.Kevon Cornwall 62).
Unused Substitutes: 30.Joel Johnson (GK), 8.Kerron Reid, 14.Giovanni Abraham, 25.Stephen Johnson.
Coach: Derek King
Referee: Nikolai Nyron
(Sunday 2 December)
Queen’s Park Cricket Club 3 (Devon Modeste 1, 69, Benedict Barrett 31), Club Sando FC 2 (Jamal Burke 8, Kevon Jessop 40) at Fatima College;
Cunupia FC 1 (Kevon Woodley 39), FC Santa Rosa 1 (Akeem Garcia 32) at Larry Gomes Stadium, Malabar;
RSSR 4 (Kerron Mitchell 12, 30, Hakim Gulston 42, Anthony George 60), Matura Re United 5 (Jade Allman 57, Zavion Navarro-Patron 58, Isaiah Smith 62, Joel Hoyte 67, Brendon Figuera 90) at Curepe Recreation Ground;
Bethel United 1 (Nkosei Chance 89), Prisons FC 2 (Brandon Calliste 20, Lance Haynes 50) at Montgomery Recreation Ground;
Guaya United 1 (Keston Frontin 68), UTT 2 (Dike Wilson 27, J’Deem Parris 48) at Guaya Recreation Ground;
Police FC 2 (Chris Collins 48, 64), Petit Valley/Diego Martin United 1 (Quincy Charles 37) at St James Barracks;
San F’do Giants had a 3-0 default victory against Metal X Erin FC.