FC Santa Rosa jumped to fourth spot in Division One of the Ascension Invitational Tournament last night after defeating Trinidad and Tobago Super League (TTSL) rivals Guaya United by a 3-1 margin at the Arima Velodrome.
When the ‘Big Cannons’ of Santa Rosa and Guaya meet—both have rotated the TTSL title over the past three seasons—there are usually fireworks.
In 2017, Rosa president Keith Look Loy had a running battle with the local refereeing body, which kicked off after his striker Rashad Griffith suffered a concussion in a collision with Guaya goalkeeper Shane Mattis. Look Loy accused referee Cecile Hinds and her officiating team of not doing enough to protect the players’ safety.
Guaya president Randy Hagley supported a move to replace Look Loy as the TTSL’s representative on the TTFA board earlier this year. And Hagley’s decision to hire Travis Mulraine as head coach would have only added to the tension too.
Let’s just say that Look Loy’s fondness for current Guaya coach Travis Mulraine could be likened to that of former England Premier League rivals Roy Keane and Patrick Vieira. There’s no love lost.
But Rosa were all smiles at the end last night and their diminutive playmaker John-Paul Rochford was a breath of fresh air—scoring a sublime goal and creating another—in a scrappy encounter that lacked genuine quality for much of the 90 minutes.
Rochford was not the only one to get spectators off their seats.
Around the 72nd minute mark, with the hosts leading 2-0 thanks to goals by Rochford and left back Osei Sandy, one male spectator came under attack by a group of men who hurled glass bottles in his direction. Supporters in the covered stands ran for safety as the crashing sound of bottles intensified, while the surprised victim seemed to cause more injury to himself in his bid to escape.
He was subsequently whisked away in an ambulance.
Meanwhile, with no visible police presence at the venue, the unruly assailants, who entered the covered stands in the second half, strolled out of the arena in the midst of the frantic melee.
Trinidad and Tobago Senior Men’s National Team coach Dennis Lawrence was in attendance and, while he must have been pleased with the maturity and poise shown by the 19-year-old Rochford—who recently earned his Senior Team debut against St Vincent and the Grenadines—the unsavoury incident in the stands may have been too close for comfort.
“In my forty years of watching football I never see something like this,” one spectator exclaimed.
“Trinidad really gone through yes,” another chimed in. “Look how easy you could get your death.”
After a momentary stoppage in play, referee Kwinsi Williams resumed proceedings and a new-look Rosa completed their return to winning ways. Having suffered heavy defeats to Cunupia FC (5-2) and Police FC (4-1) in Ascension Division One action, Rosa have undergone something of an overhaul and their current personnel bear little resemblance to last year’s triumphant TTSL outfit.
Midfielders Akeem ‘Froggy’ Garcia and Jesse Rampersad followed coach Derek King to HFX Wanderers in the Canadian Premier League, while former club captain Ryan ‘Fry’ Stewart has also left, after briefly coming out of retirement to feature in the early rounds of the Ascension Tournament.
Flankers Kheelon Mitchell and Kishun Seecharan and veteran utility player Noel Williams have also departed.
Rosa’s new brigade includes young talent such as Rochford, Rivaldo Coryat and Julio Noel and is reinforced with more experienced campaigners like Russel Alfred, Damani Richards and Soca Warriors custodian Marvin Phillip.
“We had six new starters here tonight, including Marvin Phillip, you cannot get a better goalkeeper than that,” Look Loy told Wired868. “We are bedding these players; some of them are National Under-20 boys. […] We have started a new project to get to the top of Trinidad and Tobago club football and these are just the early teething stages.”
Last night, with the defeats to Cunupia and Police still fresh in their minds, Rosa were merely trying to overcome the Guaya hurdle.
It wasn’t the vintage Guaya by any means. Distracted by ‘Guaya-fest’ in south-east Trinidad, the ‘Green Army’ turned up without their large support base and just 13 players on the night. Mulraine didn’t even bother to make a sub.
A disappointed Mulraine said inconsistent attendance by players in training sessions translated to the end product on the field of play.
“I am hugely disappointed with the result and I don’t think we deserved to lose 3-1,” said Mulraine. “It’s down to a lack of consistency in training. Some days you have a full complement of guys and other days you have six to eight players. It’s very frustrating as a coach.
“You actually have to have two sessions planned in your head [according to your turnout].”
With one team blooding six new players into their starting line-up and the other struggling to get a full turnout, the football spectacle was scrappy and disjointed for the most part, with sporadic flashes of brilliance and quality.
That quality often came from the boot of Rochford, who teed up a willing runner in Sandy with some silky skill down the left flank in the 44th minute. Upon receiving Rochford’s square pass just inside the area, Sandy drilled a left-footed shot into the bottom corner and beyond Mattis’ beefy arms.
“John-Paul is a quality young player for the future. I hope he continues to improve and keeps his feet on the ground and tries to leave Trinidad as soon as possible,” Mulraine said. “Allowing him to play in this League will be good for toughening him up a bit [but] he should be heading overseas soon.”
The Guaya players would probably share that same sentiment. In the earlier stages of the game, they used their physicality to impose themselves on the Rosa players.
But as the game wore on and Rosa reneged on the long ball strategy that was meat and drink for Guaya’s defensive duo of Kerwyn Navarro and skipper Glenton Wolfe, the hosts assumed control of the contest through snappy midfield interplay on the counter.
In the 49th minute, Rochford, who looked to be a man on a mission, received a pass from Alfred near the half line and parted a sea of red Guaya jerseys like Moses before unleashing a right-footed shot into the top corner from the edge of the area.
It was his fifth goal in the Ascension’s top flight and Mattis had absolutely no chance. The former National Under-17 and Under-20 captain began the season as a ‘super sub’ but he must be the first name on Look Loy’s team sheet these days.
“We’re very proud of [Rochford]. He was literally born in Santa Rosa and came through the club’s ranks,” Look Loy said. “And now, we are seeing the benefits as he’s helping to lead the team.”
On the topic of leadership, Wired868 asked Look Loy about the status of the Rosa head coaching job, which was handed to former WASA FC coach Shurland David in March of this year.
“We signed a contract with Shurland David, taking us from April to December—one season. We said it was going to be a trial period,” Look Loy told Wired868. “At the end of May, he said that he had certain domestic issues to resolve. I told him to resolve them.
“[…] We explained that we would cover his back with whatever assistance he needed. That’s the last I’ve seen of him.”
Look Loy said it wasn’t his intention to take a hands-on approach with the team this year but he could not sit idly by and do nothing.
“We have taken over the responsibility without him,” said Look Loy. “Last season, I didn’t have a major role. But, this is my club and if the person who has been chosen as coach has disappeared, I will take on a greater role.
“I’m functioning as a technical director for this team, which is the role I perform for the club on a whole. I’m not going to waste my years of technical experience and knowledge and sit down on the side line in a situation like this.”
Against the run of play, Guaya attacker Akeil Paul glanced a header beyond a flat-footed Phillip in the 84th minute, after Wolfe floated in a beautiful set piece.
Mulraine wished the other Wolfe, Anthony, was on hand to help his team hunt for victory last night.
“I think [Anthony’s] loss was big for the team because he added that bit of quality in the midfield,” Mulraine said. “As you can see we are quite aggressive off the ball but when we win it we give it away far too easily. Anthony added that bit of calm and quality when we’re in possession.”
Guaya hopes of a late comeback were dashed when Rosa sub Kevon Cornwall calmly converted a 90th minute penalty, after being fouled in the area by Mattis.
Back to winning ways, Rosa will next face table toppers Defence Force. Look Loy is looking forward to the challenge.
“I have no doubt that the better and best Super League clubs could match any club in the Pro League. I’ve said that for years and I’m going to stick to it,” Look Loy said. “Now having said that, we’re going to meet the top club in the Ascension Tournament in Defence Force next week. They are the standard in the tournament thus far so we are going to measure my words against them next week.”
FC Santa Rosa (4-2-3-1): 1.Marvin Phillip (GK); 2.Nykoaba James, 19.Jesse Reyes (captain), 18.Damani Richards, 15.Osei Sandy; 21.Durwin Ross (12.Shaka Pilgrim 85), 11.Rivaldo Coryat; 24.Julio Noel (6.Kadeem Riley 81), 23.John-Paul Rochford, 14.Giovanni Abraham; 17.Russel Alfred (9.Kevon Cornwall 66).
Unused Substitutes: 23.Joel Johnson (GK), 3.Lincoln Brown, 25.Shakiyl Phillip.
Technical director: Keith Look Loy
Guaya United (4-1-4-1): 13.Shane Mattis (GK); 10.Patrick Parris, 23.Kerwyn Navarro, 24.Glenton Wolffe (captain), 21.Dakeil Ferreira; 55.Sylvon Sylvan; 22.Franklyn Romain, 8.Devin Mitchell, 16.Renaldo McIntosh, 7.Jody Allsop; 3.Akeil Paul.
Unused Substitutes: 1.Denzil Carabon (GK), 5.Rondell Ragoo.
Coach: Travis Mulraine
Referee: Kwinsi Williams
Wired868 Man of the Match: John-Paul Rochford (FC Santa Rosa)
Ascension Invitational Tournament
Division One result
(Friday 23 August)
FC Santa Rosa 3 (Osei Sandy 44, John-Paul Rochford 49, Kevon Cornwall 90), Guaya United 1 (Akeil Paul 84) at Arima Velodrome.
(Saturday 24 August)
Police FC v Defence Force, 4pm, Larry Gomes Stadium;
Terminix La Horquetta Rangers v Cunupia FC, 6pm, La Horquetta;
Matura ReUnited v M’vt Caledonia AIA, 4pm, Matura Recreation Ground;
(Sunday 25 August)
Prison Service FC v QPCC, 4pm, YTC, Arouca;
Club Sando v San Juan Jabloteh, 4pm, Mannie Ramjohn Stadium Training Field.
(Saturday 24 August)
UTT v RSSR FC, 7pm, UTT, O’ Meara;
Police FC v Deportivo PF, 5pm, Police Academy, St James;
Moruga FC v Harlem Strikers, 4pm, Grand Chemin Recreation Ground;
Club Sando Uprising Yths v Marabella FCC, 6.30pm, Guapo Recreation Ground;
(Sunday 25 August)
Petit Valley/D’go Martin Utd v Erin FC, 4pm, St Anthony’s College Ground;
San F’do Giants v Bethel United, 4pm, Mannie Ramjohn Stadium Training Field.