RBNYFL 24: Upsets galore as favorites tumble out; AIA, Evolution, Union Hall among survivors

The football gods were in a fickle mood on Saturday as the semifinal round of the Republic Bank National Youth Football League (RBNYFL) produced an unrelenting series of upsets.

The form book was ripped apart and discarded into the winds, fluttering like a battered kite in a hurricane.

AIA captain Theo Crovador (centre) tries to evade a San Juan Jabloteh opponent during RBNYFL quarterfinal action at the Larry Gomes Stadium in Malabar on 28 April 2024.
Photo: Daniel Prentice/ Wired868

Whether you classify it as a major disturbance in the force or some other cosmological quirk, it was football at its magnificent, capricious best.

All of the losing teams would have been expected to appear in the finals, but it was not to be—on the day of the underdog.

The first to fall victim was Cox Coaching School as the South Zone winners gave up a 2-0 lead to fall to Union Hall 6-3 in the RBNYFL Under-14 semifinals at the Hasely Crawford Stadium Training Field.

North champs, Cardinals, were the next to go, losing 3-0 to City FC—a score line that slightly flattered the winners.

Cardinals FA midfielder Kayden Moraldo (right) looks for a teammate while City FC opponent Zachary Rizik tries to win the ball during RBNYFL North Zone U-14 action in Moka on 2 March 2024.
Photo: Nicholas Bhajan/ Wired868

In the Under-16 semifinal, North winners Trendsetter Hawks caught the bug in the third match at the Hasely Crawford Training field, with a single goal putting zonal runners-up Pro Series into the final.

Finally, in the U-20 semifinals, AIA defied the odds to defeat City FC and clinch a berth in the final, where they will face Evolution FC who also won contrary to expectations.

AIA are the 2024 RBNYFL East Zone runners-up and were considered underdogs to a City outfit that beat them twice already this year along with one draw, in their three meetings in the NLCL U19 Community Cup.

Four of the semifinals were played on a bone-hard Hasely Crawford Stadium Training Field pitch, which was not a surface for the long cleats.

Union Hall forward Jeduthun Emptage (right) is congratulated by teammate Jayden Duncan during his team’s RBNYFL U-14 quarterfinal win over World Class Soccer Clinic at the Republic Bank Sports Ground in Barataria on 28 April 2024.
Photo: Wired868

All appeared to be good in the football universe when Cox Coaching School went ahead 2-0 by the 37th minute with Adasa Richardson and Jaylon Carrington converting.

However, Union Hall United’s Samuel Balfour halved the deficit in first half stoppage time, to start the fightback. A rampaging Balfour scored three more in the second half, with Djoshua Cyrus and Jeduthan Emptage also getting goals to complete a remarkable turnaround.

The second semifinal featured Cardinals FC and City FC, with the former winning the previous encounter between the teams.

Cardinals FC only lost one match in the last two years, and many expected they would be the team in the finals to face Union Hall United. However, the favorites were without a key player.

Cardinals FA goalkeeper Estefan Gift tries to initiate an attack for his team during Republic Cup NYFL U-13 semifinal action against Cox Coaching School in Barataria on 3 June 2023.
Photo: Brian Miller/ Wired868

“Unfortunately for us, we lost our keeper (Estefan Gift), who had surgery on Tuesday—and our backup goalkeeper is our U-12 goalkeeper,” Cardinals FC head coach Michael Tinto told Wired868.

The young deputy, Elijah Fernandes, was in the firing line early as City FC came with all guns blazing in the opening period.

City FC head coach Khalil Mathura asked his players to shoot on sight and Fernandes could only keep them out for so long.

City FC forward Reagan Rowe (foreground) tries to hurdle a challenge from a Santa Cruz Utd player during RBNYFL U-14 North Zone action at Mika on 23 March 2024.
Photo: Nicholas Bhajan/ Wired868

Eventually, forward Reagan Rowe hooked past the young Cardinals goalkeeper for the breakthrough after a sweeping move from the right flank.

As the first half wore on in the blazing heat, City continued to dictate terms, with Cardinals playing conservatively behind star midfielder Deron Blackman.

Star midfielder Deron Blackman, a St Mary’s College student, led the odd raid for Cardinals—but, in the blazing heat, City dictated terms against their more conservative opponents.

Cardinals FA midfielder Deron Blackman (right) tries to outrun City FC defender Liam Hosein (centre) during RBNYFL North Zone U-14 action in Moka on 2 March 2024.
Photo: Nicholas Bhajan/ Wired868

In the second half, Tinto gave Blackman a more advanced role while energetic defender Jaylon Roberts was moved upfront. The duo provided a few moments of worry for City, but their organizational acumen was missed at the other end.

The Cardinals defenders were caught napping by a quick free kick in the 59th minute and Jeremai Nanton rounded Fernandes to slot home City’s second goal.

Then, in the final minute of the game, Fernandes picked up a back pass from a defender and referee Jerome McIntyre awarded an indirect free kick. Once more, Cardinals were slow to react and their opponents again quickly found an unmarked Nanton, who booted him to complete the 3-0 win.

City FC forward Jeremai Nanton (left) prepares to fire home a penalty during RBNYFL North Zone U-14 action against Cardinals FA in Moka on 2 March 2024.
Photo: Nicholas Bhajan/ Wired868

Tinto said he was proud of Fernandes who stepping in and giving “a good show of himself”. However, he suggested that concerns about their youthful goalkeeper between the pipes inhibited Cardinal’s outfield players.

“Mentally, knowing that you have to protect the younger goalkeeper behind you, it affects the players [from] be braver on the ball or braver to go forward,” he said. “It changes the game completely, honestly. It made a big difference today.

“I would have hoped that even though we would have been liable to give up an easy goal that they would have been braver. And maybe we would have been able to outscore the opponent.

Football fans watch RBNYFL action at Trinity Moka.
Photo: Nicholas Bhajan/ Wired868

“We came out, we had the mind to not let it hinder us—but mentally it makes a difference for sure.”

City FC coach Mathura, a former Trinidad and Tobago National Under-17 player, said his team deserved the win.

“It was not the prettiest of games but we did have a plan,” he said. “I thought the boys came out and executed it well. At times a little bit tired, a little bit sluggish, but all in all a good performance.

City FC forward Jeremai Nanton (right) presses Cardinals FA defender Amani Seon for the ball during RBNYFL North Zone U-14 action in Moka on 2 March 2024.
Photo: Nicholas Bhajan/ Wired868

“The only team to beat us in the regular season was them, so we really had to make a statement today. And I think the boys did it.”

Tinto lamented their inability to catch a break.

“To be fair, even with them playing conservatively, we kept the game at 1-0 for quite a while,” he said. “We just needed one or two things to go our way and it would have been a different game. Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be our day.”

Matura expects another stern test in the final from Union Hall United.

Union Hall Utd midfielder Ailan Ali (left) looks for a teammate during their RBNYFL quarterfinal U-14 clash with World Class Soccer Clinic at the Republic Bank Sports Ground on 28 April 2024.
Photo: Wired868

“I saw them play for the first time in a long time before our game—I thought they looked good, they could obviously play,” said the City coach. “They have a good athletic team. I think it will be a similar game to this one.

“It’s just getting over this, getting past this and getting ready for that game. I think it will be a good final.

“We have not played them in a couple of years. Hopefully, the better team wins and hopefully, that better team is us.”

Trendsetter Hawks players Kewenis Saunders and Khadeem Morrison celebrate during their RBNYFL U-16 win over City FC at Moka on 14 April 2024.
Photo: Nicholas Bhajan/ Wired868

In Saturday’s third semifinal game in Port of Spain, Trendsetter Hawks come up against a Pro Series team they beat in the preliminary round of the tournament.

If the result of the first two games were upsets, many felt this one would go on form.

Trendsetter Hawks mix solid defence with attacking flair, but coach Anthony Harrington’s players were unable to lay a glove on a highly motivated Pro Series outfit.

Hawks’ raids down both flanks were easily rebuffed in the first half, with Pro Series gaining confidence and growing more dominant on the ball as the half wore on.

Pro Series’ Tristan Jackman (second from right) tries to keep the ball from Prison Service FC midfielder Daniel Joseph during RBNYFL U-16 action at Moka on 14 April 2024.
Photo: Nicholas Bhajan/ Wired868

Pro Series also found it difficult to break down the opposing defence, as their own waves of attacks were easily swatted away. That is, until the last minute of the first half.

Pro Series won a right-sided corner and defender Daquan Jackman stole in at the back post, where he soared over the Hawks defenders to plant his header high into the net.

The second half lacked the technical eloquence of the opening 40 minutes but there was hardly an unchewed nail in the crowd.

Trendsetter Hawks defensive midfielder Keysan Haynes.
Photo: Nicholas Bhajan/ Wired868

More heavy metal than the jazzy display of the first half, the game was a boiling cauldron of nervous energy. And while there were few chances to relate, there was no mistaking the commitment of both teams to get to the final.

In the end, Pro Series held out for the win, finishing the game with just 10 players.

Just seconds before the end of the game, Jasai Theophilus, who had been cautioned in the first half, injudiciously kicked the ball away after referee Charlize Hood called a foul against his team.

Pro Series midfielder Jasai Theophilus.
Photo: Nicholas Bhajan/ Wired868

Hood did not hesitate, as she handed Theophilus a second yellow card and sent him off.

The game ended soon after with a disappointed Hawks squad departing the training field area within five minutes.

Pro Series coach Kona Hislop was disappointed with the red card decision.

“I don’t think it deserved a yellow card at all—that’s my opinion [and] maybe I’m being a bit biased,” said Hislop. “The whistle just went and he kicked the ball. For him to get a yellow card for that and to have to miss the final was really unfortunate.

Pro Series Under-16 head coach Kona Hislop (foreground).
Photo: Nicholas Bhajan/ Wired868

“We received a lot of bad tackles in the game that went unpunished, and for him to get a yellow card for that, I thought was really harsh—in the context of the whole game.

“They did not play dirty. It was a tough game, a physical game; and I think to get a yellow card for that was not in keeping with the flow of the game at all.”

The former Livingstone midfielder was happy that his team got past the zonal champs to make it to the final.

Pro Series attacker Zain Griffith (left) tries to hold off a Prison Service opponent during RBNYFL U-16 action at Moka on 14 April 2024.
Photo: Nicholas Bhajan/ Wired868

“It’s always a tough game against Trendsetter,” said Hislop. “We knew that we would have to meet them again at some point. We knew how hard it was going to be and I am really proud of the fellas and the effort they gave.

“It was very hard to break them down. They are very strong defensively… We had a few set pieces in the first half and eventually, we got a goal from one. So we are happy with that.”

Hislop expects another difficult outing against Beatnix SC in the Under-16 final. Beatnix upset FC Ginga through a 26th minute penalty by Chad Nicholas at Frederick Settlement.

Pro Series attacker Daneelyah Salandy (left) celebrates her team’s opening goal during RBNYFL Girls East Zone U-20 action against Trincity Nationals at the Republic Bank Sports Ground in Barataria on 17 March 2024.
Pro Series will contest the Girls U-20 title on 25 May 2024.
Photo: Wired868

“It’s going to be a really tough game,” he said. “They have a lot of quality players and we know it’s going to be a difficult one.”

The Under-20 finals also saw the favorites shown the door.

AIA came from a goal down to beat City FC 2-1 in the final match at the Training Field, while Evolution FC closed out a 2-0 win over Premier Sports Club at UTT O’Meara.

It was a day of upsets in the Republic Bank National Youth Football League, and a reminder that no one sport can claim the title of the game of glorious uncertainties.

AIA flanker Jahdel Chase-Charles (right) tries to elude City FC midfielder Logan Maingot during NLCL U19 Community Cup final action at the Larry Gomes Stadium on 17 March 2024.
Photo: Daniel Prentice/ Wired868

RBNYFL Semifinal results


(Saturday 11 May)

Cox Coaching School 3 (Adasa Richardson 28, 59, Jaylon Carrington 37), Union Hall United 6 (Samuel Balfour 40+1, 45, 77, 80+1, Djoshua Cyrus 52, Jeduthun Emptage 70) at Hasely Crawford Stadium Training Field;

Cardinals FA 0, City FC 3 (Reagan Rowe 14, Jeremai Nanton 59, 80+4) at Hasely Crawford Stadium Training Field;

Union Hall United players prepare for kick off against World Class Soccer Clinic in the RBNYFL quarterfinal round at the Republic Bank Sports Ground in Barataria on 28 April 2024.
Photo: Wired868


(Saturday 11 May)

Pro Series 1 (Daquan Jackman 40+1), Trendsetter Hawks 0 at Hasely Crawford Stadium Training Field;

Beatnix SC 1 (Chad Nicholas 26 pen), FC Ginga 0 at Frederick Settlement;

AIA attacker Dalon Sankar (left) prepares to run at the QPCC City FC team during NLCL U19 Community Cup action at Eddie Hart on 7 January 2024.
Photo: Nicholas Bhajan/ Wired868


(Saturday 11 May)

AIA 2 (Dalon Sankar 47, 74), City FC 1 (Luke Correia 43) at Hasely Crawford Stadium Training Field;

Premier Sports Club 0, Evolution FC 2 (Kemmanuel Christopher 69, Kerziah Mayers 90) at UTT O’Meara;

Midfielder Jessica Harragin (left) passes the ball during the 2022 Republic Youth Cup All-Star event in Valsayn on 10 July 2022.
Photo: Daniel Prentice/ Wired868

Trinidad Girls

(11 May)

MIC Matura ReUnited 2 (Eva Nicholas 6, Jessican Harrigan 23 pen), Trincity Nationals 0 at UTT O’Meara;

Pleasantville FC 1, Pro Series 3 (Rasheda Archer 49, 82, Mariah Williams 72) at UTT O’Meara.

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