RBNYFL 24: Archer on target as Pro Series hold off Tobago Chicas for crown

The young ladies of Pro Series FC brought the curtain down on the 2024 Republic Bank National Football League (RBNYFL) season on Saturday evening, as they tucked away the last title of the competition with a 2-1 win over Tobago Chicas FC in the Girls Under-20 National final.

If the Trinidad final between Pro Series and MIC Matura ReUnited resembled a table tennis match with constant end to end action, the national showcase event was more akin to chess for the west Port of Spain team.

Pro Series players pose before kickoff against Tobago Chicas FC in the RBNYFL Girls National U-20 final at the Republic Bank Sports Ground on 15 June 2024.
Photo: RBNYFL/ 12 Media Productions

Chicas travelled to the Republic Bank Sports Ground in Barataria with two of the most dynamic forwards in that age group: Talia Martin (who was capped for the Trinidad and Tobago Women’s National Senior Team last month in Curaçao) and J’Eleisha Alexander (the Secondary Schools Football League MVP for the last two years running).

But it was Pro Series head coach Tasha St Louis who made better use of the talents in her own rank to help her team emerge victorious.

“They were trying to play the ball long into the number 19 (Talia Martin),” said St Louis, who was assisted in the technical area by club director and TTFA High Performance coordinator Paul Decle. “They were trying to work that all the time. And all we were asking our defence is for one to come (to the player on the ball) and the rest to cover.

“[…] I think for the majority of the game we had it under control.”

Tobago Chicas attacker Talia Martin (foreground) prepares to receive the ball while Pro Series midfielder Daneelyah Salandy keeps watch and her defenders get ready during the RBNYFL Girls National U-20 final at the Republic Bank Sports Ground on 15 June 2024.
Photo: RBNYFL/ 12 Media Productions

For roughly the first eight minutes, Chicas forced Series back on their heels. Both teams used a 4-3-3 formation, but the Tobago outfit outmatched them—player for player—in midfield and definitely packed a punch on top.

Collectively, though, Series were more organised and compact, while they proved adaptable enough to find another way to get their attack going with the central areas effectively closed.

Credit St Louis again for another correct tactical call, as she shuffled her starting line-up with Laila Birks Mabote, scorer of the decisive penalty in the Trinidad final, coming into the team at right back while Pro Series’ usual defender Kanika Rodriguez began in an attacking role on the right flank.

And Rodriguez, with her shoulder dips and ball manipulation, ran Chicas left back Gabrielle Phillips ragged.

Pro Series flanker Kinika Rodriguez (centre) eases past Tobago Chicas left back Gabrielle Phillips (right) during the RBNYFL Girls National U-20 final at the Republic Bank Sports Ground on 15 June 2024.
Photo: RBNYFL/ 12 Media Productions

Rodriguez, another teenager who recently debuted with the senior Women Soca Warriors, opened the scoring on Saturday afternoon as she ran on to an inviting lofted diagonal ball from teammate and defender Calypso Ayoung before placing beyond opposing custodian Shivelle Williams in the 23rd minute.

“My job as a coach is to watch the positioning of the player and the contribution of the player going forward,” St Louis told Wired868. “I think she (Rodriguez) can contribute going forward, so I decided to use her in the attack today.”

It became obvious quite early that Phillips could not keep a lid on Rodriguez. Yet Chicas failed to address this. Arguably, the visitors’ problem started higher up the field with their potential match winning players.

The Tobago Chicas FC starting players pose before kick off against Pro Series in the RBNYFL Girls National U-20 final at the Republic Bank Sports Ground on 15 June 2024.
Photo: RBNYFL/ 12 Media Productions

When Alexander and Martin were not in possession of the football, the talented duo seemed to consider that to be the perfect time to fix shin pads, take a stroll, engage in sightseeing… Anything but get close to their midfield and defensive lines, so as to make Chicas more compact and harder to break down.

Sure, Alexander and Martin might make a token effort to win the ball if it seemed to be within touching distance. But beyond that? Nah. Their teammates were on their own when it came to the chore of regaining possession.

And while Chicas generally overpowered Series in the midfield areas, they did not have the tools to defend one-v-one against the Trinidadian attacking trio of Mariah Williams, Rasheda Archer and Rodriguez.

Pro Series attacker Rasheda Archer (left) looks to run at the Tobago Chicas defence during the RBNYFL Girls National U-20 final at the Republic Bank Sports Ground on 15 June 2024.
Chicas attacker Talia Martin (right) does not look too interested in giving chase.
Photo: RBNYFL/ 12 Media Productions

In the 44th minute, Rodriguez went down in the opposing penalty over the boot of the overworked Phillips and players from both teams turned expectantly to referee Cecile Hinds.

Hinds put the whistle to her lip but decided that she wanted a clearer decision than that. She waved to play on instead. Chicas had their reprieve.

“What I saw from Pro Series is they were utilising that player on the right side (Rodriguez) a number of times,” said Chicas head coach Corbin Cooper. “I think we kinda shut it off a little in the second half and we started getting a lot of chances.”

Pro Series flanker Mariah Williams (left) runs at the Tobago Chicas defence during the RBNYFL Girls National U-20 final at the Republic Bank Sports Ground on 15 June 2024.
Photo: RBNYFL/ 12 Media Productions

The Pro Series technical staff had a call of their own to make now. They could push their team forward to support their rampant flankers—because Williams was certainly a handful for Chicas too on the left flank—and try to finish off their disjointed opponents.

Or they could keep their back four home at all times, with defensive midfield support, and challenge Alexander and Martin to break them down, while themselves playing on the break.

St Louis chose the latter route to success.

Tobago Chicas captain J’Eleisha Alexander (foreground) advances with the ball while Pro Series midfielder Daneelyah Salandy (center) and her defence lie in wait during the RBNYFL Girls National U-20 final at the Republic Bank Sports Ground on 15 June 2024.
Photo: RBNYFL/ 12 Media Productions

Chicas started the second half brightly. Only a brilliant lunging tackle from Series central defender Mikaela Yearwood denied Martin a clear look at goal in the 47th minute, as she held off left back Mateja Leben and advanced menacingly into the area.

The talented Yearwood, who is the starting goalkeeper for Trinidad and Tobago at national youth level, would not want to remember her next contribution though.

From a short goal kick in the 48th minute, Yearwood passed the ball straight to Martin on the edge of the Series penalty box. It was a straight case of giving a wolf the key to the hen house.

Tobago Chicas FC captain J’Eleisha Alexander (second from left) bundles home an equaliser for her team during RBNYFL Girls National U-20 final action against Pro Series at the Republic Bank Sports Ground on 15 June 2024.
Photo: RBNYFL/ 12 Media Productions

Martin drove the ball across the face of the goal where her shot-cum-cross was turned in by the sliding Alexander.

Chicas were level. And the fact that the Tobagonians hustled to take the ball back to the centre circle for Series’ touch-off suggested that they were far from finished.

Yet, just two minutes later, Pro Series were back ahead.

Williams (M), deceptively agile on the ball, won some room on the left flank and delivered a dangerous cross into the area.

Tobago Chicas goalkeeper Shivelle Williams (left) fails to hang on the ball, distracted by defender Gabrielle Phillips (centre), with Pro Series forward Rasheda Archer set to pounce during the RBNYFL Girls National U-20 final at the Republic Bank Sports Ground on 15 June 2024.
Photo: RBNYFL/ 12 Media Productions

Her namesake, Shivelle Williams, looked to have judged it correctly—and the burly goalkeeper seemed to have adhesive gloves. However, Phillips got in the goalkeeper’s way and the ball spilled. Archer was right on spot and did not decline the gift. 2-1!

It might have been lights out in the 52nd minute, as Williams (M) worked successive one-two combinations with midfielder Rori Gittens and then substitute Khloe Kirton before clipping the top of the bar with an angled strike.

Chicas would regain their composure, though, with Martin and Alexander again threatening.

Tobago Chicas attacker Talia Martin (second from right) tries to find a way past the Pro Series defence during the RBNYFL Girls National U-20 final at the Republic Bank Sports Ground on 15 June 2024.
Photo: RBNYFL/ 12 Media Productions

In the 62nd minute, Martin took the ball out of the sky with a rat trap that brought ooohs from the audience. And, four minutes later, Series goalkeeper Alexia Dolland kept out an angled left footed drive from Alexander with her toenail.

But, in truth, such goalmouth action was rare for the visitors.

Chicas’ Plan A was to go long to Martin and Alexander, who had the pace to chase and the physical strength to hold the ball up. But what about when the Tobago girls could not launch the sphere 60 yards forward—like, for instance, at goal kicks?

Tobago Chicas goalkeeper Shivelle Williams looks to launch the ball towards her forwards during RBNYFL Girls National U-20 final action against Pro Series at the Republic Bank Sports Ground on 15 June 2024.
Photo: RBNYFL/ 12 Media Productions

Well, they tried anyway.

The Chicas backline were just ornaments when it came to working the ball forward. (Although deep-lying midfielder Ayesha Leith actually looked quite comfortable when she was in possession.)

So, St Louis withdrew nine of her 10 outfield players to the halfline and waited to be presented with the ball from Chicas’ goalkicks.

Tobago Chicas right back Shuquis Thomas tries to blast the ball upfield towards her forwards during the RBNYFL Girls National U-20 final against Pro Series at the Republic Bank Sports Ground on 15 June 2024.
Photo: RBNYFL/ 12 Media Productions

And even though the Tobago outfit had the option of passing short with four defenders plus Leith available and only one Pro Series attacker in attendance, they persevered in vain with long kicks from the deadball scenario.

“From her hands, [Shivelle Williams] was getting the ball up there (to the forward line),” said Cooper. “But from the goal kicks, it was a problem.”

So, what about trying to relay the ball to Martin and Alexander from goal kicks through passes on the ground?

Tobago Chicas FC coach Corbin Cooper.
Photo: RBNYFL/ 12 Media Productions

“It is not something I worked on,” said Cooper, who steered Scarborough Secondary to the SSFL Girls Big Five title earlier this year.

There was a 35-yard free kick from Alexander that dipped just over the bar in the 83rd minute, after a Gittens foul on the same player. But little else to worry Dolland.

The ball did get to Martin and Alexander intermittently. And the gifted attackers were almost always too good for the first Pro Series defender they encountered. But there would invariably be a second defender up next, and, if need be, a third too.

Tobago Chicas attacker Talia Martin (second from right) takes on the entire Pro Series defence during the RBNYFL Girls National U-20 final at the Republic Bank Sports Ground on 15 June 2024.
Photo: RBNYFL/ 12 Media Productions

Pro Series were too organised defensively to be taken apart by soloists—even gifted ones.

“I think the determination and the willingness to work throughout the entire game made the difference for us,” said St Louis. “At the end of the day who works hard for it will get the rewards.”

Cooper’s team travelled to Trinidad on the morning of the match while he noted that their preparation for the final was disrupted by the TTFA U-15 competition, which means that his older and junior players often do not get to train together.

Pro Series captain Daneelyah Salandy (right) tries to find a way around Tobago Chicas midfielder Ayesha Leith during the RBNYFL Girls National U-20 final at the Republic Bank Sports Ground on 15 June 2024.
Photo: RBNYFL/ 12 Media Productions

On Saturday, though, he graciously conceded that “the best team won”.

“I think we gave a good showing,” said Cooper. “I think it was a good final. I am happy with the way both teams exchanged that rivalry.”

If Tobago Chicas learn their tactical lessons from Saturday’s final, there will be a very interesting rematch eventually. But that won’t be until 2025.

2024 belongs to the Pro Series Under-20 women.

Pro Series captain Daneelyah Salandy (centre) receives the RBNYFL Girls National U-20 trophy from Republic Bank manager JP Morgan at the Republic Bank Sports Ground on 15 June 2024.
Photo: RBNYFL/ 12 Media Productions

(Squads)

Pro Series FC (4-3-3): 1.Alexia Dolland (GK); 24.Laila Birks Mabote (5.Naima Julius 74), 23.Mikaela Yearwood, 26.Calypso Ayoung, 27.Mateja Leben; 28.Rori Gittens, 19.Daneelyah Salandy (captain) (9.Scarlette Cole 74), 10.Jaeda Wilson (11.Khloe Kirton 46); 15.Kanika Rodriguez, 7.Rasheda Archer, 6.Mariah Williams.

Unused substitutes: 2.Anrielle McSween, 4.Hackeemar Goodridge, 8.Evanna Elcock, 12.Arianne Hosein, 14.Chelsea Richards, 16.Emma Collins, 20.Renallia Constantine, 22.Kaitlyn Darwent, 25.Ameila Johnstone, 29.Giavanna Gilkes, 32.Lexi Sankersing.

Coach: Tasha St Louis

Tobago Chicas FC (4-3-3): 22.Shivelle Williams (GK); 12.Shuquis Thomas (23.Destiny Samara James 90+2), 4.Dextra Harris, 21.Sydney Almond (14.Ciara Harry 58), 16.Gabrielle Phillips; 19.Talia Martin, 10.Ayesha Leith, 5.J’Naya Gray (3.Zaria Amour 76); 17.Aisha Matthews (18.Mikayla Yeates 76), 7.J’Eleisha Alexander (captain), 6.Adrianna Fowler (9.Blessing Taitt 70).

Unused substitutes: 15.Tyeasha Wallace Nancis, 20.Shandelle Martin, 24.Glenecia Frederick, 25.Terryesha Harry, 26.Malia Lawrence, 27.Kieneal Dillon.

Coach: Corbin Cooper

Referee: Cecile Hinds

Pro Series captain Daneelyah Salandy (second from left) and Tobago Chicas FC captain J’Eleisha Alexander (second from right) pose with referees (from left) Kimya James, N’neeka Harewood, Cecile Hinds and Melissa Nicholas before kickoff in the RBNYFL Girls National U-20 final at the Republic Bank Sports Ground on 15 June 2024.
Photo: RBNYFL/ 12 Media Productions

RBNYFL National Girls U-20 final

(Saturday 15 June)

Pro Series 2 (Kanika Rodriguez 23, Rasheda Archer 50), Tobago Chicas 1 (J’Eleisha Alexander 48) at Republic Bank Sports Ground in Barataria.

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2 comments

  1. Correction : “lofted diagonal ball” came from Calupso Ayoung #26 to Rodriguez for Pro Series’ first goal.

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