The Caribbean Football Union (CFU) Club Championship could be on its way towards a third straight all-Trinidad and Tobago final on 21 May, after TT Pro League clubs San Juan Jabloteh and Central FC made winning starts to the finals on Sunday.
Jabloteh defeated Haiti’s Racing FC 2-0 in the first game of the opening double-header at the Hasely Crawford Stadium in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad to top Group B, before Central FC, who defeated Trinidadian rivals W Connection in the last two CFU Club Championship title matches, shook off an early deficit to dispatch Antigua and Barbuda’s Grenades FC 3-1 to lead Group A.
Nathan Lewis, for his fifth goal of the 2017 campaign, fired the 2003 Caribbean champions Jabloteh ahead five minutes into the second half before a Joseph Mitchelson’s own goal sixteen minutes from time put the game out of the Haitians’ reach.
Central, though, needed a Jason Marcano equaliser, a cannon-of-a-strike by Carlos Edwards, and a 25-yard Nathaniel Garcia cracker to get past Grenades after the Antiguans had taken the early lead through striker Tevaughn Harriette.
Harriette had the simple task of slotting home from close-up against the run of play, in what turned out the only real attack on the Central goal, after the defending champions new goalkeeper signing Ryan “Godda” Thompson was hung out to dry by his defence who failed to cut out a squared pass across the area by Grenades captain Rakeem Henry.
Grenades’ Jamaica ‘keeper Michaud Barrett preserved his side’s lead ten minutes later with a fine save to put wide a powerful left-footed attempt by another new Central signing, 23-year-old American, Graham Smith. Then seconds later Sean De Silva drilled a volley across the face of the visitors net.
But it was a warning of what was to follow and in the 38th-minute Marcano put Central – who received a bye to the final round as defending champions – level with a wonderful volley off Englishman Lloyd Bannister’s cross from the right.
Carlos Edwards, a T&T 2006 World Cup player and former England-based defender, then hammered past Barrett to give the 2015 and 2016 Caribbean champions the lead for the first time a minute from the half.
The 39-year-old former Wrexham and Sunderland player, turned back the clock from just inside the top of the box after running onto a sumptuous feed from De Silva.
But still, the new-look Central, due to a number of new player personnel changes, were nothing of the side that only two months ago recorded the historic Digicel Pro League three-peat although getting business done against the Antiguans.
It was not until five minutes from time that Garcia finally knocked the fight out of Grenades with his strike from distance to stretch Barrett’s onion bag once more.
Earlier, Jabloteh were the better side against Racing, but only took the lead on 50 minutes when Lewis, who combined brilliantly on the left with Kion Joseph, evaded two defenders before sending a low finish beyond the Haitian side’s goalkeeper Maurisseau Bergeot and into the far bottom corner.
Racing attackers Stevenson Guillaume and Daniel Jamesley had two excellent scoring opportunities for the visitors but failed to trouble Jabloteh goalie Javon Sample with wide attempts.
Their attempts of a comeback would suffer a blow in the 74th-minute when Mitchelson inadvertently directed a Keithy Simpson’s dangerous ball across the area past his own goalkeeper, Bergeot.
Racing and Grenades will wrap up their second and final group fixtures on Tuesday -- at the same venue -- against Jamaica’s Portmore United (5:30pm) and Dominica Republic’s Cibao (8pm), respectively, while Jabloteh and Central will complete group play against Portmore (5:30pm) and Cibao (8pm), respectively, on Thursday.
The overall group winners will face each other in the Caribbean final on Sunday 21 May from 8pm, which will be preceded by the third-place game from 5pm between the second-placed team of the respective groups.
The Caribbean champions will earn automatic qualification into next season’s newly re-formatted Concacaf Champions League which commences in February 2018.
While the second, third and fourth place finishing teams in the CFU tournament will join 13 Central American teams in the Confederation’s newly launched club championship which kicks off in August. The overall champion team of the club championship for Caribbean and Central American clubs will also qualifying for next season’s Concacaf Champions League.
San Juan Jabloteh 2 (Nathan Lewis 50', Own Goal Joseph Mitchelson 74') vs Racing FC 0, (Group B)
Central FC 3 (Jason Marcano 38', Carlos Edwards 44', Nathaniel Garcia 85') vs Grenades FC 1 (Tevaughn Harriette 6'), (Group A)
San Juan Jabloteh (T&T): 1.Javon Sample (GK); 6.Akeem Benjamin, 7.Elijah Manners, 9.Keithy Simpson, 11.Damian Williams (Capt.), 12.Kion Joseph, 16.Jairo Lombardo (10.Kadeem Corbin 70th minute), 17.Vurlon Mills (13.Julio Noel 76th minute), 18.Jevon Morris (5.Shakiyl Phillip 85th minute), 24.Adrian Reid, 27.Nathan Lewis.
Unused substitutes: 30.Shemel Louison (GK); 3.Josiah Trimmingham, 8.Micah Lansiquot, 14.Hayden Tinto.
Coach: Keith Jeffrey (T&T)
Racing FC (Haiti): 1.Maurisseau Bergeot (GK); 2.Laurent Estenio, 6.Joseph Mitchelson, 7.Fleurancier Marckenley, 8.Paul Danshley (22.Jean Jackson 82nd minute), 10.Ojulesse Valcourt (Capt.) (16.Dorisca Markens 90th minute), 11.Stevenson Guillaume, 13.Louissaint Kervenson, 15.Charles Bendy, 17.Daniel Jamesley (14.Jean Junior Odiles), 20.Senatus Earnso Ralph J.
Unused substitutes: 35.Jeune Janel (GK); 4.Philippe Junior, 9.Delva Adiles, 18.Jean Pierre Guerson.
Coach: Philippe Giuliano (HAI)
Referee: Ricangel de Leca (ARU).
Central FC: 1.Ryan Thompson (GK); 5.Keston George (Capt.), 6.Carlos Edwards, 7.Jason Marcano (18.Tyrik John 87th minute), 8.Sean De Silva, 12.Taryk Sampson, 15.Lloyd Bannister, 19.Nathaniel Garcia, 24.Graham Smith (44.Callum Harris 58th minute), 28.Fresnel Simil, 42.Richard Pierre (11.Johan Peltier 62nd minute).
Unused substitutes: 30.Akel Clarke (GK); 10.Keron Cummings, 40.Clinton Olagunju, 46.Kaydion Gabriel.
Coach: Dale Saunders (T&T)
Grenades FC: 32.Michaud Barrett (GK); 4.Stefan Smith, 5.Christopher Harvey, 6.Lamar Hodges (23.Ranja Christian 55th minute), 7.Nazir Mc Bernette, 8.Zacchaeus Polius, 9.Tevaughn Harriette, 10.Rakeem Henry (Capt.), 12.Blake Thompson, 13.Karanjah Mack (15.Shkkimba Williams 73rd minute), 18.Okeem Challenger (17.Hakeem Joseph 65th minute).
Unused substitutes: 1.Prince Walter (GK); 14.Curtez Kellman, 19.Lloyd Matthews, 20.Tazio Williamson.
Coach: Derrick Edwards (ATG)
Referee: Sherwin Moore (GUY)
Team GP W D L GF GA GD Pts
Central FC 1 1 0 0 3 1 2 3
Cibao FC 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Grenades FC 1 0 0 1 1 3 -2 0
Team GP W D L GF GA GD Pts
San Juan Jabloteh 1 1 0 0 2 0 2 3
Portmore United 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Racing FC 1 0 0 1 0 2 -2 0