All-time top scorer Kerry Baptiste given new but familiar role at the San Juan club
San Juan Jabloteh, usually a near total-local outfit, have increased their tally of foreign nationals for the upcoming 2014-2015 Pro League season as head coach Keith Jeffrey attempts to “return Jabloteh to the glory days”.
“The market (for players) is thin locally,” explained Jeffrey. “(...) so we took the opportunity to go out and add talent. We have brought in some quality so that we can finish the season in the top three and return Jabloteh to the glory days.
“If you look back at history, Jabloteh have always been one of the teams vying for top position. So we needed to bring some experience. We have young players locally but they need some experience to work with.”
Last season under the charge of debuting Jeffrey, Jabloteh, in a reflex return to the league, finished second from bottom (8th position) – the lowest ever by the four-time Pro League champions in the history of the league, since it was formed in 2002.
Now in an attempt to lead the club to a “top three” finish in 2014-2015 and restore Jabloteh’s competitive spirit, Jeffrey included four new Jamaicans, a Dominican, and a Grenadian in his new signings.
Former Portmore United midfielders Bryan Bayliss, 28, and Fabian Reid, 23, and defender Adrian Reid, 28, along with forward Sterling Newton, 29, who last represented Joplin Demize in the US, joined fellow Jamaicans, midfielder Duran Dilworth and goalkeeper Shane Mattis at the San Juan club.
Dominica national team goalkeeper Glenson Prince, 26, and Grenadian defender Garth Thomas, 21, have also been signed along with former T&T Under 20 teammates Coneal Thomas and Brendon Boucaud; midfielders Brendon Figuera and Akeil Guevara; defender Caleb Sturge; forwards Troy Moses, Andell Noray and Johan Peltier; and goalkeeper Raheem Belgrave.
Boucaud, 26, a former W Connection player, will serve in midfield, while Thomas, 27, who last represented Club Sando, and Sturge, 18, who debuted in the top flight last season with Rangers, will occupy defence.
As for Peltier, the 22-year-old forward has received a second shot of life at Jabloteh. The former T&T U-20 player had left Jabloteh in 2011 to join archrivals W Connection but failed to settle at the Couva club and had similar problems at latter clubs North East Stars and Central FC.
“He (Peltier) just need to add the discipline to his attributes and he will make a positive contribution this season,” said Jeffrey, echoing sentiments of Peltier’s former coaches.
Jeffrey has also retained the services of former T&T international Kerry Baptiste, 32; defenders Dario Holmes, Jevon Morris, Nyron Jones, Dillon Kirton, Josiah Trimmingham and St. Kitts-Nevis’ Mudassa Howe; midfielders Neil Mitchell, Nkosi David; and forwards Shaquille Bertrand and former T&T Under-17 player, 18-year-old Brent Sam.
Baptiste, the midfielder-turned-forward famed by his record 48 goals in 2009 that helped then club Joe Public to a record haul of five titles in a single season, will be used in his old position in midfield according to Jeffrey.
“He (Baptiste) is slower now, so coming from deeper he will bring more,” said the Jabloteh coach. “He is a very knowledgeable player and smart with the ball. He has all the attributes of an attacking midfielder and it is where we would use him.”
However the 2009 Pro League Player of the Year and all-time Pro League top scorer, Baptiste, isn’t in full agreement.
“I’m not fully ok (with the decision),” he said. “But out of respect for the coach and the club, if that’s where they want me to play I will do my best. But my strength is as a forward, and it won’t be easy for me to sit back and watch others who aren’t proving themselves up front.”
Baptiste said his intention is to return to the national team to help T&T win the Caribbean Cup, reach the Gold Cup, and qualify for World Cup 2018 in Russia.
“It has nothing to do with age,” he said. “At the end of the day my attitude is always right in keeping fit and working hard. I would like to play at my strength, which is as a striker, to be able to get the attention of the national coaches.”
Baptiste is the all-time Pro League top scorer with 122 goals, followed by Defence Force's Devorn Jorsling at 115 goals.
Baptiste, also a former T&T Under 20 and Under 23 footballer, kicked off his professional career at Jabloteh (2003-2006) before joining Joe Public (2007-2010). He had unsuccessful trials with English Championship club Ipswich Town (December 2009) and Major League Soccer (MLS) clubs Toronto FC (May 2010) and Seattle Sounders FC (2011) before agreeing to a short term deal with North American Soccer League (NASL) side FC Tampa Bay in July 2011.
Baptiste returned to Trinidad joining the now defunct T&TEC in January 2012 for a short stint before joining North East Stars for the 2012-2013 season. Last season he returned to where it began, Jabloteh, and bagged 8 league goals, while much younger attackers Marcus Joseph (16 goals) for Point Fortin Civic, Joevin Jones for W Connection, Trevin Caesar for North East Stars, Willis Plaza for Central FC (14 goals) and Josimar Belgrave (12 goals) for Defence Force had double figures.