On Saturday, the pre-game hype was focused on Marcus Joseph, the 24-year-old ace striker making his first return to the Mahaica Oval since moving from hometown club Point Fortin Civic to Central FC in pre-season.
Plaza opened the scoring in the first half before Sean de Silva made certain of victory with a second half brace to give the Digicel Pro League (DPL) champions a convincing start to their title defence.
“I knew we were three goals better than them (Civic),” said head coach Ross Russell after his first league match in charge of Central FC. “It was a gutsy performance by my guys. The game was a little rugged. It wasn’t as smooth as we normally play but my guys fought it out and got what they deserved.
“We could have scored more. Willis Plaza had a few that he missed. So 3-0 is a decent score for us.”
The result put Central, with a +3 goal-difference, at the top of the 2015-2016 DPL standings in Round One Match Day One, which will culminate on today (Sunday 27 September) with Morvant Caledonia United, equipped with former Civic goalie Marvin Phillip, against San Juan Jabloteh from 4 pm at the Hasely Crawford Stadium.
On Friday night at the Hasely Crawford Stadium, St. Ann’s Rangers held Defence Force, the former club of coach Russell, to a 1-1 draw; the same result last season’s runners-up W Connection were held on Saturday by Police at the Mannie Ramjohn Stadium.
Andre Toussaint, one of four top players to leave Civic following last season, broke a deadlock in the 83rd minute for Connection but a minute later Police forward Makesi Lewis tied the scores 1-1.
Also on Saturday, North East Stars joined Central as the only other winning team thus far, after shutting out DPL newcomers, Club Sando, 2-0 at the Larry Gomes Stadium.
New signings Alanzo Adlam and Adrian Noel each scored a goal in the 17th and 59th minutes, respectively, to give new North East Stars head coach, Roland Clarke, a win his debut.
Later at the Mahaica Oval, Central grabbed a 1-0 lead in the 28th minute when Plaza struck low into the far netting, beating Civic debutant goalkeeper, Miles Goodman in a match marred by crunching tackles but produced just a few cautions from referee Cecile Hinds.
Plaza was clinical from inside the right of the box after being picked out on a pass from midfielder De Silva, who started the attack from his own half.
Plaza, the only player to score a goal in every match against Civic since last season, including a 1-0 win to secure 2014-2015 Round Two Akeem Adams Trophy in the clubs previous meeting at Mahaica on February 24, 2015, had further chances to double the tally but headed over in the 40th minute and onto the crossbar in the 60th minute.
Plaza’s other goals against Civic last season came in a 3-1 win on January 11, 2015 and in a 5-2 win on April 24, 2015. Club and T&T teammate Ataulla Guerra, who was left out of Saturday’s squad, had a three-goal tally in both matches.
Yesterday, Plaza showed determination by wrestling off his marker before playing a through ball, which allowed De Silva to advance into the box and slot low past an advancing Goodman for a 2-0 Central cushion in the 63rd minute.
De Silva, a two-time former Trinidad and Tobago Youth World Cup player, made it 3-0 on the 70th minute when he controlled a Joseph (M) freekick onto his chest before volleying into Goodman’s net to complete his double.
Even without another Central signing from Civic, defensive hardman Andre Ettienne, who was left out due to injury, Civic were unable really trouble the “Couva Sharks”’ defence and midfield, controlled by 40-year-old veteran playmaker, Marvin Oliver.
Despite being a torn in his former side, Joseph (M), a talented left-footed striker of the ball and Trinidad and Tobago footballer, was unable to find the back of the net.
Meanwhile Civic, who got within inches of goalkeeper Jan-Michael Williams’ frame on a couple tries, had their closest attempt in the 84th minute when substitute Kerwin Stafford, a pre-season signing, troubled the crossbar from an angle on the right side.
“It’s our first game,” said Civic head coach Leroy De Leon. “We had some practice games before but not at this level. It’s not bad but we have some things to work on especially in the middle of the field and defensively. Our midfield was non-existent today for some reason. We also have to work on scoring goals but the real problem is the middle of the field. If the middle of the field is strong, then it takes the pressure off the defence.”
De Leon confessed that he was still in a mixing-and-matching stage with a number of new players in his squad but remains confident things will come into place.
“We’d be OK! We have a lot of players on the bench that didn’t get a chance today (Saturday). We are still mixing and matching. It’s early still, the first game, and eventually we would be there.”
De Leon, a Trinidad and Tobago football legend, added, “Central have been playing year-round, they were in CONCACAF, they are a team but we aren’t there yet.”
Central’s Russell, a two-time DPL champion coach at Defence Force, admitted that his side have the early edge due to their participation in the group stage of the 2015-2016 CONCACAF Champions League.
“It’s match sharpness,” said the Central coach. “We have five games on the trot already, high level games. We were more comfortable on the ball while Civic were now trying and it all has to do with game practice.
“The season (has) now started but we are coming off our highs in the CONCACAF within recent weeks. Now we are focused on (retaining) the league,” ended Russell, who believes his players still need to be more comfortable possessing the ball more.
W Connection 1 (Andre Toussaint 83’) vs Police FC 1 (Makesi Lewis 84’)
North East Stars 2 (Alanzo Adlan 17’, Adrian Noel 59’) vs Club Sando 0
Point Fortin Civic 0 vs Central FC 3 (Willis Plaza 28’, Sean de Silva 63’, 70’)
Point Fortin Civic: 1.Miles Goodman; 27.Kern Peters, 15.Nedeon Noel, 11.Tigana Sparks (10.Bevon Bass 72nd), 19.Andrei Pacheco, 16.Kelvin Modeste (capt.), 6.Jayson Joseph, 8.Akeem Redhead, 9.Shackiel Henry (25.Troy Moses 80th), 99.Corey Cyrus (14.Kerwin Stafford 67th), 20.Jamille Boatswain
Unused substitutes: 52.Akini Adams (GK), 21.Rondell Paul, 12.Glenn Sutton, 17.Kestwin Goolie
Coach: Leroy De Leon
Central FC: 21.Jan-Michael Williams (capt.); 2.Elton John, 8.Sean de Silva, 10.Marvin Oliver (19.Nathaniel Garcia 82nd), 11.Darren Mitchell, 12.Jamal Jack, 15.Kaydion Gabriel, 17.Marcelle Francois (25.Elijah Manners 66th), 24.Kevon Villaroel, 33.Willis Plaza (6.Kerry Baptiste 77th), 99.Marcus Joseph
Unused substitutes: 5.Akeem Benjamin, 30.Akel Clarke (GK), 14.Nicholas Dillon, 26.Mickaeel Jem Gordon
Coach: Ross Russell