Jason Marcano leads ‘Couva Sharks’ to $1 million Pro League title repeat with two games to spare
Central FC were crowned the 2015/16 Digicel Pro League champions on Sunday with two games to spare after a comprehensive 4-0 win over North East Stars at the Mannie Ramjohn Stadium put the “Couva Sharks” at an unassailable 55 points.
Stars, meanwhile, on 44 points and having their seven-game winning streak in the league snapped, saw an end to their efforts for the highly sort after CONCACAF Champions League qualifying spot which is awarded to the top-two finishing teams who will contest next season’s Caribbean Football Union (CFU) Club Championship, which qualifies three Caribbean clubs to the CCL.
Central, who recently repeated as Caribbean Club champions, entered the annals of the professional era of Trinidad and Tobago football by becoming only the third club after W Connection (2000 & 2001) and San Juan Jabloteh (2002 & 2003 / 2007 & 2008) to successfully defend the domestic league crown.
“We really wanted to defend our Caribbean and Pro League titles and the players are deserving champions,” Central FC’s Dale Saunders told ttproleague.com. “Credit to the players for working really hard throughout the season. Credit to the management and staff who have a great chemistry in putting our heads together with the players and we have been able to get the job done.”
Saunders said the “Couva Sharks” have the quality above other teams with a good mixture of youth and experience.
“We (Central) had no doubt in retaining our league title,” added the 42-year-old former Trinidad and Tobago international now with his first league championship as head coach. “We always believed in the players and the quality we have in the camp, and we knew that once we kept our heads together we would (get) the job done.”
Central midfielder and captain Leston Paul told ttproleague.com, “We truly deserve [winning both the Caribbean Club Championship and Pro League titles]. It's a long season with lots of ups and downs but [our] players were willing to work hard every day in sticking with the team’s goals [to repeat as Caribbean and Pro League champions].”
Last season Central became the sixth club in the history of the professional era (1999 to present) to win the league. Now under the charge of former assistant coach Saunders, the “Couva Sharks” are celebrating again as league champions while second-positioned Defence Force and third-placed Jabloteh, both on 48 points, are left to challenge for the final CCL qualifiers spot.
Defence Force have just one remaining game against Morvant Caledonia while Jabloteh have six points to play with fixtures against North East Stars and Central.
Marcano handed Central a 1-0 lead on 37 minutes, which lasted into the break, after he lifted a deflected Kaydion Gabriel cross over Stars goalkeeper Glenroy Samuel who hesitated twice before being stranded off the line.
But it was Stars, coached by former Central coach Ross Russell, who started the brighter of the two sides on the sunny afternoon on the pristine Marabella venue surface with forward Kerry Baptiste hitting the back of the net twice – but both goals were overturned due to infringements (offside and foul on goalkeeper Javon Sample respectively) – before his luck ran sour again when he struck the upright; all within the first 22 minutes.
Samuel kept the Stars’ deficit at a minimum towards the half with saves against Sean De Silva, Jack and Darren Mitchell and the “Sangre Grande Stars”.
But Marcano doubled his scoring to give Central a 2-0 cushion after 56 minutes, hitting into the top corner of Samuel’s netting from the penalty spot.
Referee Rashby Mc Phie awarded the kick after Sean De Silva was brought down from behind by defender Glenton Wolfe inside the area after running almost 30 yards towards goal after a neat one-two with Marcano to break free.
“It was today or no other day,” said Marcano after the game. “And we are happy to seal the title today.”
The former Jabloteh league winner credited “team chemistry” for the league success which will now allow younger players more playing time in the two remaining league fixtures against St. Ann’s Rangers and Jabloteh.
Commenting on the comfortable 4-0 win against the Stars, Marcano said, “It was only a matter of time before we got into our momentum to get the result. Every team come out to put their best but we were the better team today – all season (chuckles).”
Central put the game further out of Stars’ reach on the hour mark with a 3-0 score when Jack curled a sweet strike out of Samuel's reach and into the top corner after a feed from Mitchell.
Then came goal number 4 (-0) on 69 minutes when Villaroel smashed a left-footed strike past Samuel after De Silva knocked down Marcano’s cross inside the area after a trip by Keryn Navarro had allowed the latter win the ball and run free towards the left of the area.
Marcano missed out on his hat trick three minutes later, hitting over-bar after he was played through by Jack, and seven minutes from time, substitute Ricardo John saw his attempt cleared away at the goal mouth by Stars defender Kion Joseph.
Both sides will meet again on Tuesday in the quarter-finals of the Digicel Pro Bowl which Central are holders.
“I expect it to be a tough game again,” predicts Central FC midfielder and captain Leston Paul. “Today they came out well but I think we suffocate them with the goal near the end of the first half and then in the second half took advantage of some more chances and took over the game from there.”
Also on Sunday, Police FC edged cellar-placed St. Ann’s Rangers 1-0 at the Ato Boldon Stadium through a late Kareem Freitas strike – the forward’s 13th league goal this season – to put the sixth-positioned “Lawmen” on 40 points.
Both sides will return to play on Tuesday in the Pro Bowl quarterfinal round with Police to tackle W Connection and Rangers against Jabloteh.
Central FC 4 (Jason Marcano 37’, 56’ penalty, Jamal Jack 60’, Kevon Villaroel 69’) vs North East Stars 0, at Mannie Ramjohn Stadium;
St. Ann's Rangers 0 vs Police FC 1 (Kareem Freitas 85’), at Larry Gomes Stadium.
Central FC: 1.Javon Sample; 3.Keion Goodridge, 4.Andre Ettienne, 7.Jason Marcano, 8.Sean De Silva (45.Ricardo John 70th minute), 11.Darren Mitchell (9.Kadeem Corbin 80th minute), 12.Jamal Jack, 15.Kaydion Gabriel, 19.Nathaniel Garcia (14.Nicholas Dillon 77th minute), 22.Leston Paul (Capt.), 24.Kevon Villaroel
Unused substitutes: 30.Levi Fernandes (GK), 9.Kadeem Corbin, 25.Elijah Manners, 26.Mickaeel Jem Gordon
Coach: Dale Saunders
North East Stars: 32.Glenroy Samuel; 3.Kion Joseph, 4.Jesus Perez, 5.Ryan Stewart, 7.Kerry Daniel (42.Reon Moore 65th minute), 8.Anthony Guppy (9.Gorean Highley 65th minute), 19.Glenton Wolfe, 21.Neil Mitchell, 25.Keryn Navarro, 26.Anthony Wolfe (Capt.), 40.Kerry Baptiste (14.Chike Sullivan 68th minute)
Unused substitutes: 22.Cleon John (GK), 23.Brendon Figuera, 27.Quincy Charles, 39.Taryk Sampson
Coach: Ross Russell
Referee: Rashby Mc Phie