Club Sando head coach Angus Eve must make do without his talisman and Trinidad and Tobago forward Akeem Roach, who will attempt to secure a move to Europe in the summer transfer window.
Roach, in last season’s truncated 2016-17 calendar, became the youngest player in the history of the Pro League to finish top scorer, eclipsing Jason Scotland -- who held the feat since 2000 -- by months.
The 21-year-old Roach, a former Defence Force and Morvant Caledonia United attacker, netted 12 league goals from two rounds (18 matches) while shouldering adversity following the death of his mother Akeisha Roach (pneumonia), stepfather Sheldon Bernard (murdered), and grandparents Mura and Dobson Roach, all within the early months of 2016.
It is said that losing a parent, let alone the multiple losses for Roach, can be one of the most devastating things that can happen to a child or young adult.
But, for some, the death of a mother or father is a spur, a propellant that sends them catapulting into life.
“It was very tough for me losing my mother and family so very close to me,” Akeem recollected. “It all happened months apart. It was very hard, but although is still very hard to accept, it made me more focused in life: my career as a footballer, being closer to God and being a better person.
“My mother [always] wanted me to pursue my football dreams, so all I want to achieve is to make her proud.”
Now one of the leading relatives in the life of his 7-year-old brother Azeem Roach, Cocorite resident Akeem Roach wants to also make his sibling proud.
“I try to be mother, father and brother to him (Azeem). And more importantly I want to be someone he can look up to and be very proud of.”
Roach, in the past, had been encouraged to enrol in the Trinidad and Tobago Defence Force through his footballing ability, but says while his heart isn’t shut on the Tetron Boys, his aspiration is to play at a higher level in Europe.
Roach has opted not to renew his status as a Sando player for the new 2017 season, which begins on Friday 9 June, choosing to explore possible opportunities aboard as his local handler Dane Mapp, of Integrity Sport Management, is hoping to secure a trial in Norway, Sweden or even Azerbaijan.
The former East Mucurapo Secondary School student was a member of Trinidad and Tobago provisional training squad in Colorado, USA, preparing for upcoming FIFA World Cup 2018 qualifiers at the United States and Costa Rica on June 8 and 13, respectively, hence Mapp’s decision to arrange trials after the international fixtures.
But an ankle injury, picked up in a 1-0 practice match win over Colorado side Boulder FC, resulted in him being left out of coach Dennis Lawrence’s 24-man squad to face the U.S. and Costa Rica.
“I am committed to working really hard,” explained Roach, who had continued training alongside his Sando teammates prior to jetting off to the U.S. last month with the T&T national team.
“I had to [endure] a lot, maybe more than some or less than others, but thinking about everything that I’ve been through, pushes me to work harder and to push towards my dream of playing professionally abroad.
“Last season matured me a lot into understanding that hard work really pays off, and I believe the professional environment (aboard) will help improve my development as a player.”
Mapp, who credits himself as a key player in the United States moves of T&T internationals Kevin Molino and Cordell Cato, as well as Ataulla Guerra and Neveal Hackshaw at US club Charleston Battery, said, “He (Roach) made a big recovery last season following the deaths of his mother and stepfather to hit 12 (league) goals and eight assists. He wants to make it abroad. And, I can tell, it wasn’t an easy decision for him to turn down joining the Defence Force [as a member of the regiment].”
Last February a trial at Charleston Battery went sour for Roach, now Mapp turns his attention to another continent.
Eve, meanwhile, has already begun adjusting for life without the talented Roach, who boats speed, strength, skill, and of course the appetite for goals, which can be produced by either boot.
“We at Sando want the best for him (Roach) and any player who can make better for themselves abroad,” said Eve, a former T&T standout, who had a stint in England with Chester City.
“We allowed him to continue training with us so that he can be available to (T&T) coach Dennis Lawrence for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers as well as be ready for possible trials abroad.
“We imagine he wouldn’t be with us for the new season so we have been preparing based on new adjustments.”
Point Fortin Civic winger Akeem Redhead, Morvant Caledonia United midfielder Akim Armstrong, and, most recently, the experience of released San Juan Jabloteh trio: midfielder Keyon Edwards, winger Tyrone Charles and forward Jamal Gay have all been snapped up by Eve.
Adan Noel, a 22-year-old former W Connection youth player, has also been acquired by Sando and is another goal-scoring option for Eve, while Enrique Changiah goalkeeper has been added to the goalkeeping department.
“Last season we depended heavily on Roach,” explained Eve. “And while we are looking for goals from midfield this season, we didn’t miss out on the opportunity to add talent in offence. We have guys now who can add a lot of experience and talent, complementing what we already have to work with. It's a situation now where we can play expansive football, playing the type of game based on the players we have, whereas in the past I played to the strengths of the centre forward.”
Eve, a North East Stars FA Trophy and Toyota Classic winning-coach and former San Juan Jabloteh assistant coach, now into his second term of a three-year move at Sando, has also retained the services of goalkeepers Stefan Berkeley and Kelvin Henry, and outfield players Kemuel Rivers, Kevon Piper, Keron Cornwall, Leslie Russell, Nical Stephens, Trevin Latapy, Michael Basdeo, Nicholas Thomas, Akeem Humphrey, Jared London, Jay-son Joseph and Rondell Payne.
Last season Eve improved Club Sando to a fifth-place finish – two spots higher than the previous season under predecessor Anthony Streete, but felt his side underachieved.
“Our target was to finish fourth and to reach a Cup final,” continued the former Trinidad and Tobago U23 coach.
"We didn’t hit our target although we showed improvements in other areas. Last season my focus was also to build the respectability of the club—that when an opponent play us, it’s a difficult game for them. We did that and were one of the only two teams to take points from (league champions) Central FC. We also had three players, Roach, Akeem Humphrey and Jared London on the (T&T) national team and they continue to be on the radar of the national coach Dennis (Lawrence). We want to continue in this trend in support of the national team and giving more local players the opportunity to go on to bigger opportunities.”
For the upcoming season Eve has also recruited teenagers Kareem Blake Williams, Malique “Mosquito” Quow, Raygun Jawahir and former St. Ann’s Rangers and T&T Under-20 forward Rushawn Murphy under his wings at Sando.
Former Guyana international Charles Pollard, a part-time assistant coach with the Golden Jaguars, has returned for another season as assistant coach to Eve while Michael Maurice has joined on as goalkeeper coach.
Sando will set the ball in motion for the 2017 Pro League season when they play Morvant Caledonia United in the opening game on June 9, from 6pm at the Ato Boldon Stadium, followed by defending champions Central FC against San Juan Jabloteh from 8pm to complete a double-header.
Pro League 2017
Full Round One Match Day One fixtures
Friday 9 June 2017
Club Sando vs Morvant Caledonia United—6pm, Ato Boldon Stadium
Central FC vs San Juan Jabloteh—8pm, Ato Boldon Stadium
Saturday 10 June 2017
North East Stars vs Point Fortin Civic—7pm, Arima Velodrome
Monday 12 June 2017
Defence Force vs Police FC—6pm, Ato Boldon Stadium
W Connection vs St. Ann’s Rangers (rescheduled to June 20, 2017 )