Reigning T&T Pro League and Caribbean Football Union Club Championship title-holder, Central FC has added veteran striker Kerry Baptiste formerly of Play Whe San Juan Jabloteh Also joining the line-up are ex-Pt Fortin Civic FC duo, striker Marcus Joseph and midfielder Andre Ettienne.
The trio is expected to be in the 18-man squad for Central FC’s CCL opener away to US Major Soccer League champions, LA Galaxy on Thursday at Stub Hub Centre, Carson, California, USA on Thursday from 10 pm.
The acquisition of the three players is a great coup for Central FC which, after enjoying its best season domestically, retaining the First Citizens Cup while claiming the Digicel Pro Bowl, the Rawle Fletcher, Kevon Carter and Rawle Fletcher titles for topping each round of the Pro League and the CFU Club crown, saw coach and former England international Terry Fenwick part ways with the club due to a break down in contract talks.
Fenwick has since been replaced by ex-T&T goalkeeper and Defence Force coach Ross Russell, who along with the Couva-based club will be making their CCL debut on Thursday night.
The 33-year-old Baptiste, a former T&T international will add a wealth of experience to the squad and scored nine goals last season for Jabloteh and is currently the all-time second highest goalscorer in the history of the T&T Pro League with 131 goals, five shy of all-time leader Defence Force’s Devorn Jorsling.
Joseph, 24, was the Pro League’s top scorer in the 2013/2014 season with 16 goals and spent the last four seasons with Pt Foprtin Civic FC squad scoring 15 goals last campaign while his club mate Ettienne, 25, chipped in with two goals from the midfield position.
In addition to the trio coach Russell will be able to call on Central FC regulars in goalkeeper Jan-Michael Williams, Jamal Jack, Elton John, Kaydion Gabriel, Jason Marcano, Willis Plaza, Sean De Silva, Ataulla Guerra, Marcelle Francois, Keion Goodridge, veteran leader Marvin Oliver and Akeem Benjamin.
Last season’s club captain and national midfielder Leston Paul and striker Dwight Quintero are both currently in Turkey seeking European contracts and not part of the Central FC squad at present. Yesterday, part of the squad left for Los Angeles along the club’s newly appointed football operations manager, former national defender and captain Anthony Rougier and coach Russell while the remaining players leave today.
In addition to LA Galaxy, Central FC will also face Guatemalan champions CSD Comunicaciones in their Group D round-robin series at the end of which only the group winner will advance.
Rusell’s tenure with the T&T Defence Force, which falls under the Ministry of National Security, came to an end after 26 years prior to December 18, 2014 when the Staff Sergeant reached his 47th birthday–the retirement age based on his last rank–two days after his last match in charge which ended in a 1-1 draw with Point Fortin Civic.
This meant he was unable to serve the Army-Coast Guard combination as coach of its Digicel T&T Pro League football team as coach or in any official position. Only if Russell—the most successful coach of the Defence Force football set-up in recent years–was promoted to the rank of Warrant Officer would he had been able to serve the Defence Force and its top-flight football team for three more years—something Russell has been very optimistic about over the past year.
In his absence, close friend, 36-year-old Lance Corporal Marvin Gordon, served as coach and while another former player, Anton Joseph, was his assistant. Russell’s successes as coach of Defence Force’s top-flight team included winning two (Digicel) Pro League championships (2010-2011 & 2012-2013), the First Citizens Cup (2009) and the Digicel Pro Bowl (2012) during his spell, which began in 2009.
Central FC on the other hand, began the season under former T&T coach Zoran Vranes and retained the First Citizens Cup, after Fenwick departed for greener pastures in the Belgium Third tier with CS Vise, where local players Willis Plaza, Rundell Winchester, Elton John and Kevon Villaroel subsequently followed.
But a few months into their first season in the Belgium third division, everything went sour for the Trinidadian players and Fenwick as the reality of the cashed-strapped Vise kicked in.
However, with the club sitting nicely at the top of the Pro League table and two trophies already won, Vranes was surprisingly replaced by the returning Fenwick, and elevated to the position of Technical Director, a post which was held by Central director of women’s and youth football, George Romano, who suffered a stroke.
The move to bring back Fenwick worked wonders as he went onto add the Akeem Adams and Kevon Carter trophies for winning the remaining two rounds in the league, the Pro League title and the Digicel Pro Bowl before capturing a first ever CFU Club Championship title. However, at the end of last season, Fenwick along with a number of players saw their contracts with the club expired while there were also issues over bonus payments for tournaments won.
In the end, Central FC and Fenwick, a former successful coach at Play Whe San Juan Jabloteh as well, parted ways, after which the club’s search for a successor led to Russell, who will have former national midfielder Dale Saunders as his assistant.
Squad: Jan-Michael Williams, Akel Clarke, Jamal Jack, Keion Goodridge, Akeem Benjamin, Kaydion Gabriel, Elton John, Elijah Manners, Jason Marcano, Willis Plaza, Kevon Villaroel, Sean De Silva, Ataulla Guerra, Marcelle Franocois, Triq Nichols, Marvin Oliver, Andre Ettienne, Kerry Baptiste, Marcus Joseph.