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San Juan Jabloteh defender Josiah Trimmingham (L) and midfielder Keyon Edwards (R) tries to stop Central FC attacker Rundell Winchester during the 2016/17 Digicel Pro League.

Keith Jeffrey, head coach of former Caribbean champions San Juan Jabloteh, is bracing for a baptism of fire when he leads the San Juan Kingsinton Group E action of the Caribbean Football Union (CFU) 2017 Club Championship—the Caribbean’s qualifying tournament to the CONCACAF Champions League—this week.

Jabloteh, whose 20-man squad left for St. Vincent today, will open against Sint Maarten’s Flames United SC on Wednesday 8 March (5:30 pm), then face Guadeloupe’s Club Sportif Moulien on Friday 10 March (5:30 pm), before completing the first round round-robin stage against hosts System 3 Sport Academy (7:30 pm) on Sunday 12 March. All matches will be contested at Victoria Park in Kingstown, St. Vincent.

Team captain and Jamaican defensive midfielder Damian Williams will lead Jabloteh’s 20-man squad which includes goalkeepers Javon Sample and Guyana’s Andrew Durrant; defenders Akeem Benjamin, Jerome Mc Intyre, Josiah Trimmingham, Jevon Morris and Jamaican Adrian Reid; midfielders Elijah Manners, Keyon Edwards, Jamaican Keithy Simpson, Kion Joseph, Panamanian Jairo Lombardo, Kennedy Hinkson, Nathan Lewis, Tyrone Charles and Micah Lansiquot; and forwards Jamal Gay, Kadeem Corbin, and Guyana’s Vurlon Mills.

According to Jabloteh coach Jeffrey, the San Juan club has already secured the signature of unattached Trinidad and Tobago international Carlyle Mitchell. However the T&T defender was unavailable for selection due to a groin injury picked up in training with the national team preparing for upcoming FIFA World Cup qualifiers against Panama and Mexico on 24 and 25 March respectively. Also on the injury list is defender Aquil Selby while forward Brent Sam is still on trial in Portugal.

Jeffrey, who travelled to St. Vincent ahead of his team, will be joined by assistant coaches Nigel Henry and Gilbert Bateau, goalkeeper coach Joshua Lamb, and team manager Michael Watson.

“I have no idea about our opponents,” Jeffrey told today. “But we know one thing for sure, they will be fired up against us. They will all see us as the powerhouse in the group. Trinidad and Tobago is at the top of the list in football in the Caribbean but we are not underestimating the other teams.

“I have spoken to the coach of the ‘Vincy’ team (System 3 Sport Academy) and they have been looking us up on Youtube, and I would think it’s the same with our other opponents. The most we got about them online is their standings and some results. System 3 have also strengthened their team, adding some players from the United States and from within their St. Vincent league.

“We will have to do the things necessary to make us successful even if it means some tactical changes after getting to understand our opponents as the game progress.

“What is also important for us is that our players understand that they are not only representing Jabloteh, but representing Trinidad and Tobago.”

Jabloteh, champions in 2003, last competed at the Caribbean Club Championship in 2010, finishing third behind champions Puerto Rico Islanders and now defunct, runners-up Joe Public.

Jabloteh’s runners-up finish in the 2015/16 Digicel Pro League season qualified them along with champions Central FC for this season’s Caribbean Club Championship.

“This shows [Jabloteh’s] management made a good decision in putting me here to get Jabloteh back into CFU,” said Jeffrey back then. He was installed as technical director/head coach when the four-time Pro League champions, Jabloteh, resumed top-flight operations for the 2013/14 season following a one-year hiatus due to financial strains after then major sponsor—CL Financial—went into receivership.

Jabloteh, now, are coming off a third place finish in the just concluded 2016/17 Pro League season behind three-peat champions Central FC and runners-up W Connection.

Central FC, the two-time Caribbean defending champions, heads a record 21 clubs from 12 countries who have qualified for the this season’s edition of the CFU competition, which will determine the region’s representatives to CONCACAF’s expanded competitions platform.

The five group winners will advance to the final round, scheduled for May 14 – 21. Central, who received a bye as reigning champions, will host the final round in Trinidad.

“Only the group winners will be going forward,” added Jeffrey. “And we want to play before the supporters in Trinidad. So it’s important for us reaching the final six, and with the support of the home advantage—the 12th man—we want to go all the way to the final.”

Haitian outfit Racing FC (Group A), Dominican Republic’s Cibao FC (Group B) and Antigua and Barbuda outfit Grenades FC (Group C) have already secured their final round berths after topping their respective groups. The final round will be played in two groups of three, with both group winners facing each other in the final. 

The champions of the Caribbean Club Championship earns a place in the newly re-formatted CONCACAF Champions League, while the second, third and fourth-placed clubs will participate in the Confederation’s newly launched club championship tournament for Caribbean and Central American clubs, which kicks off in August.

GROUP E (St. Vincent & the Grenadines)

March 8, 2017

Flames United SC (St. Maarten) v San Juan Jabloteh (T&T)

System 3 Sport Academy (St. Vincent & the Grenadines) v Club Sportif Moulien

March 10, 2017

San Juan Jabloteh v Club Sportif Moulien

System 3 Sport Academy (St. Vincent & the Grenadines) v Flames United SC (St. Maarten)

March 12, 2017

Club Sportif Moulien (Guadeloupe) v Flames United SC (St Maarten)

System 3 Sport Academy (St. Vincent & the Grenadines) v San Juan Jabloteh (T&T)