Kevon Villaroel added gloss to a star-studded North East Stars outfit which edged visitors Point Fortin Civic 1-0 as Pro League action debuted at the iconic Arima Velodrome last night.
Villaroel -- one of eight debutants in the hosts’ starting line-up -- pulled a rabbit out the hat when he surprised all in the 11th minute with a cracker from almost 30-yards out to beat Civic goalkeeper Akini Adams for his first goal in thirteen months.
Ironically, the former Central FC and Puerto Rico Islanders left full-back’s previous goal was in a 4-0 Central win against his current employers.
Only a rocket of a volley by Elton John three minutes from the half could have outdone his teammate last night, but Adams, the elder brother of deceased former Trinidad and Tobago and Hungarian club Ferencvárosi left-back Akeem Adams, produced an equally magnificent save to keep out the shot.
Jameel Neptune’s cross-cum-shot which crashed off the Civic bar in the fifth minute, and a long-range effort from returning player Jomoul Francois which whisked past Adams’ crossbar five minutes later had provided early warnings for the visitors and excitement for the few hundreds of spectators that came to witness professional football in the heart of Arima.
It was a creditable opening display by a North East Stars team scrambled together following a failed attempt by multiple-time Pro League-winning coach, Englishman Terry Fenwick, to take charge for the new season.
Arima native Derek King, who had joined on as assistant coach, suddenly found himself in the role of head coach. But the former Trinidad and Tobago senior team assistant coach shook off the rust to piece together a team worthy of representing the 2004 league champions and the borough of Arima.
King holds the record as the youngest coach to win the Pro League, leading Joe Public to the crown in 2009 at age 29.
Now back at age 37, his first return since parting ways with Joe Public in early 2011, the former T&T international defender still stands the youngest coach.
King handed starting debuts to former Central players Villaroel, Rundell Winchester, Kishun Seecharan and goalkeeper Akel Clarke; former Morvant Caledonia United duo Jameel Neptune and Seon Thomas; Stars U17 midfielder Keon Boney, and former Central and W Connection forward Dwight Quintero, who is coming off a lengthy layoff due to an ankle injury which required surgery.
Elton John, Adrian Noel, and second-half substitute Kerry Baptiste were the only surviving members of last season’s squad, while Francois has returned following a brief stint at St. Ann’s Rangers.
Civic also had a number of player returns along with head coach Reynold Carrington, who had walked off the job in January 2015 due to players’ lack of motivation and pointed the problem to uncertainties over salaries.
But in a renewed twist of faith, Carrington, a former T&T national captain, said his return is all about serving a community that’s very dear to him.
Carrington’s return also led to the return of defensive hardman Andre Ettienne, midfielder Kelvin Modeste and Adams, while former W Connection attacker Jabari Mitchell is among the new faces.
Another debutant, Akinola Gregory, had two first-half tries for Civic. But although the visitors didn’t look a struggling side of last season, they were unable to penetrate a well-guarded North East Stars area.
Clarke and company though, did have to scramble a clearance at the Stars’ goalmouth on the hour mark following a Civic free-kick.
But the hosts should have improved the advantage a minute earlier when Francois slipped a feed to lightening-paced Winchester into the Civic box, however the Tobagonian forward spilled wide with only Adams to beat.
Adams, who kept out a tame Dwight Quintero effort at the stroke of half-time, was lucky not to concede a second on the night when eight minutes from time a swerving Neptune strike crashed off the bar. Neptune had a second bite from the resulting play but headed across the face of goal with Adams at his mercy.
Three-time defending champions Central are next up for a taste of the Arima Velodrome. The Couva Sharks will face North East Stars on Friday from 8pm. Two hours earlier on the same day, Civic will host W Connection at Mahaica Oval.
But first, Pro League play continues on Monday (tomorrow) with a double-header at the Ato Boldon Stadium when Defence Force tackle Police FC from 6pm and W Connection, equipped with former Central and Civic star forward Marcus Joseph, take on MIC-IT St. Ann’s Rangers from 8pm.
North East Stars 1 (Kevon Villaroel 11’) vs Point Fortin Civic 0, at Arima Velodrome.
North East Stars: 22.Akel Clarke (GK), 2.Jameel Neptune, 3.Kevon Villaroel, 7.Kishun Seecharan, 8.Adrian Noel, 9.Dwight Quintero (17.Kordell Samuel 46th minute), 11.Rundell Winchester, 12.Elton John (Capt.), 14.Jomoul Francois (19.Kyle Bartholomew 76th minute), 18.Keon Boney (4.Kerry Baptiste 46th minute), 20.Seon Thomas.
Unused substitutes: 1.Jabari Bryce (GK), 16.Giovanni Abraham, 24.Jabari Brathwaite.
Coach: Derek King
Point Fortin Civic: 52.Akini Adams (GK), 4.Andre Ettienne, 8.Jamal John, 10.Jabari Mitchell, 13.Nickcolson Thomas, 16.Kelvin Modeste (Capt.) (7.Steven Joseph 69th minute), 17.Kestwin Goolie (99.Kevin Moodie 63rd minute), 18.Trent Lougheed, 19.Shavon Frederick, 24.Akinola Gregory, 29.Keron Gaskin (27.Darnell Hospedales 46th minute).
Unused substitutes: 22.Tevin Moore (GK), 9.Matthew Bartholomew, 21.Juma Clarence, 33.Justin Sadoo.
Coach: Reynold Carrington
Referee: Gordon Maloney
(Monday 12 June 2017)
Defence Force vs Police FC—6pm, Ato Boldon Stadium
W Connection vs MIC-IT St. Ann’s Rangers—8pm, Ato Boldon Stadium
(Friday 16 June 2017)
Police FC vs Morvant Caledonia United—6pm, Ato Boldon Stadium
San Juan Jabloteh vs Defence Force—8pm, Ato Boldon Stadium
Point Fortin Civic vs W Connection—6pm, Mahaica Oval
North East Stars vs Central FC—8pm, Arima Velodrome
(Tuesday 20 June 2017)
Club Sando vs MIC-IT St. Ann’s Rangers—6pm, Ato Boldon Stadium.