The 2016/17 CONCACAF Champions League (CCL) kicks off on Tuesday with 3/24 clubs representing the Caribbean. Here’s my preview…
Note: The CCL starts with 24 clubs split into eight groups of three at the group stages (August-October). Each club plays each other home and away so there are four matchdays altogether. The group winners advance to the quarter-finals (March-May). The overall champion lifts the CCL trophy and qualifies for the Club World Cup.
Previous CCL appearances: 4 (2009/10, 2012/13, 2013/14, 2015/16).
How did they qualify? Runners-up at the CFU Club Championship. Lost 0-3 to Central FC in the final.
Star players: Julani Archibald (GK). The Savonetta Boys’ number one goalkeeper from St Kitts & Nevis. The 25-year-old is a solid shot stopper and organiser of the defence. Daneil Cyrus (DF). A versatile defender with MLS experience who can play at full-back and centre-back but is best suited at right-back. Tall, athletic and capable of contributing offensively. Alvin Jones (DF). Team captain and aggressive centre-back, also competent at right-back and defensive midfield. His father Kelvin was a Strike Squad member and his brothers Marvin and Joevin play professionally; the latter now with Seattle Sounders after spending time at Connection. Gerard Williams (MF). With Connection since 2007, the club’s 2013/14 Player of the Year is a holding player who keeps things ticking over in the middle of the park. Hails from St Kitts & Nevis.
Prospects: Whether they like it or not, Connection do carry the most experience out of all three Caribbean representatives having previously featured at the CCL on four occasions. In that sense they will be counted on to set the tone. They have actually played Pumas UNAM previously and were agonizingly close to beating them in 2009/10 but the Mexican side snatched a 90+ equalizer. That was seven seasons ago, though, so much has changed during that time. Connection midfielder Hughtun Hector recently told CONCACAF.com: “We always try to play at a high level and I think it’s very good for players who have played in the Caribbean so they can showcase their skills at the highest level [at the CCL]. It will be important for us to keep the ball a lot and not give it away easy, so we’re working a lot on our possession and trying to get fit so we can compete with this Mexican team. The first game is very important for us.” Will Connection finish top and progress? Well the odds are heavily stacked against them. The focus should therefore really be on putting in four competitive and respectable performances and seeing where that takes them.
Previous CCL appearances: 1 (2015/16).
How did they qualify? Won the CFU Club Championship. Beat W Connection 3-0 in the final.
Star players: Kenwyne Jones (ST). He’s only just joined the club but such is his pedigree that Jones instantly becomes a key player for Central. The Soca Warriors captain will play up until January when he has to return to Atlanta United to begin his MLS journey. A focal point in attack, strong in the air and full of experience – the other strikers at Central should be able to learn off him which will only enhance their development. Sean de Silva (MF). A short central midfielder who is comfortable on the ball and a hard worker for the team. Member of Trinidad & Tobago’s U-17 and U-20 World Cup squads in 2007 and 2009 respectively and has featured for the Soca Warriors seniors during 2018 World Cup qualifying.
Prospects: The Sharks have enjoyed somewhat of a meteoric rise since their foundation in 2012. They’ve not only shook things up in their domestic TT Pro League, but they’ve asserted themselves on the Caribbean stage by winning back-to-back CFU Club Championship titles (2015, 2016). Their displays and results at last year’s CCL – which was their debut appearance at the competition – were on the whole impressive as they accumulated four points, beating Guatemalan side Comunicaciones and drawing to MLS giants LA Galaxy along the way. This time around they’ve been pitted against two MLS opponents which will really test the players and coaching staff. They’ll be the Group C underdogs but if anything that will work in their favour: they can go under the radar and perhaps produce a couple of surprise results. Central midfielder Darren Mitchell recently told CONCACAF.com: “Everybody seems to understand each other, so we have a good chemistry. We just enjoy the football, go out and play for one another and play hard. It’s [the CCL] a good chance for players like myself and the other guys to go out there and show the talent and show what we’re capable of.” The team cohesion that Mitchell mentions will be vital throughout their CCL campaign.
CCL appearances: Debut.
How did they qualify? Finished third at the CFU Club Championship. Beat Arnett Gardens 2-0 in the third place play-off.
Star players: Ricardo Ade (DF). One of the first names on the team-sheet, Ade played in every minute of Don Bosco’s CCL qualifying campaign and let in just two goals. The central defender lists winning the domestic title with Baltimore in 2011 as the highlight of his career thus far. Benchy Estama (MF). A diminutive winger/striker whose speed and trickery are his main attributes. Formerly played with the New York Red Bulls reserves before being recruited by Don Bosco three years ago. Had a trial with Dutch side NEC Nijmegen in September last year but didn’t quite make the cut. Kenley Dede (MF). Similar to Estama in his physique, style of play and position, Dede is still a teenager but has become an important player for Don Bosco. Scored a goal and got two assists in CFU Club Championship first round play in February. An excellent opportunity for him to shine at the CCL should he be given the necessary minutes on the field.
Prospects: The 2014/15 Haitian champions will be making their CCL debut and for that reason they are seen as a bit of an unknown quantity, a wildcard. They looked strong throughout the CFU Club Championship, making easy work of overcoming Somerset Trojans and La Gauloise in the first round. They were a penalty shoot-out defeat to eventual champions Central away from clinching a place in the final. Only the third Haitian side to compete in the CCL after Tempete (2011/12) and Valencia (2013/14), a victory or even a draw for Don Bosco would constitute new ground for Haiti in the competition. But achieving one of those results in Group D is going to be very difficult. There’s no question that Monterrey are one of the best clubs in Mexico and Arabe Unido are heavyweights in Panamanian football. The campaign promises to be physically and psychologically demanding for Don Bosco, a club which works on a semi-professional basis. If they can nick a win, standing a better chance of doing that on home turf, then that would represent a great achievement.
Good luck to W Connection, Central FC and Don Bosco. The Caribbean is behind you!
By Nathan Carr