Caledonia a CONCACAF Champions League challenger

aledonia a CONCACAF Champions League challengerCaledonia AIA Technical Director Jamaal Shabazz has made it clear that the Morvant-Laventille club is not just making up numbers in a 24-team CONCACAF Champions League when the 2013-2014 season kicks off on August 6.

"Caledonia AIA didn't just qualify to participate," Shabazz said. "We fought hard for our place, we've made serious sacrifices, so I think our chances are as good as any other team this year."

Caledonia had its first taste of the Concacaf Champions League--the confederation's version of the UEFA Champions League--last season and finished at the bottom of a three-team group behind MLS outfit Seattle Sounders and CD Marathón of Honduras in the group stage.

Now after joining fellow TT Pro League club DIRECTV W Connection for a second consecutive Champions League, the Morvant-Laventille club is ready to stand up against the top clubs of Mexico, Central America, USA, Canada and the Caribbean.

Last season, Caledonia AIA by virtue of winning the 2012 Caribbean Football Union (CFU) Club Championship, qualified for the Champions League, but this year, only did so by defeating Portmore United of Jamaica in a play-off to join Connection and Haitian side Valencia FC to represent the region.

At a gala event at the Intercontinental Hotel in Doral Miami, CONCACAF held its annual draw which saw Caledonia AIA being grouped with ten-time Liga Mexico champion Deportivo Toluca FC of Mexico and Guatemala's CSD Comunicaciones.

According to Shabaaz, his side is happy to be pooled with a team from Mexico, sighting that it's a good situation for Caledonia since it will present an opportunity to play against an opposition that has a different style of play, having faced USA's Seattle Sounders and Marathon in their inaugural run.

"Toluca has a good history, but we have a good history too," Shabazz went on to add. "Playing at the Azteca in Mexico is exactly the experience that Caribbean teams need at this stage."

Toluca is located just outside of Mexico City standing 8,723 feet above sea level, and the high altitude is seen a serious obstacle standing in the way of the Trinidadians.

Shabazz pointed out that presently, his club doesn't have "the resources to go and train in the higher altitude situation. So we have to use the next option, which is to go in a couple of days before the game. The logistics of that is we have two months to prepare. In the mean time we have to try and get our players as fit as they should be."

He added, "We certainly want to strengthen our team of course, but the bulk of those players we will bring in will come from our Reserve (team) and youth teams because we don't have the resources to make big or huge addition to the squad. I think we have a decent squad from last year. Although we did well to retain some trophies, I think we were faced with a situation where we were without key players in the month of January."

Last year, the Champions League games hosted in Trinidad were poorly attended and Shabazz feels that CONCACAF should initiate a public awareness plan to better highlight the importance of the CCL to the teams and its supporters particularly from the Caribbean.

"I don't think a lot of people in Trinidad and Tobago or even the Caribbean, recognizes that this is CONCACAF, equivalent to the European Champions League and by W Connection and Caledonia qualifying back-to-back ... what a huge feat this is. These games are televised and it gives you a chance to showcase your community and your country so I think from that point, once CONCACAF can initiate an awareness programme then we will do what we can to urge the fans to come out," said Shabazz.

Caledonia AIA ended their domestic 2012-2013 season finishing second in the Digicel Pro League, which qualifies the Morvant-Laventille club for a third consecutive CCL appearance.

The season also saw the club retain the First Citizens Cup and FA Trophy, but failed to do so in the Lucozade Sport Goal Shield and Digicel Pro Bowl after being knocked out by eventual winners W Connection.

2013-14 CONCACAF Champions League groupings
(Schedule of matches are still to be formulated)

Group 1: Arabe Unido (Panama), Houston Dynamo (USA), W Connection (Trinidad & Tobago)

Group 2: Olimpia (Honduras), Sporting Kansas City (USA), Real Esteli (Nicaragua)

Group 3:  Herediano (Costa Rica), Cruz Azul (Mexico),  Valencia FC (Haiti)

Group 4: Club America (Mexico), Alajuelense (Costa Rica), Sporting San Miguelito (Panama)

Group 5: San Jose Earthquakes (USA), Montreal Impact (Canada), Guatemala #2 (Guatemala)

Group 6: Comunicaciones (Guatemala), Toluca (Mexico), Caledonia AIA (Trinidad & Tobago)

Group 7: Club Tijuana (Mexico), Victoria (Honduras), Luis Angel Firpo (El Salvador)

Group 8: LA Galaxy (USA), Isidro Metapan (El Salvador), Cartagines (Costa Rica)