Caledonia and Defence Force to tackle the rest of the Caribbean for Champions League spots

Defence Force players
Former Caribbean Club Champions Caledonia AIA and Defence Force will begin their quest for places in next season’s Concacaf Champions League when the Trinidadian clubs contest Group Two and Three, respectively, in the 2014 CFU Club Championship group stage from March 21-25.

But the pair will head separate routes, with 2012 Caribbean Champions, Caledonia, travelling to Haiti to tackle home team Sportive de Mirebalais (Friday 21), Jamaica’s Waterhouse FC (Sunday 23) and Suriname’s Inter Moengotapoe (Tuesday 25) in Group Two.

While two-time Concacaf Champions’ Cup winners (1978 and 1985) and 2001 Caribbean champs, Defence Force, will travel to Jamaica to simultaneously tackle Guyana’s Alpha United (Friday 21), Suriname’s Sporting Vereniging Notch (Sunday 23), and home-team and two-time winners Harbour View (Tuesday 25) in Group Three.

Harbour, Caribbean winners in 2004 and 2007, are equipped with Jamaica national senior team players Dicoy Williams, Kemar Lawrence, John-Ross Edwards and Nicholas Beckett. The Jamaicans are the reigning Red Stripe Premier League champions, and presently second in this season’s title.

Group One will be contested in Puerto Rico, with Centro Dominguito of the Netherlands Antilles, Unite Saint Rosienne of Curacao, Cayman Islands outfit Bodden Town and home team Bayamon FC making up that group.

The winner of each group will advance to the semi-final round – expected to be contested in April – joining automatic berth, Valencia FC of Haiti.
Caledonia AIA Technical Director and Head Coach Jamaal Shabazz
Caledonia AIA head coach Jamaal Shabazz is hoping to go all the way, taking things “one step at a time”, towards qualifying his team for a third consecutive qualification into the Concacaf Champions League, although being without three key players — defender Aubrey David, midfielder Akim Armstrong and striker Jamal Gay.

David, 23, recently signed a one-season loan move to Finnish Premier League outfit FF Jaro, while Armstrong and Gay, on trials in Finland, are hoping to secure European moves.
Aubrey David (right) and Caledonia teammate Jamal Gay during a practice match in Colombia against Fortaleza FC in July 2013
“(…)they are three starting players that could make a big difference in the team,” said Shabaaz, who leads the Morvant/Laventille club into its fourth consecutive Caribbean Club Championship.

“But this is football. And as players move on to bigger stations, other players are willing to step up and take this opportunity to claim for themselves. They (Gay, Armstrong and Gay) have been replaced with three youngsters in Nical Stephens, Kyle Bartholomew and Jameel Neptune.

“We look towards shaking off a disappointing season in the local (Pro) league and strive for a fresh start in the CFU. It is a good situation to try to quality from CFU for the third consecutive time into Concacaf. But the first step is to face the Haitian team Mirebalais on Friday. We are focused on taking it one step at a time.”

Caledonia, presently occupying seventh position on the Digicel Pro League standings with just 21 points from 17 games, are 16 points away from leaders W Connection.

“With regards to the local football, what is gone - is past, and what is to come - is near,” ended the Caledonia boss.

Shabazz’s 20-man travelling squad, which leaves Trinidad on Tuesday morning, includes goalkeepers Shemel Louison and Kevin Graham; defenders Nuru Abdullah Muhammad, Kareem Joseph, Akeem Thomas, Marcus Ambrose, Noel Williams and Raymond Alleyne; midfielders Stephan David, Tyrone Charles, Ralph Lundy, Densill Theobald, Jameel Neptune, Nathan Lewis, Keron Bethelmy, Kyle Bartholomew, Nical Stephens and Purnell Schultz; and forwards Julian Wade and Keyon Edwards.

While the technical staff headed by technical director/head coach Shabazz, includes assistant coach/trainer Jerry Moe, goalkeeper coach Steve Frederick, and general manager Ricarda Nelson.

Defence Force meanwhile, will depart Trinidad on Wednesday, ahead of their first match against a familiar foe, Alpha United, who defeated the Soldiers 4-3 on penalties in the 2011 third-place playoff after a 1-1 draw.

And despite recent discomfort, due to the murder of former player Rawle Fletcher in December, a month self-imposed suspension from all sporting activities in January, and passing of winger Kevon Carter, who died of a heart attack in February, Defence Force are ready to soldier-on.

“We will reach our own in Jamaica,” assured head coach Ross Russell, who, domestically, is also desperately trying to improve his team’s chances of retaining the Digicel Pro League title, or, at least finish in the top two.

Defence Force, with three matches in hand, currently occupies fifth position on the Pro League standings with 26 points from 15 matches, and are 11 points away from table-topping W Connection.

“The guys want to work hard,” added Russell. “They want to play and make Trinidad and Tobago proud (at this season’s CFU Club Championship).

“We are equipped to go past the (group stage) but we will only know better when we get there. We don’t know what to expect fully, although I know a bit about (Alpha United) and I think they are beatable. I saw (Vereniging Notch) train while we were in Suriname for the (2010 Armed Forces Continental Football Championship) and they are a decent team. (Harbour View) are no strangers to me. I think we are equipped to do the job. We have the players to do it and it’s just for the guys to be focused.”

Russell is expected to name his 20-man squad on Tuesday.