Central upbeat ahead of CONCACAF League clash with Panama's Árabe Unido at the HCS

​Photo: (L to R) Central FC operations manager Kevin Harrison, head coach Dale Saunders and managing director Brent Sancho during a Scotiabank CONCACAF League pre-game press conference at Cascadia Hotel in St. Ann’s, Trinidad on Aug. 2, 2017.

Central FC wants to fly the Trinidad and Tobago flag high tonight (Thursday) when they host Panama's Club Deportivo Árabe Unido in their first-leg Round-of-16 clash of the inaugural Scotiabank CONCACAF League from 8pm at the Hasely Crawford Stadium.

Gates open from 6pm and tickets, which will be available at the entrance, cost only TT$50.

Árabe Unido, who will host the Couva Sharks in the return-leg on August 10 in Colón, Panama, are perfect after three games in Panama’s top-flight league, while Central, the three-time reigning Pro League champions and two-time former Caribbean champions, following a bright start to the new season are winless in their last three domestic outings.

But Central head coach Dale Saunders said, “We are doing a very fair job so far [in the Pro League].”

Speaking during the SCL pre-game press conference at Cascadia Hotel in St. Ann’s on Wednesday, the Couva Sharks’ coach added, “We have a lot of younger players this time because we lost a lot of our experienced players, but they guys have been improving.

“[The CONCACAF League presents] a wonderful opportunity for our young players [at the international level] and we think they will do fairly well.”

Saunders’ 18-man squad includes goalkeepers Stephon Seepersad and Prince Walter; defenders Keston George, Carlos Edwards, Taryk Sampson, Kaydion Gabriel and Sean Bateau; midfielders Sean De Silva, Jabari Carasquero, Rhondel Gibson, Jesse Joseph, Nathaniel Garcia, Jules Lee, Mickaeel Jem Gordon and Ross Dowden; and forwards Jason Marcano, Johan Peltier and Tyrik John.

“They (Árabe Unido) will bring the basic south American style with a lot of short passing,” continued Saunders. “But our players are enthusiastic and understand the opportunity that is presented to compete against opponents like Árabe and we are looking forward to a good showing.”

Saunders said it was “unfortunate” for San Juan Jabloteh, a fellow Pro League outfit, who weredefeated 6-2 by Costa Rica’s Santos de Guapiles in their first leg clash on Tuesday night.

Jabloteh will host Santos in the return leg on Tuesday 8 August at the Hasely Crawford Stadium.

The range of dates for the first leg quarterfinals, to be disputed among the eight Round of 16 winners, is August 15 – 17. The second leg quarterfinals are scheduled for August 22 -24.

Only the aggregate winners can progress with the home-and-away knockout format being the decider throughout, including the final in October. The overall Scotiabank CONCACAF League champions will also qualify for the 2018 Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League.

Central FC managing director Brent Sancho said that while the newly-formed Scotiabank CONCACAF League is great move by the Confederation to allow Caribbean clubs to test their steel against similar opponents out of Central America, Pro League clubs are currently at a disadvantage due to "recession" in Trinidad and Tobago.

“(…) things got worst financially,” said Sancho. The 2006 World Cup defender and former T&T Minister of Sport added that in the past, Caribbean clubs were unable to match the financial strengths of Major League Soccer (MLS) and Mexico clubs. But with the current economic climate, Trinidadian clubs are still understrength.

He added that clubs are losing their best players, pointing to the recent exodus of Trinidadian players to Central America. 

Sancho believes that all major stakeholders including corporate Trinidad and Tobago and the Government should “put aside their negativity, their distrust, and their personal agendas and work together to rebuild our professional game.”

Speaking on Wednesday, the former United Kingdom and US-based defender said the Pro League is the production line for the national team. He also believes it would set Trinidad and Tobago decades back should the game revert to amateur status due to a lack of funding.

“I think that will be devastating to revert to an amateur league, detrimental and the death of football in this country,” said Sancho.