Goalkeeper Andre Marchan epitomised the true heart-of-a-soldier when, limping through injury, he made three saves in a nail-biting penalty shootout against Point Fortin Civic on Friday night to put Defence Force one win away from successfully defending the First Citizens Cup.
But the three-time champions must produce that victory against record seven-time champions W Connection in the 2017 final—tentatively set for November 17 due to upcoming Trinidad and Tobago international friendlies against Grenada and Guyana on Nov. 11 and 14 respectively at the Ato Boldon Stadium in Couva.
In a scintillating contest fit for a final, Defence Force surfaced 4-3 penalty winners over Civic following a dramatic 3-3 draw in semi-final one at the Ato Boldon Stadium, before Connection left it late to dispatch 10-men Club Sando 2-0 in semi-final two with a goal each from Neil Benjamin Jr. and substitute Daniel Diaz.
Earlier, veteran forward and last season’s First Citizens Cup MVP, Devorn Jorsling, twice pulled the Army/Coast Guard combination level, annulling strikes by Civic forwards Shackiel Henry and Akinola Gregory.
But a missed penalty by Jorsling which rolled inches wide of goalkeeper Marvin Phillip’s right upright midway through the first half would later haunt coach Marvin Gordon’s side when early in the second half Jabari Mitchell, who assisted in both earlier Civic goals, converted a penalty when he wrong-sided Marchan for the lead a third time.
However, just as the game looked over for Defence Force, team captain Jerwyn Balthazar levelled the soldiers in stoppage-time to send the decider on kicks from the penalty mark.
And Marchan, who injured his right knee late with a crucial diving block to deny Civic a scoring chance, went on -- with bandages – to deny Nathaniel Garcia and Kevon Rouse during the penalty shootout then finally Bevon Bass in sudden death.
Jorsling had the opportunity to complete the penalty win in regulation kicks but was denied by Phillip, who he had headed past off a Marvin Jones corner in the 17th minute and beaten again in the 40th minute thanks to a low cross from Reon Moore.
Gordon has hailed the impact of his younger players this season and one of them, Moore, was particularly fired up against Civic, producing many dazzling gallops down the left which included the goal assist and the penalty which Jorsling, unlike himself, would fail to convert in the 23rd minute.
But Moore, like Jorsling, failed to score on penalties, hitting overbar on the third kick. However with Hashim Arcia, Curtis Gonzales, substitute Dylon King and Jerome Mc Intyre clinical from the spot, intertwined with Marchan’s heroics between the sticks, Defence Force, 2-0 winners over Connection in the 2002 final but losers to the Savonetta Boys on penalties following a 2-2 draw in the 2004 final, are into a ninth First Citizens Cup final.
Connection, champions in 2001, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2015, are into their tenth final this season in the competition’s 18-year history, while Civic have only themselves to blame for failing to reach their first ever First Citizens Cup final.
Civic, with one of their most combative displays this season, had taken the lead three times, first with Henry heading powerfully into the back of the Defence Force net in the 11th minute off a free kick swung in from the right by Mitchell.
But Reynold Carrington’s side should have been two goals up at that time. Instead Gregory had headed overbar from close range four minutes earlier after he was picked out by a Mitchell cross.
Gregory later redeem himself by beating Marchan in the 37 minute after combining brilliantly with Mitchell to move into the left of the Defence Force area, then won penalty which was converted by Mitchell in the 53rd minute after he was brought down by Gonzales.
But Gregory lost his composure just over the hour mark when he hit high overbar after getting past Gonzales in the box, then struck the upright a couple minutes later after Henry had done the heap of the work down the right flank following a quick exchange with Garcia to provide the cross into the area—two of three failed chances and a penalty shout that Civic were left to rue in the end.
Civic’s and their supporters’ celebration of another penalty after Henry looked to have been brought down in the box by Defence Force substitute defender Glynn Franklyn in the 74th minute quickly turned sour when referee Rashby Mc Phie instead awarded a free kick against the Point Fortin club.
In the second semi-final referee Nicholai Nyron was forced eject Jayson Joseph on a direct red card for dangerous play in only the eight minute after the Club Sando midfielder’s stamp on Connection’s defensive midfielder Briel Thomas.
It was one of two blows for Angus Eve’s side within the first quarter-of-an-hour after also having to replace defensive hard-man Trevin Latapy with Leslie Joel Russell through injury.
But the Oranges never looked a side down to ten men, matching Connection stride for stride in the first half and came closest to breaking the deadlock five minutes from the break when Jared London’s powerful shot from the top of the box brought the best out of the Savonetta Boys’ second choice goalie Jason Belfon who did well to put behind the deflected strike.
Opting to sit back defensively and try play on the counterattack in the second half, however, eventually benefit a Connection side that later introduced the return of forward Marcus Joseph, who had been on a month-long lay-off due to a shoulder injury, and diminutive attacker Daniel Diaz.
Benjamin fired Stuart Charles Fevrier’s side ahead with his fourteenth goal in all competitions this season in the 69th minute from close up after the outstretched arm of Sando goalkeeper Kelvin Henry wasn’t enough to divert Joseph’s powerful feed from the left away from goal.
Henry had earlier kept Sando in the game with two top-drawer saves to deny Dimitrie Apai and Triston Hodge, but couldn’t avoid his side conceding another in the 82nd minute when Diaz, who a minute earlier replaced Benjamin, volleyed home from the centre of the area for a 2-0 Connection win.
Connection will now shift their focus to Wednesday’s FA Trophy clash against Super League’s Guaya United from 6:15pm in the second game of a second quarterfinal double-header at the Hasely Crawford Stadium Training Field. Point Fortin Civic and 1976 FC Phoenix will kick off Wednesday’s action from 4pm.
However quarterfinal action kicks off on Tuesday with the first double-header at the HCS Training Field when Club Sando Moruga face Morvant Caledonia United from 4pm, then Police FC and Defence Force will lock horns in a battle of the forces from 6:15pm.
Police must however, first tackle San Juan Jabloteh on Sunday from 3:30pm in a rescheduled Pro League fixture at the Hasely Crawford Stadium Main Field.
Point Fortin Civic 3 (Skackiel Henry 11’, Akinola Gregory 37’, Jabari Mitchell 53’ pen.) vs Defence Force 3 (Devorn Jorsling 17’, 40’, Jerwyn Balthazar 90’+3), at the Ato Boldon Stadium,
Defence Force won 4-3 on kicks from the penalty mark
Kicks from the penalty mark
Defence Force 4 v Point Fortin Civic 3
Hashin Arcia (scored) Jabari Mitchell (scored)
Curtis Gonzales (scored) Nathaniel Garcia (saved)
Reon Moore (overbar) Shackiel Henry (scored)
Dylon King (scored) Kevon Rouse (saved)
Devorn Jorsling (saved) Stephan Campbell (scored)
Jerome Mc Intyre (scored) Bevon Bass (saved)
W Connection 2 (Neil Benjamin Jr. 69’, Daniel Diaz 82’) vs Club Sando 0, at Ato Boldon Stadium.
Semi Final One
Point Fortin Civic: 1.Marvin Phillip (GK) (Capt.); 8.Jamal John, 10.Jabari Mitchell, 12.Nathaniel Garcia, 13.Nickcolson Thomas (23.Kevon Rouse 61st minute), 20.Bevon Bass, 24.Akinola Gregory (30.Nion Lammy 84th minute), 26.Jeremiah Kesar, 33.Justin Sadoo (25.Shaquille Dublin 88th minute), 45.Shackiel Henry, 53.Stephan Campbell (Yellow Card).
Unused substitutes: 52.Akini Adams (GK); 16.Kelvin Modeste, 28.Aelon Minors, 99.Kevin Moodie.
Coach: Reynold Carrington
Defence Force FC: 1.Andre Marchan (GK); 5.Jerome Mc Intyre, 9.Devorn Jorsling, 10.Hashim Arcia, 13.Marvin Jones (Yellow Card) (15.Shaquille Bertrand 74th minute), 17.Curtis Gonzales (Yellow Card), 18.Reon Moore, 26.Justin Garcia (2.Glynn Franklyn 30th minute), 37.Cassim Keller (Yellow Card) (45.Dylon King 56th minute), 39.Akil Morris, 99.Jerwyn Balthazar.
Unused substitutes: 25.Sheldon Clarke (GK); 12.Jemel Sebro, 16.Kellon Serrette, 32.Jameel Cooper.
Coach: Marvin Gordon
Referee: Rashby Mc Phie
Semi Final Two
W Connection: 33.Jason Belfon (GK); 3.Gerard Williams (Yellow Card), 5.Triston Hodge (Yellow Card), 7.Neil Benjamin Jr. (20.Daniel Diaz 81st minute), 10.Dimitri Apai, 13.Hughtun Hector (Yellow Card), 14.Euller Eduardo Couto (99.Marcus Joseph 46th minute), 16.Alvin Jones, 19.Briel Thomas (Yellow Card), 23.Weslie John, 30.Shaquille John (24.Jameel Antoine 21st minute) (Yellow Card).
Unused substitutes: 18.Julani Archibald (GK); 11.Shirvone Malik St. Prix, 21.Ronell Paul, 26.Isaiah Garcia.
Coach: Stuart Charles Fevrier
Club Sando: 34.Kelvin Henry (GK); 5.Nical Stephens (Yellow Card), 6.Kemuel Rivers, 10.Keron Cornwall, 11.Akim Armstrong (Capt.) (13.Tyrone Charles 73rd minute), 12.Michael Basdeo, 15.Keyon Edwards (23.Nicholas Thomas 73rd minute) (Yellow Card), 17.Jarod London, 18.Trevin Latapy (16.Leslie Joel Russell 15th minute), 27.Jayson Joseph (Red Card), 38.Josiah Trimmingham.
Unused substitutes: 1.Stefan Berkeley (GK); 8.Kevon Piper, 9.Akeem Redhead, 35.Adan Noel.
Coach: Angus Eve
Referee: Nicholai Nyron