Defending champions and three-time winners W Connection will begin defence of the Toyota Classic against Super League outfit WASA FC – a team equipped with ex-Trinidad and Tobago forward and all-time top scorer, Stern John.
John, T&T's second most capped player behind Angus Eve, is also the all-time top CONCACAF (national team) goal scorer.
The 38-year-old John, who played for a number of high-profile English clubs including Bristol City, Nottingham Forest, Birmingham City, Sunderland, Southhamton, Conventry City and Derby County, is still remembered today as one of the most prolific forwards of the Major League Soccer, for his goal scoring feats during his time (1998-1999) at Columbus Crew.
“He (John) is a great player and a player I always looked up to with his goal scoring ability and so on,” said W Connection forward Jamal Clarence. “But I don't think he is going to be a problem for us. We have some top defenders in our team.”
W Connection, Toyota Classic winners in 2005, 2011 and 2013, will meet WASA FC from 8 p.m. at the Ato Boldon Stadium on Saturday 22 November in the preliminary round as determined by a draw conducted during the official launch on Tuesday morning at Toyota Trinidad and Tobago Limited's (South) Showroom in San Fernando.
“We are well prepared as a team [to defend our title],” continued the 25-year-old Clarence, a former T&T Under 20 and Under 23 standout and member of the T&T squad at the 2009 FIFA Under 20 World Cup in Egypt.
“We aren't taking any team for granted. As a team we have been thought not to be too cocky but most of the guys would be pretty much confident. WASA aren't the top team in Trinidad and Tobago but we are not underestimating them.”
The Toyota Classic, a unique tournament which pools the Pro League clubs (San Juan Jabloteh, Central FC, Police FC, Caledonia AIA, Defence Force, North East Stars, W Connection, Point Fortin Civic and St. Ann's Rangers) against the best of the National Super League (Club Sando, WASA FC, Petrotrin Palo Seco, Guaya United, La Horquetta SA, 1976 Phoenix FC and Defence Force), will begin on Friday 21 November and culminate with the Final on December 12.
The Toyota Classic 2014 champions will receive $50,000 and $20,000 to the runners-up, while the Top Goal Scorer and Coach of the tournament will each receive $1,000 and $1,500 to the Most Valuable Player overall.
The action will commence at the Ato Boldon Stadium on Friday when recently crowned First Citizens Cup champions, Central FC, tackle Super League outfit and Toyota Classic debutants, La Horquetta SA, from 6 p.m., followed by last season's 2-0 defeated finalists and present Super League leaders, Club Sando, against former winners North East Stars from 8 p.m. at the Couva venue.
The preliminary round action will continue over the weekend with present Pro League leaders, San Juan Jabloteh, against Super League's Tobago outfit, 1976 Phoenix FC, from 6 p.m. at the Marvin Lee Stadium, followed by tournament debuting Petrotrin Palo Seco of the Super League against Defence Force of the Pro League from 8 p.m. at the same venue.
Also on Saturday Caledonia AIA will welcome Defence Force's Super League outfit from 6 p.m. at the Ato Boldon Stadium prior to the 8 p.m. clash between W Connection and WASA.
On Sunday, St. Ann's Rangers will travel to the Mahaica Oval against Point Fortin Civic from 3 p.m., in the only all-Pro League preliminary round clash, while Police FC will welcome Guaya United from 4 p.m. at the St. James Barracks ground.
“We hope that the next three weeks fills our hearts with delightful football," said Sean Shaffie, Marketing Manager of Toyota Trinidad and Tobago Limited, in his opening remarks during Tuesday's launch.
Shaffie said it's interesting times in T&T football, with the national women's team fighting to qualify for the World Cup 2015 and the men's senior team doing well by qualifying for the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup, and hopefully the 2016 Copa America.
He added, "For this reason it is important that the Pro League administrators are equipped with the necessary tools to take T&T football to the very top and reach its potential. It is [the] reason that Toyota has instilled confidence with Dexter Skeene (TT Pro League CEO) and his dedicated staff to get us there.
"It is very hard work and many times it feels like not much is being accomplished. [But] it is during times like these we must stay the course with faith that glory days in T&T football is ahead. We have confidence that it will be achieved."
TT Pro League CEO Dexter Skeene praised the "immeasurable" support of Toyota for supporting the vision and mission of the League during the launch, as well as the ongoing support of the Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) - administrators of the National Super League, the Super League clubs, and the recent support of the Secondary Schools League.
Skeene said, "The Brand values of Toyota and the TT Pro League are similar. Competitions such as the Toyota Classic have a vital role to play. The Toyota Classic has always been a critical part of the Pro League calendar. In addition to being a unique tournament, which encompasses the Super League clubs, it provides a gauge as to the development of the clubs as well as offering the opportunity for synergies and development of the working relationship between the League and the TTFA.
"I wish to also thank Toyota for the Herculean effort which they have displayed over the past years in providing the Pro League Player of the Year with a Yaris vehicle. We are still having discussions with a view to continuing this noteworthy aspect of rewarding our top achiever/player with a prize, which shows that we value our players highly, and which sends the message that their efforts are held in high esteem and that they receive an honour which does justice not only to the title, but to the profession of football. Maybe one day a Toyota Prado."
This season’s Toyota Classic will also boast a new feature, where each club in the competition will choose a secondary schools’ team within their community; and for the Final, the two secondary schools’ teams that were selected by the finalists will face off against each other in the first game of the Final.
Anticipating a highly energised and unpredictable tournament, Skeene said, "It takes several key factors to create a sustainable professional football league, one of which is a competitive competition in which the result is not predictable. [...] if you view the results thus far [in the Pro League], the 2014-15 season have been very unpredictable and the games have been evenly matched with exciting contests producing different outcomes. No one is sacred and everyone has the potential to create a result in their favour."
Toyota Classic 2014 Preliminary Round
Friday 21 November
Ato Boldon Stadium
Central FC vs La Horquetta SA—6 pm
Club Sando vs North East Stars—8 pm
Saturday 22 November
Marvin Lee Stadium
San Juan Jabloteh vs 1976 Phoenix FC—4 pm
Petrotrin Palo Seco vs Defence Force (Pro League)—6 pm
Ato Boldon Stadium
Caledonia AIA vs Defence Force (Super League)—6 pm
WASA FC vs W Connection—8 pm
Sunday 23 November
St. James Barracks
Police FC vs Guaya United--4 pm
St. Ann's Rangers vs Point Fortin Civic--3 pm
Quarter Final Round
Friday 28 November
Saturday 29 November
Semi Final Round
Friday 5 December
Friday 12 December