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17
Tue, May

Rangers, Police, Defence Force lead heated Ascension title race.
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MATCHWEEK seven of the Ascension Tournament is set to be feisty at the top of the table as title contenders Police FC and Defence Force seek to claim the top spot from the hosts, La Horquetta Rangers.

Rangers have led the pack since matchweek 3 and will be aiming to keep daylight between them and their title rivals with a victory against Central FC on Saturday. They currently stand on 16 points with Police and Defence Force on 15 points and 14 points, respectively.

The La Horquetta-based team may be league leaders, but their coach believes that it’s too soon for predictions about whether his team can win the title or not. In an interview with Newsday, on Wednesday, Dale Quamina said, “We’re in early days. It’s a competitive league and points are close. Police and Defence Force are two well-coached teams, and Cunupia look solid as well, so I can’t make any predictions.”

Quamina drew reference from Wednesday’s UEFA Champions League semi-final to illustrate how unpredictable football can be. “Look at what happened in the (UEFA) Champions League semi-final. Many predicted that (Manchester) City would have advanced but Real Madrid won against the odds. I’m not the kind of person to declare a winner beforehand. I know it’s a long competition and we will be playing every game as a final.”

Defence Force can go top on Friday if they beat last-placed Moruga FC, who are yet to earn a point so far but can be booted back to third if both Rangers and Police claim three points in their fixtures.

The team lives up to their name by having the best defence in the league, conceding just three goals in the first six games. Their coach Hutson Charles also spoke with Newsday on Wednesday and when asked about his team’s defence, he said, “We have a saying at the club: defence wins championships. That is the mantra we go by. Our two brilliant national defenders Justin Garcia and Curtis Gonzales have been commanding the backline very well. In training, we focus heavily on defending. When we lose the ball, the team drops back and plays from behind, strongly emphasising ball recovery.”

Despite being one of the two unbeaten teams in the league, Defence Force find themselves trailing in the standings due to two draws. Charles said his team must win every game from this point, especially against Rangers and Police. He added that, as defending champions, they are the team to beat and are aiming to win the league again.

“Every team wants to beat us, but we will take things one game at a time and implement our philosophy the best we can to fight for the title. In the army, they say ‘winning is not everything, it’s the only thing’. We are third and haven’t even reached our top gear yet. There’s more to come from us.”

Second-placed Police FC face Central Soccer World (CSW) in the Sunday evening clash. CSW have been struggling in this season’s competition with just four points so far and will be hoping for a change in fortune against one of the league’s top sides. But Police intend to keep the Central side in their slump and maintain the pressure on Rangers at the top.

Police coach Richard Hood believes his senior national team players, Adrian Foncette and Jabari Mitchell, can lead his team through a successful season. He also expressed his displeasure with the lack of Police players on the national team.

“I think that it’s a bit unfair that we only have two national players because there are others who are good enough that have been overlooked over the years”, Charles said, “but we have a very dynamic and balanced squad in all areas. We just have to remain consistent offensively, defensively and in transition.”

As the nation was under restriction for the past two years, many clubs struggled to maintain fitness during the pandemic. The three coaches were asked about their pre-tournament preparation. Police coach Richard Hood said “we started training about a month before the tournament and I think most of the other teams did as well. But I think there are a few teams that had the luxury of training for a longer period, like Rangers – they were training all the time – so I think that they started at an advantage.” Quamina denied the claims that his Rangers team had a lengthy preparation and stated that their training began when the government lifted all restrictions for team sports, which was legislated on March 4th – 21 days before the tournament kicked off.

He elaborated, “the players were responsible for themselves to do their own work. While the restrictions were in place, we conducted training sessions on Zoom. Tactical and technical sessions were part of the itinerary but we mostly focused on fitness. Those sessions were based on dynamic work and muscle memory which consisted of stretching, push-ups, sit-ups and jumping jacks.”

Defence Force manager Hutson Charles said that his team commenced training two weeks before the tournament but he doesn’t see it as a disadvantage. “We would’ve loved to have had a pre-season. However, we accepted that it wasn’t possible and made full use of the little time we had. The season began (with a draw) against Rangers when we weren’t fully fit and prepared but we are now getting into our rhythm and have improved since then.”

On the scoring chart, Cunupia FC’s Kevon Woodley leads with 9 goals followed by Defence Force’s attacking duo, Reon Moore and Jameel Boatswain with 6 goals and 5 goals respectively. Rangers’ Isaiah Lee (four goals) and Tyson Charles (three goals) complete the top five.

Reon Moore will be the player to watch this week after being named Campari Player of the Week for Matchweek 6. The Trinidad and Tobago striker has been the shining light for Defence Force and will be seeking to propel his team to the summit of the table with a scoring impact. His teammates, Justin Garcia and Curtis Gonzales, have also been standout players so far, along with Jameel Boatswain and Justin Sadoo.

Woodley’s talents will also be on show again as he pursues to push his fourth-placed Cunupia team into the top three.

Police’s Jabari Mitchell has been showing his quality with 3 goals from midfield. He is the joint-top scorer for the club alongside Kemron Purcell and Mikhael Gordon.

For the league leaders, Isaiah Lee, Tyronne Charles, Ataulla Guerra and Ross Russell Jr have all been dominant in their respective roles.

With things heated at the summit of the Ascension Tournament, matchweek 7 may prove to be crucial in the hunt for the title.

FIXTURES

Friday (La Horquetta Ground)

6:00pm – Cunupia FC vs Deportivo Point Fortin
8:00pm – Moruga FC vs Defence Force

Saturday (Arima Velodrome)

5:00pm – AC Port-of-Spain vs Real West Fort
7:00pm – La Horquetta Rangers vs Central FC

Sunday (St James Police Barracks)

5:00pm – Police FC vs Central Soccer World