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Humberto Ward scored two goals as Panama’s Arabe Unido put aside its domestic struggles to visiting Digicel T&T Pro League club, DirecTV W Connection 3-1 in their Concacaf  Champions League (CCL) Group One opener at the Estadio Rommel Fernandez, Panama City, on Thursday night.

W Connection entered the match hoping to make a better start than local rivals, Neal & Massy Caledonia AIA, which was also swept dominated 3-1 by Toluca in Mexico City, two nights earlier, however in the end Panamanian coasted to the easy victory, their first in the competition since August 24, 2010, following four consecutive losses.

After some early pressure on the visitors, Arabe Unido finally went ahead in the 21st minute when a lapse in concentration at the top of the 18-yard box by recently singed W Connection Brazilian defender, 22-year-old Joao Ananias allowed Ward to swoop in, round goalkeeper, Colombian Alejandro Figueroa, and score into an empty net for a 1-0 advantage.

Twelve minutes later Arabe doubled its lead as Ward, 26, dribbled towards the top of the box, eluded defender Mekeil Williams and fired a shot past Figueroa, who was ten yards off his line. Eight minutes into the second half, an unmarked Jose Gonzalez connected with a right-sided cross from Abdiel Arroyo to complete the host’s goal account.

Substitute Neil Benjamin, who replaced Williams in the 61st minute gave W Connection some hope in the 76th minute, latching on to a telling through ball near the top of the box and shooting past on-rushing goalkeeper Miguel Lloyd, formerly of W Connection to make it 3-1.

After scoring one goal or less in eight of its previous nine Champions League outings, the three-goal outburst was a welcomed sight for Arabe, which advanced to the competition’s 2009-10 quarterfinals. Arabe now has a record of 6-11-1 in the CCL while the loss was the tenth in the competition for W Connection in 19 matches, with four wins and five draw results.

Last season W Connection, making its third appearance in the group stages of the competition ended bottom of the three-team Group Eight series with two points after draws against Guatemala’s Xelaju (2-2) and Chivas of Mexico (0-0).

The Couva-based club suffered defeats by 2-3 and 0-4 margins against Xelaju and Chivas respectively. W Connection, which has now conceded three or more in its last three CCL matches and will host the Houston Dynamo in its next encounter on August 20 at the Ato Boldon Stadium, Couva from 8 pm.

Teams

Arabe Unido: - 1.Miguel Lloyd, 30.Harold Cummings, 21.David Daniels, 26.Felix Gondola (4.Luis C. Fraiz 64th), 6.Rigoberto Niño, 9.Abdiel Arroyo, 12.Jose Gonzalez (Yellow 53), 25.Abdiel Macea (88.Alejandro Velez 65th), 5.Paul Roderick, 14.Humberto Ward (10.Orlando Rodriguez 88th), 3.Fidel Caesar.

Head Coach: - Jair Palacios.

W Connection: - 21.Alejandro Figueroa, 24.Joao Ananias (9.Andrei Pacheco 46th - Yellow 64), 4.Daneil Cyrus, 2.Kurt Frederick, 10.Joevin Jones, 15.Mekeil Williams (65.Neil Benjamin Jr. 61st), 6.Celio da Silva Santos (Yellow 49), 27.Yefer Lozano, 3.Gerard Williams, 31.Jerrel Britto (25.Christian Viveros 46th), 26.Stefano Rijssel.

Head Coach: - Stuart Fevrier.

Video: - Arabe Unido vs W Connection Highlights

Referee: - Sandy Vasquez.

Standings

P  W  D  L  F  A  Pts
Arabe Unido  1  1  0  0  3  1  3
Houston Dynamo  0  0  0  0  0  0  0
W Connection  1  0  0  1  1  3  0

Benjamin scores but Connection whipped in Panama.
By Lasana Liburd (wired868.com).


Eighteen year old attacker Neil Benjamin came off the substitutes’ bench to give DIRECTV W Connection something to cheer about with a late well taken goal at the Rommel Fernandez Stadium in Panama City last night. But it was largely a miserable outing for the Trinidad and Tobago Pro League team as the “Savonetta Boys” opened their 2013 CONCACAF Champions League campaign with a 3-1 loss away to Arabe Unido in Panama.

The final score mirrored the loss suffered by Caledonia AIA away to Toluca on Tuesday night in Mexico City. But Caledonia coach Jamaal Shabazz and Connection coach Stuart Charles-Fevrier might have had different feelings at the final whistle.

Toluca has twice won the Champions League, twice finished runner-up and has competed in two finals in this millennium while its home stadium is 8,793 feet above sea level. In contrast, no Panamanian team has ever got to the final of this competition and Arabe has just one point and two goals from five outings in its domestic competition this season.

Caledonia was expected to lose heavily. But Connection was thought to have a real chance of making a strong start in the CONCACAF tournament.

The Connection management surely expected some negative reviews for registering 14 foreign players in its 27-man Champions League squad. What Fevrier might not have expected was for his most illustrious signing, Brazilian right back Joao Ananias, to effectively engineer Connection’s first high profile defeat.

Ananias is on loan to Connection from Brazil top flight club, Nautico, and it is hard not to view a signing of that ilk as a coup for not only Connection but the Pro League as well.

Yet Ananias’ debut was a nightmare as he was involved in Arabe’s two first half goals before being replaced at halftime to prevent futher damage.

In the 21st minute, the 22-year-old Brazilian, under no pressure, allowed a low cross to run across his body with the hope that Connection custodian Alejandro Figueroa would tidy up for him. Arabe striker Humberto Ward was alert to the likelihood of an error and swooped in to steer home.

Not even an army of translators could help Ananais explain how he lost sight of Ward; the striker is only about six foot five after all.

Twelve minutes later, Ananias produced an unwelcomed encore. On this occasion, Connection was on the charge when the right back made a loose, errant pass towards the centre of the field.

Arabe countered immediately and Ward stepped inside Mekeil Williams as though he was a cone and lashed his shot into the top corner from the edge of the penalty box.

Fevrier replaced Ananais and the ineffective Jerrel Britto with Christian Orosco Viveros and Andrei Pacheco at the interval. But, within eight minutes, Connection fell three goals behind as Orosco failed to track opposing winger Jose Gonzales who tucked home an Abdiel Arroyo cross.

By then, Connection’s game was vacillating wildly between regal and ridiculous.

In one minute, new captain Joevin Jones, combative Brazilian midfielder Celio De Silva and Colombian playmaker Yefer Lozano were trading slick, short passes in a manner that spelled trouble for Pro League opponents this season. The next minute, the Savonetta Boys were trying to be clever, inexplicably misplacing passes and leaving gaping holes behind as they charged around aimlessly and naively.

Jones, who gave a fair account of himself at left back in the 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup, had a free attacking role ahead of Connection’s three-man midfield last night and he looked eager to build from a superb 2012/13 domestic season, which he spent alternating between a midfield playmaker and a roving forward. But his teammates could not provide him with the momentum.

The Connection defence, as well as Lozano and De Silva at times, made too many turnovers for Arabe to take their guests seriously while the team’s front men did not hold up the ball enough for their teammates to get forward.

In the 65th minute, Fevrier made Benjamin his final change and the teenager, who replaced a disappointing Williams, did what his elders could not.

Like former teen star Shahdon Winchester, who is now on loan in Finland, Benjamin has an uncanny ability to find space in a congested playing field. Winchester was stronger and more creative but Benjamin, who, unlike Winchester, prefers to start his runs from wide areas, seems sharper in the penalty opposing area.

Lozano spotted Benjamin’s movement and sent him clear with a well weighted pass in the 76th minute. And the number 65 took one touch to steady himself before nonchalantly knocking around Arabe custodian Miguel Lloyd for the consolation item.

Lloyd, the Dominican Republic international goalie, spent two seasons at Connection but was often deputy to Marvin Phillip. His former teammates did not make it too difficult for him last night.

Connection must do much better in the return leg.

Most of the final statistics last night made it hard to determine the superior team: Arabe 14 shots, Connection 12; Arabe 5 corners, Connection 5; Arabe 10 clearances, Connection 16. Perhaps the most telling figure was recoveries, which was tabulated as Arabe 81 to Connection 56.

Connection must protect the ball better and be more aggressive in regaining it. Fevrier must be wondering if he only imagined their pre-season preparation.