Three times Pro League champions, Central F.C. will welcome 2015 Panama league champions, C.D. Arabe Unido to Hasely Crawford Stadium on Thursday for the home leg of their CONCACAF League clash. Next week, The Sharks will hope to fly to Panama for the away leg with a healthy advantage over a side unbeaten after two games in the LPF this season.
“Arabe have started their season well” said Central F.C. Head Coach, Dale Saunders “But then again, so did we, scoring 9 goals and conceding none after three league games”
Central F.C.'s form following a 5-0 drubbing of Defence Force has suffered with the club losing one game and drawing the other two.
“The league this season has seen a lot of inconsistency right across the board. There are no clear favourites with every team capable of beating everybody else on their day.”
Saunders points at two key factors as a cause of this inconsistency.
“Because of the financial struggles of all Pro League clubs, no team has a really strong bench, which means that clubs have to rely on their best 11 every game without the benefit of rotation. We saw this with W Connection who were forced to rest some of their best players who returned from international duty. This resulted in a 4-1 defeat by Defence Force. Meanwhile, we played our guys, but it was clear that players like Sean de Silva were tired after the long flight home.”
Saunders also pointed to the lack of shooting power available to Pro League clubs. “Many teams have great approach play, but no target man to put the ball in the net. If we had the likes of Willis Plaza, or Akeem Roach playing this season, you would see many more goals. There are just no consistent strikers in the League.”
Saunders says that again, the lack of funding for clubs is the problem “We just can't compete with overseas salaries. Three years ago, Pro League clubs could pay players US$2,000 per month for a top striker. Now it's a struggle to pay US$1,000 and many players are earning less. And with clubs forced to reduce their wage bills, developmental coaching staff are a luxury, so youngsters are not coming through so quickly.”
2006 World Cup icon, Stern John, who is Assistant Coach to both Central F.C. and the National Team, echoed Saunders concerns.
“The lack of money in the professional game will eventually be felt at national level” said the former EPL and MLS striker. “With the exodus of our more talented players, our youngsters are not enjoying the same high level of competition that they would have experienced a few years ago, and this makes the step up to national level even harder.
Coupled with that, I don't believe that in some cases, our players are competing in leagues that are stronger than the Pro League has been over the last few years. And even if there is a marginal improvement, that is negated by the fact that players are travelling halfway around the world two days before a game. If they were home based, they would be in camp sooner, without the rigors of jet lag. Also, our agreement with the Pro League ensures players are released for friendly games, so we get more time to work with the boys.”
Central F.C. Managing Director, Brent Sancho said “All teams have struggled with the lack of matchday attendance and things got worst financially as corporate T&T withdrew support due to the recession. But now that clubs are without the SPoRTT subvention – at least temporarily – I cannot see the professional league continuing. As in other countries, we need all four stakeholders in place to ensure the success of professional football, and this has never really happened.
We see supporters, corporates and governments celebrating national team achievements, yet without professional club football, there will be no national victories to celebrate. It's time for representatives of all four stakeholders to put aside their negativity, their distrust and their personal agendas and work together to rebuild our professional game. If Minister of Sport can achieve this, he will have created a lasting legacy that would take our national team to the 2022 World Cup, regardless of the result of the 2018 campaign.”
But Saunders is upbeat about the upcoming game against the 2015 Panamanian champions. “They've only played two competitive games this season against weaker clubs in their league. This will be their first real challenge of the season. “
Saunders is confident that his miserly defence won't be offering gifts to the visitors. “We've only conceded two goals in six games” said Saunders “We haven't been finishing teams off when we've had the chance and luck has been against us” Saunders pointed out that his team scored a legitimate goal to take the lead against St Ann's Rangers.
”Incredibly, there was a hole in the back of the net and the officials thought Tyrik John's shot had hit the side netting and gave a goal kick. So while the stats show we have lost a game, as far as we're concerned, we're still unbeaten! These things happen in football and I can't really blame the officials because of the angle they viewed the incident from, but all of the players, both from Central and Rangers know that we took the lead. But credit goes to Rangers who pressed forward and took advantage of our boys frustrations and scored their goal.”
While preparations are underway for Thursdays game, which kicks off at 9pm due to television schedules across Central America, The Sharks are also hosting a football camp at the Marvin Lee Stadium. The camp is for 7-16 years olds and features a host of top coaches and players including Saunders, Stern John, Ahkeela Mollon, Carlos Edwards and Brent Sancho.
The camp, which has a registration fee of $499 which includes an exclusive Junior Sharks Adidas jersey and two complimentary tickets for Thursdays game , has been extended for an additional week until August 11th, due to high demand. Parents can register their children at Marvin Lee Stadium or call 201 BALL (2255).
Admission to the Central F.C. vs Arabe Unido on Thursday 3rd August at 9pm at Hasely Crawford Stadium is only $50.