Central FC, a side fielding a handful of debutants on the international scene, gave a commendable performance against Panama’s Club Deportivo Árabe Unido on Thursday night at the Hasely Crawford Stadium in their first leg clash of the inaugural Scotiabank CONCACAF League Round of 16 series.
However the 2015 and 2016 Caribbean Club champions must travel to the Rommel Fernandez Stadium in Panama on August 10 to overturn a 2-1 loss on enemy territory if they are to advance to the quarterfinal stage of the SCL later this month.
Johan Peltier gave Central the lead with a brilliant headed goal, but CD Árabe Unido with a goal on either side of the break from cousins and Panama international forwards Carlos and Enrico Small saw the visitors transfer their domestic winning ways—of three wins in as many matches in the new Liga Panameña de Fútbol season—into the SCL to position themselves in the advantage.
Central had limited the Arabe to three ambitious attempts from distance by midfielder Nelson Barahona before Peltier, with a perfectly placed header, put the three-time reigning Trinidad and Tobago Pro League champions in front on 20 minutes.
Peltier beat Arabe's Dominican Republic goalkeeper Miguel Lloyd from almost 16 yards out after meeting a well-placed right side cross from full-back Kaydion Gabriel, who started in place of evergreen T&T international defender Carlos Edwards, who was excused due to illness of his mother.
Peltier created later openings for himself on either side of the break, but failed to punish the Panamanian side, who had levelled the scores 1-1 six minutes before the interval.
Twenty-two year-old Carlos Small hit past a hapless Central goalkeeper Stephon Seepersad from close range to even the score after Tyrik John, a forward utilized at left-back due to the Couva Sharks’ shortage of player personnel, timed his jump poorly against a Daniel Ortíz cross.
Tyrik, the son of legendary Trinidad and Tobago forward and current Central FC assistant coach Stern John, goalkeeper Seepersad, winger Jules Lee and promising defender Taryk Sampson all made their first CONCACAF starts while pre-season attacking acquisitions Kerville Jeremiah and Ross Dowden were used off the bench late in an attempt to salvage a draw.
Seepersad was brilliant three minutes into the second half with a low save to his left that eventually earned him the Allstate Save of the Game, denying José González's strike from the spot after Honduran referee Hector Said Martinez awarded a penalty, ruling that Kaydion Gabriel had brought down Árabe captain Abdiel Macea in the box.
But there was little chance for Seepersad in the 62nd minute when substitute Enrico Small, with his first touch of the ball after replacing Renan Addles less than two minutes earlier, smashed a left-footer off the underside of the crossbar to find the back of the Central net and put the visitors ahead 2-1.
The visitors came close to another twelve minutes from time when Roberto Chen’s powerful downward header off Barahona cross bounced just wide of Seepersad’s upright.
Central too had their chances, but like first half tries by captain and midfielder Sean De Silva hitting just wide from above the area and Mickaeel Jem Gordon effort deflecting wide of the Árabe goal, Nathanial Garcia could only win the applause of home fans, including his powerful deflected free kick that forced former W Connection shot-stopper Lloyd into a top draw save with a minute left.
Central substitute Dowden had a heroic moment on the rebound but the attacking midfielder’s acrobat attempt from the right saw the ball fly inches wide of the far upright.
“We had the better chances which we didn’t take,” Central FC assistant coach Stern John told reporters after the game. “We stuck to our game plan; one of which was to be a hard team to beat. But defensive blunders cost us.”
The former England Premier League and United States’ MLS forward said his team’s plan should be to consolidate and play on the counterattack in the second leg because Árabe “are a very good team” and could capitalise if Central were to chase a victory with open play.
Árabe head coach Juan Sergio Guzmán credited the Central’s effort, saying the Couva Sharks are a strong team that are hard to break down, with individual talent as well as tactical and technical ability. The Colombian added that he was happy that his team put away their chances and that Árabe will be prepared for another ninety minutes when both sides meet in Panama City.
Central will return to domestic play in the Pro League on Monday against Police FC from 6pm at the Hasely Crawford Stadium training field before flying off to Panama.
Central FC 1 (Johan Peltier 20') vs Club Deportivo Árabe Unido 2 (Carlos Small 39', Enrico Small 62'), at Hasely Crawford Stadium.
SCL 2017: Central FC vs CD Arabe Unido Highlights
Central FC: 1.Stephon Seepersad (GK); 5.Keston George, 7.Jason Marcano, 8.Sean De Silva (Capt.), 10.Johan Peltier, 12.Taryk Sampson, 15.Kaydion Gabriel (44.Kerville Jeremiah 86th minute), 18.Tyrik John, 19.Nathaniel Garcia, 24.Jules Lee (29.Ross Dowden 78th minute), 26.Mickaeel Jem Gordon.
Unused substitutes: 30.Prince Walter (GK); 11.Jabari Carasquero, 13.Rhondel Gibson, 17.Jesse Joseph, 40.Sean Bateau.
CD Arabe Unido: 1.Miguel Lloyd (GK), 5.Leslie Heraldez, 8.Angel Patrick, 10.José González (30.Josimar Gómez 75th minute), 12.Roberto Chen, 15.Christian Valencia, 25.Abdiel Macea (Capt.), 29.Daniel Ortíz, 58.Carlos Small (13.Gabriel Pino 84th minute), 80.Renan Addles (11.Enrico Small 60th minute), 90.Nelson Barahona.
Unused substitutes: 26.Adán Córdoba (GK); 2.Roberto Nińo, 6.Rolando Algandona, 20.Alejandro Hincapié.
Coach: Juan Sergio Guzmán (COL)
Referee: Hector Said Martinez (HON)