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World Class Soccer defender Keshawn Diaz (right) passes the ball under pressure from W Connection forward Caleb Boyce during their NLCL U19 Community Cup semifinal clash at the Mannie Ramjohn Stadium on 19 February 2023. (Copyright Daniel Prentice/ Wired868)
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Eastern rivals World Class Soccer Clinic (WCSC) and defending champions Soccer Made Simple (SMS) will meet in the 2022/23 Next Level Consultant Ltd (NLCL) U19 Community Cup final on Sunday after getting contrasting semifinal wins at the Mannie Ramjohn Stadium in Marabella yesterday.

Just as they did in last year’s NLCL semis, SMS made light work of a Tobago outfit, as they brushed aside Ball Blasters YA to storm to their second straight final with a thumping 5-1 triumph.

The lethal SMS attacking duo of Larry Noel and 2022 NLCL MVP Terron Miller were the catalysts, with Noel bagging a hat-trick while Miller helped himself to a double—as the easterners benefited from more than generous goalkeeping by Ball Blasters custodian Jeavon Christmas.

The two-island republic is enjoying Carnival celebrations at present. However, the aptly named Christmas still appeared to be in the season of giving as his glove-work left a lot to be desired.

Christmas’ spills from crosses and shots and a terrible “leave alone” shout at his near post was meat and drink for Miller, while ace marksman Noel may not get a more comfortable hat-trick in a hurry.

Next Sunday, SMS can expect a right battle from their neighbors World Class Soccer Clinic though—whom they have already met twice this season in league play.

Yesterday, World Class showed great fight, determination and a touch of class as well as they twice came from a goal behind to beat W Connection FC 3-2 in a five-goal thriller.

Perhaps more remarkably, World Class coach Andre Morales pulled off this dramatic comeback while playing with ten men for the last half hour, due to the sending off of centre back Deshawn Browne.

Super-sub Giovanni Hospedales did the business for the Aranguez Savannah-based team, with two brilliant headers past Connection goalie Zeronn Collymore to stun the “Savonetta Boys” who were led from the sidelines by former Strike Squad teammates Brian Williams and Kerry Jamerson.

It was quite the turnaround, as Connection midfielder Adah Barclay missed a glorious chance to add to his team’s 2-1 lead from the penalty spot in the 62nd minute following Browne’s sending-off for a second bookable offence.

Barclay strode up and struck his right-footed penalty off the base of World Class goalkeeper Josiah Morris’ post and out of play for a goal kick. A sprinkling of World Class spectators muttered that justice had been served.

“I honestly thought that was it there for us,” Morales told Wired868, as he watched Barclay come face-to-face with Morris from 12 yards out. “We were down to ten men and there was a penalty against us. Going 3-1 down with little time left could’ve been curtains for us.

“But when that ball struck the post, I said it seems like the gods are with us today.”

Just minutes before, the woodwork played into Barclay’s favour to put Connection 2-1 up, as his bombing shot from outside the area thumped the post and settled in the goal after a cruel rebound off of Morris.

But, relieved by Barclay’s penalty miss, the 10 remaining World Class players were on Connection like white on rice, as they relentlessly pursued an equaliser and then a go-ahead goal.

After Browne’s ejection, Morales altered their formation from 4-3-3 to 4-2-3, with central midfielder Akido Crichlow seamlessly filling the defensive void left by Browne.

Centre forward Nkosi Ambrose came off the bench to lead World Class’ suffocating press while fellow substitute Hospedales and flanker Theron O’Brien did not neglect their defensive duties either.

In possession, World Class sought to get Hospedales and O’Brien free down the wings, while they also used caused Connection all manner of trouble with the route one approach.

“With the pace of the two strikers that came on, the over-the-top ball was the obvious choice for the defenders and midfielders as well,” said Morales. “We knew the pace of Ambrose and Hospedales would give any defence trouble. I didn’t even need to call out that play.”

In the first half, Morales asked his wingers to stay at home to help address Connection’s threat down the flanks. But he took them off the leash in the second half.

“I was comfortable with the halftime score,” Morales said of Connection’s 1-nil lead at the interval, through their captain Caleb Boyce. “When Giovanni and Nikosi came on, I said it was time for Connection’s defence to be on the back [foot] for sure.”

O’Brien quickly restored parity for World Class with a sweet finish from close range, as Connection were caught out by a swift move down the right. Barclay restored the advantage for the Couva-based club.

But, after Barclay’s relationship with the goalpost soured from the penalty spot, World Class embarked on an improbable comeback.

Hospedales, a 16-year-old St Augustine Secondary schoolboy, headed past Collymore in the 70th minute to equalise—off a diagonal ball into the opposing area by Crichlow.

“That wasn’t by luck,” Morales said, of the impact by Ambrose and Hospedales from off the bench. “The idea today was similar to what we did in the quarterfinals. We kinda wanted to feel out the team and then enhance our attack in the latter part of the game.

“My wingers who were on before were instructed to drop back and help out the fullbacks as much as possible. The idea was for them to do that in the first half and then put on the two star strikers in Giovanni and Nkosi to enhance the attack.

“From there, we expected to get more pace up top and the plan worked beautifully.”

Connection had lost all their rhythm by then. Wide men Maliki “Yellows” Clement and Chaz Forde were taken off, while Boyce looked an increasingly isolated figure up top.

The Savonetta Boys still carried some threat from distance, and Barclay’s Presentation College (San Fernando) schoolmate Levi Jones did not miss by much with an effort from the edge of the area in the 77th minute.

But, at the other end, Connection struggled to negate the World Class runners.

“I must say props to World Class Soccer Clinic,” said Williams. “They showed good fighting spirit which is key for young footballers. I was disappointed with the result but it was a pretty decent game.

“Sometimes these things happen in a football game and I told the youngsters it’s part of the learning process. It’s part of the sport and we all have to live with it. I think we kinda lost the steadiness of the midfield with those substitutions.”

In the 82nd minute, Ambrose’s relentless one-man pressing nearly led to a calamitous mixup between Collymore and his central defender Sahrai Mitchell. As Ambrose closed in, Mitchell—who was trying to deal with a long punt by opposing midfielder Jearon Ellis—inexplicably volleyed a pass back to Collymore.

The goalkeeper’s heavy first touch nearly left him with egg on his face, but Connection just about cleared their lines then.

Six minutes later, there would be no escape though.

The silky Hospedales won a free kick near the left sideline, after wrestling back possession from his opponent. And from the ensuing Jahronite Pierre set piece, the winger timed his jump to perfection to beat the onrushing Collymore with a neat, glanced header into the far corner.

Like Lil Natty and Thunda, young Hospedales was causing pandemonium at the Mannie Ramjohn Stadium, as his heading clinic punched World Class’ ticket through to the final.

Hospedales also found the back of the net with a scrumptious header against Made in La Brea in the NLCL quarterfinal and Morales said it was a recent addition to the player’s toolkit.

“He strikes the ball really well—he’s good with his left and right foot and he is full of confidence as well,” said Morales. “His strong point is actually shooting the ball. Sometime last year we started to work with him on his headers because of his height and he just fell in love with it.

“If he scored two goals with his feet this season that’s a lot. Most of his goals right now are actually coming from headers.”

For Connection, it was a tale of what could have been as they blew a second half lead and failed to capitalise on having an extra player for the last 30 or so minutes.

“I think that penalty miss was the game-changing moment really, that was the opportunity for us to kill off the game,” said Williams. “The season has been a good one. We’ve been away from the football field for two-plus years. I must again say kudos to the organizers for having an event like this where the youths can showcase their talents.

“I was pleased with how the boys were receptive to the work we were doing over the last three months and it’s only for us to build from here.”

World Class now have a NLCL final date with defending champs Soccer Made Simple, who are unbeaten through 12 games in this campaign.

SMS won their first meeting this season by a handy 4-1 margin while they played to a draw in their second clash.

“That’s our neighbor inno—when we open the door we see SMS and vice versa,” said Morales. “We train not too far from each other and we’re familiar with them. It’s a friendly neighborhood [but] the game against them is never friendly though.

“We are looking forward to it. We lost one and then drew against them in the group stage, so I think it’s time to win this one now.”

“We will be coming for the win against SMS and we will be sure to put our best foot forward!”

Will Miller, Noel and SMS clinch back-to-back NLCL titles and pocket the $7500 top prize? Or will World class and their super-subs once again rise to the occasion with their backs against the wall?

One thing’s for certain, the NLCL trophy will call east Trinidad its home for another year.

(Teams)

Soccer Made Simple (4-3-3): 1.Xavion Haynes (GK) (25.Aidan Raymond GK 59); 16.Alex Piper, 2.Jeremy Bobb, 6.Andre Providence (3.Akil Henry 46), 23.Tyrell Inniss (captain); 17.Philip Tinto (14.Jeremiah Frank-Williams 59), 5.Kanye Baker (27.Arron Raymond 65), 10.Micah Nelson; 20.Liam Dayal (15.Nathan George 65), 9.Larry Noel (18.Israel Joseph 75), 11.Terron Miller (29.Darius Bruce 75).

Unused substitutes: 3.Akil Henry, 12.Hasheem Hill.

Coach: Kieve Vanloo

Ball Blasters YA (4-2-3-1): 1.Jeavon Christmas (GK); 5.Lennox Eastman, 23.Jonathan Marks (captain), 12.Imanhi Forbes, 4.Mario Periera; 16.Jaden Richardson, 6.Kerron Arthur (11.Israel Trim 54); 9.Jaquon De Four (14.Jamell Bartholomew 46), 8.Malik Wilson (19.Yashua Muhammad 65), 10.Roderick Marcelle (20.D’Reem Taylor 46); 7.Kyle James (13.Ishmael Bruce 72).

Unused substitutes: 21.Deiondre Eastman, 31.Rondell Marcelle.

Coach: Downie Marcelle

(Teams)

W Connection FC (4-3-3): 1.Zeronn Collymore (GK); 26.Terrence Worrell, 29.Kaylon Baptiste, 17.Sahrai Mitchell, 2.Duhrell Young; 7.Adah Barclay, 32.Ethan Trotman (19.Aklilu Joseph 60), 6.Levi Jones; 9.Chaz Forde (24.Josiah Hypolite 68), 10.Caleb Boyce (captain), 34.Maliki Clement (35.Kaeden Thomas-Robinson 79).

Unused substitutes: 18.Josiah Chandler (GK), 3.Camron Whyle, 23.Jacquil Adams, 27.Micah Brathwaite.

Coach: Brian Williams

World Class Soccer Clinic (4-3-3): 1.Josiah Morris (GK); 20.Tyrell Stapleton, 8.Keshawn Diaz (captain), 4.Deshawn Browne [red card 62], 21.Jahronite Pierre; 16.Quamy Waithe (11.Giovanni Hospedales 46), 5.Akido Crichlow, 19.Jearon Ellis; 13.Theron O’Brien, 10.Anthony Samuel (7.Kendell Castle 77), 17.Jeremy Christian (3.Nkosi Ambrose 46).

Unused substitutes: 6.Obadiah Eyeaderosiyhia, 15.Cameron Gulston, 18.Jahdel Chase-Charles.

Coach: Andre Morales

Referee: Cleavon Joseph

Wired868 Man of the Match: Giovanni Hospedales (World Class Soccer Clinic)

NLCL U-19 Community Cup Semifinals

(Sunday 19 February)

Soccer Made Simple 5 (Larry Noel 3, 17, 69, Terron Miller 29, 55), Ball Blasters YA 1 (D’Reem Taylor 83) at Mannie Ramjohn Stadium;

W Connection FC 2 (Caleb Boyce 33, Josiah Morris own goal 54), World Class Soccer Clinic 3 (Theron O’Brien 48, Giovanni Hospedales 70, 88) at Mannie Ramjohn Stadium.