Devorn Jorsling lashed home the winning penalty, his only but considerable contribution, as Defence Force retained the Digicel Pro Bowl with a 5-3 penalty win over Central FC following a dramatic and fiercely-fought 2-2 draw on Sunday night at the Ato Boldon Stadium in Couva to bring down the curtain on the truncated 2016/17 Pro League.
“I knew Central were due for a loss,” Defence Force head coach Marvin Gordon told ttproleague.com after the game. “And, I knew the only team to really beat them (Central) were us.”
Defence Force, Pro Bowl champions of 2012 and 2016, and the winners of this season’s only other knockout title, the First Citizens Cup, went ahead on either side of the half through defender Justin Garcia and new star and eventual forward of the tournament Jamille Boatswain.
But Central, the recently crowned Digicel Pro League champions for a third consecutive time, never rolled over—twice equalising in the second half through a converted penalty from Leston Paul, who missed another from the spot, and captain Darren Mitchell’s goal at the death.
Mitchell however struck the upright on the Couva Sharks’ first kick during the shootout against Defence Force, who were spot on with Hashim Arcia, eventual defender of the tournament Curtis Gonzales, Justin Garcia and substitute Jamali Garcia all finding the back of the net against goalkeeper Jan-Michael Williams before Jorsling, a stoppage-time substitute, composed himself to seal the victory.
“I always knew I had a part to play,” said Jorsling who had been side-lined throughout the tournament with a thigh injury. “My team did well and Central had missed a kick, then I was fortunate in putting away my penalty. Now it’s a great feeling for me and my teammates to celebrate as champions.”
Leston Paul and defenders Keston George and Julius James all scored in the shootout for the 2015 winners Central, who entered Sunday’s final on a seven-game winning streak in all competitions, but had to join hundreds of spectators in looking on as Defence Force, champions of the "Winner Takes All" $100,000 final, hoisted the 2016-17 season Digicel Pro Bowl.
“Even when the decisions went against us, we continued to believe and work hard tonight,” an impassioned Gordon continued. “The man above—God—don’t sleep, and that’s why the result is what it is tonight.
“Thank God for giving us the health and strength for the way we performed today. I must credit the players, most importantly, and the backroom staff that worked throughout and never stopped believing.”
Defence Force were equipped with a battalion of Army recruits encouraging their soon-to-be fellow soldiers from the stands. But it was the non-stop excitement on the field of play, banded together with the pulsating sounds of the Army rhythm section, that would surely make it an unforgettable final for those who showed up.
"This victory (title) is for the entire Defence Force,” added Gordon. “They came out in their numbers to support us. It’s a great feeling to give them this victory. It’s always different when you’re playing in a stadium with a lot of people to spur you on.”
Justin Garcia, the only change to Gordon’s starting line-up from their 4-0 semi-final win over Police FC a week ago, headed the Army/Coast Guard combination in front 1-0 in the sixth-minute when he directed a deep Marvin Jones free-kick to the right of Central and Trinidad and Tobago first choice goalkeeper Jan-Michael Williams.
That lead lasted until eight minutes into the second half when Leston Paul converted from the penalty spot to equalise 1-1 after Garcia, who missed the semi-finals due to a late automatic red card in the quarter-final round, was adjudged to have pulled down Mitchell in the area.
Defence Force goalkeeper Sheldon Clarke, who was unbeatable in the first half, which included a point blank save to deny Central forward Rundell Winchester, was left wrong-sided by Paul’s strike from the spot.
Referee Crystal Sobers awarded Central another penalty on 73 minutes, ruling a handball in the area against defender Curtis Gonzales in his attempt to cut off a cross by Johan Peltier.
But Paul’s audacious “panenka” attempt saw the ball rebound off the crossbar at the time Defence Force were already leading again by a goal advantage, 2-1.
Six minutes earlier Jamille Boatswain had celebrated his fourth goal of the tournament for Defence Force. The 23-year-old former Point Fortin Civic striker latched onto a clever Arcia pass, rounded ‘keeper Williams and slotted into an empty net in what seemed the winner.
“I needed to come up big for my team,” said Boatswain whose speed and ability to hold up play for his teammates gave Central defenders a difficult night at the office.
However in the 90th-minute, Defence Force allowed victory to slip in regular-time when Mitchell, from the angle on the left, smashed his effort across the six-yard area and into the far netting of Clarke’s goal to make it 2-2.
Defence Force, though, were superior in the shootout against the team they finished five spots below on the league standings.
“Hard work finally paid off,” Boatswain said with a proud smile. “We worked collectively and came out victorious. We deserved to be champions. We were also confident on the penalty kicks.”
Central FC head coach Dale Saunders, who made two changes to his starting line-up from last week’s semi-final win over Club Sando with midfielder Jason Marcano and left-back Kevon Villaroel replacing Kishun Seecharan and Kaydion Gabriel respectively, conceded that it was a good final but reminded his players that they are still the league champions.
Central FC 2 (pen. 3) (Leston Paul 57’ penalty, Darren Mitchell 90’) vs Defence Force 2 (pen. 5) (Justin Garcia 6’, Jamille Boatswain 67’), at Ato Boldon Stadium.
Defence Force won the game 5-3 on kicks from the penalty mark
Kicks from the penalty mark
Defence Force 5 Central FC 3
Hashim Arcia (scored) Darren Mitchell (upright)
Curtis Gonzales (scored) Leston Paul (scored)
Justin Garcia (scored) Keston George (scored)
Jamali Garcia (scored) Julius James (scored)
Devorn Jorsling (scored)
Central FC: 21.Jan-Michael Williams (GK), 3.Keion Goodridge, 5.Keston George, 6.Leston Paul, 7.Jason Marcano, 10.Keron Cummings (15.Kaydion Gabriel 52nd minute), 11.Darren Mitchell (Capt.), 17.Johan Peltier (8.Sean De Silva 75th minute), 24.Kevon Villaroel, 33.Julius James, 77.Rundell Winchester (12.Kishun Seecharan 82nd minute).
Unused substitutes: 30.Akel Clarke (GK), 18.Rhondel Paul, 29.Jabari Casaquero, 45.Tyrik John.
Coach: Dale Saunders.
Defence Force: 25.Sheldon Clarke (GK), 6.Rodell Elcock, 7.Jamille Boatswain, 8.Christopher Durity, 10.Hashim Arcia, 13.Marvin Jones (9.Devorn Jorsling 92nd minute), 17.Curtis Gonzales (Yellow Card), 21.Aklie Edwards (3.Jamali Garcia (63rd minute), 23.Kerry Joseph (19.Thurlani George 65th minute), 26.Justin Garcia, 99.Jerwyn Balthazar (Capt.).
Unused substitutes: 20.Levi Serries, 22.Anthony Charles, 32.Jameel Cooper, 94.Keron Fox.
Coach: Marvin Gordon
Referee: Crystal Sobers
(Individual awards for performances in the 'Winner Takes All' final)
Marvin Gordon - Defence Force
Jamille Boatswain - Defence Force
Christopher Durity - Defence Force
Curtis Gonzales - Defence Force
Sheldon Clarke - Defence Force