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In this January 12 photo, Jaheim Roberts of Georgia FC, centre, controls the ball under pressure from two Roxborough Lakers players in the NLCL U-19 Community Cup match at Moriah Recreation Ground. - David Reid

CHAIRMAN of the Next Level Consulting Limited (NLCL) Under-19 Community Cup organising committee Brian Jordan has expressed his pleasure in seeing the success of the tournament so far as the tournament is set to enter its knockout stage.

The competition’s group stage was concluded last weekend with eight teams (six from Trinidad and two from Tobago) advancing to the quarterfinals.

In an interview with Newsday, Jordan said, “It’s been a phenomenal tournament so far. All of the teams, between TT, have all shared their satisfaction and have seen growth from many of their players, both technically, and in confidence. Our fans, volunteers, match officials, and sponsors have also been supportive and great to work with this season.

“We have seen some of the future Dwight Yorkes, Russell Latapys and Stern Johns. Many would have shone in the SSFL, and folks should come out to the knockouts starting this weekend and see for themselves. The future is very bright.”

“With that said, we look forward to launching the NLCL U15 Community Cup in March of this year, as we try to further positively impact the younger talented footballers nationwide.”

Defending champions Soccer Made Simple cruised to the top of Group A with 26 points, eight ahead of second-placed World Class Soccer Clinic who finished with 18 points. Malabar Young Stars secured the third spot with 16 points ahead of Santa Cruz United, Trendsetter Hawks and T&T Maestros.

Advancing from Group B were W Connection (22 points), Made In La Brea Football Academy (19 points) and Gasparillo Youths who dramatically made it into the top three by just one point – finishing on 11 points. They clinched the final qualifying spot from Cunupia FC, Moruga FC and Point Fortin Youth Football Academy, who all concluded their campaign with ten points.

Last year’s Tobago champions Eagles Football Club were dethroned as top dogs in the sister isle as Ball Blasters Football Academy topped Group C with 12 points. They celebrated lifting the David Reid Memorial Trophy at the expense of the red Eagles.

However, the Eagles will join Ball Blasters in the quarterfinals having secured the second qualification spot with 10 points – three points above third-placed Georgia FC. Roxborough Lakers finished bottom of the group with six points.

The quarterfinal draw was completed on January 31, which produced some exciting fixtures.

The first two matches will be played on Saturday at the Larry Gomes Stadium, Arima. In the opening fixture of the round, the champions ‘SMS’ will face last season’s Tobago winners Eagles FC at 2pm. That match will be followed by a potentially intense encounter between W Connection and Malabar Young Stars at 4pm.

The other two fixtures will follow the same time slots at the Manny Ramjohn Stadium, Marabella. New Tobago champions Ball Blasters FA will battle Gasparillo Youths in the first match of the day, and World Class Soccer Clinic will challenge Made In La Brea to conclude the round.

Jordan is confident that the second phase of the tournament will continue to produce the high quality of football seen in the group stage, and that there is no clear favourite to win the competition as each game will be difficult for every team.

He expressed, “All the matchups in the knockout rounds can go either which way. Each team is firing on all cylinders and ready to go. Playing the games between Larry Gomes and Manny Ramjohn has been a blessing in disguise. Allows a wide area of fans to come out and support the teams.”

“Defending champs, ‘SMS’, have had an impressive run through the group stage and are definitely the team to beat. Think the road to the Cup may be more difficult this season, as teams appear better prepared in the other zones. Whoever comes out victorious, the NLCL U19 Community Cup Organising committee expects football to be the winner for sure!”

The chairman concluded by thanking the Minster of Sport Shamfa Cudjoe as well as the tournament’s sponsors for their contributions to the tournament’s success. Namely Next Level Consulting Limited, the Ministry of Sport and Community Development, the National Energy Corporation of Trinidad and Tobago, Massy Foundation, Tang (distributed by A.S. Brydens & Sons), and Ramsingh’s Sports World.

The highly-anticipated All-Star Match will return this season and will be played between the best players from North/East/Tobago and South/Central at the Larry Gomes Stadium on February 12.

The semifinals are scheduled for February 19 and both the third-place playoff and the final will be on February 26.