Athletic Club (AC) Port of Spain, the new team on the block, have already made their mark in the TT Premier Football League (TTPFL), having qualified for the Concacaf Caribbean Cup, scheduled to kick off in August.
The top two teams in the TTPFL, after round 18, qualified for the Concacaf competition.
The Duane Muckette-captained side have led the inaugural league for the majority of the season and are strong favourites to lift the title.
AC PoS lead Defence Force by one point, with three rounds to go. However, AC PoS have a game in hand, which could be crucial, given they still have to face each other.
AC PoS head coach Walt Noriega isn't throwing any parties just yet, as Concacaf qualification was not their sole goal.
He said, “When the club assembled, the objective was to qualify for the Concacaf tournament. It wasn’t a big surprise, because the squad had the potential to do it. So in essence, we ticked the box.”
On the benefits of playing at the Concacaf level, he said, “It augurs well for both the club and country that the players in and around the national team can play at the highest level. The players in TT will have something to look forward to and the club is going in the right direction, so we will get an influx of players to carry the club further.”
The coach is hoping his players grasp the opportunity when the action starts.
“You never know who are looking at you at that level. We don’t want to keep our boys from playing overseas, because it will benefit the country in the end.”
AC PoS, formerly North East Stars, boast a coaching staff with a wealth of knowledge that brings calmness in the dressing room.
Noriega said, “Technical director and assistant coach Gilbert Bateau has been around for ages – since I was a youngster; Jefferson George, former national goalkeeper and coach; I have been coaching for almost 20 years. People will now be hearing about Walt Noriega, because all the time I was assistant coach.”
Noriega coached at local professional club Joe Public before going to England for ten years, where he coached at the Arsenal Development Programme in the North Kent District and got his UEFA B licence. Oon returning to TT, he coached at Central FC and the Stern John Academy before joining AC PoS.
Noriega said their success on the field is dueto pre-season adjustments made to their squad. “We brought in experienced players like Radanfah Abu Bakr and Robert Primus to lend their experience to the youngsters and to help the club grow with an easier transition moving forward.
“Our midfield is one of the strongest in the league right now, and it's something we thrive on.
Our midfielders are attack-minded players, but we had to get them to buy in to the defensive part of the game. Not all the time we will be able to possess the ball, and there will be spells we have to defend and switch on when we are out of possession.”
Noriega patterned his possession-based football style to that of his favourite team, Arsenal FC.
“We like to put down the football and play it, possess the ball to expose our opponents. So we selected players who are comfortable on the ball. Our midfielders are ball-handlers who want the ball at their feet.”
Noriega said he was confident his engine-room workers – midfielders Michel Poon-Angeron, Duane Muckette, Che Benny and John-Paul Rochford – would make national coach Angus Eve's Provisional Gold Cup 2023 Squad, because of their positive showings in the league.
Noriega played down the importance of their upcoming fixture against Defence Force.
“We must keep the boys focused, because Defence Force are two points (one point) behind – and we still must face them. All games are important, because football is played on the day, but Defence Force are chasing us now."
On the clash with Army he said, "It would be tactical, but we have the edge. In the first round we got the better of them, and we will try to penetrate their weaknesses, and vice versa.
"The players who want it the most on the day will prosper, but we are confident going into the game.”
He said their position atop the league was the result of hard work and sacrifice.
“The boys were off for a long period because of the pandemic and there wasn’t any football. They are asking the players to put in a lot of work in a short space of time, when they haven’t played football for almost three years. It’s a balance to not push the guys too much to avoid injuries.”