Boosted by the support of new sponsor Hydro Tech, two-time former Caribbean champions Central FC are looking to put behind them last season’s challenging campaign as they chase a third international crown at the 2018 CONCACAF Caribbean Club Championship—the region’s qualifying tournament to the CONCACAF Champions League.
Central, by virtue of winning the 2016-17 Pro League championship, and then runners-up W Connection, will represent Trinidad and Tobago, joining six other qualified clubs in tier one.
The Guayaguayare-based Hyro Tech, platinum sponsor of the 2017 Super League champions Guaya United, are backing Central for the duration of the Caribbean Club Championship with consideration for an extended relationship with the Couva Sharks, according to the club’s new general manager David Mohammad.
“The number one focus is the Caribbean Club Championship,” said Muhammad, a former Trinidad and Tobago national team general manager. “After that we would look at the possibilities.”
Central are pooled in Group B of the Caribbean Club Championship against Jamaica’s Portmore United (February 7), Haiti’s Racing FC (February 9) and hosts Atlantico FC (February 11) at the Estadio Cibao, Santiago, Dominican Republic.
Connection, meanwhile, are Group A hosts and must tackle Haiti’s Real Hope FA (January 31), Jamaica’s Arnett Gardens (February 2) and Club Atletico Pantoja (February 4) at the Ato Boldon Stadium in Couva.
“It’s vital for TT football that our clubs come out on top in the CFU (Caribbean Football Union) tournament,” said Central FC’s managing director Brent Sancho this week.
“We need to rebuild the Pro League brand and a successful tournament will reaffirm that the Pro League is the Caribbean’s premier league.
“No other Caribbean national league has produced anywhere near as many regional champions as the TT Pro League.”
Last season, former Caribbean champions San Juan Jabloteh reached the 2017 final, but following a bag of wasted chances, the San Juan Kings were edged by Cibao as the Dominican Republic outfit -- coached by legendary former Barcelona academy coach Albert Benaiges -- were crowned champions.
Connection, however, stand the most successful club of the new era, having won the Caribbean crown outright in 2006 and 2009, and were joint winners in 2001, 2002 and 2013 when no final rounds were contested.
But the Savonetta Boys were defeated by bitter Pro League rivals Central FC in the 2015 and 2016 finals.
Other former champions out of Trinidad and Tobago include Defence Force, Morvant Caledonia United and now defunct United Petrotrin and Joe Public.
Central, though two-time former Caribbean champions and consecutive Pro League champions in 2014-15, 2015-16 and 2016-17, are coming off their worst ever finish in the Pro League – ninth on the 10-team standings at the end of the 2017 season.
“It was a tough year,” said Sancho. “As a club, we’ve suffered broken promises from various entities which left us woefully short of our budgeted expenditure. This resulted in players going unpaid and, understandably, guys walking out of their contracts to seek employment elsewhere.”
Sancho said that once the Sport Company withdrew its support for professional players by stopping the subvention to clubs to assist with salaries, many clubs were thrown into turmoil.
The 2006 World Cup defender and former Minister of Sport said that clubs should be applauded for remaining solvent when the easiest option was to close down.
Sancho said Hydro Tech’s involvement has enabled the club to recruit high quality players for the duration of the Caribbean Club Championship and preparation. He thanked Hydro Tech’s Trevor Lynch for investing in TT professional football and said he hopes to make Hydro Tech proud when they Couva Sharks compete in Group B in the Dominican Republic.
Sancho also pointed out that the club is still searching for additional sponsors as the CONCACAF Caribbean Club Championship presents a great opportunity to promote TT overseas.
He said, “Our clubs have a tremendous record in the region and we’re hoping more businesses step up to help us fly the flag. Any help that can be offered would be gratefully considered.”