Inaugural TT Premier Football League (TTPFL) champions Defence Force will begin their quest to conquer the Caribbean Thursday night, when they tackle Jamaican outfit Cavalier FC from 8 pm in their Concacaf Caribbean Cup opener at the Hasely Crawford Stadium, Mucurapo.
Defence Force, who completed a TTPFL double by defeating Terminix La Horquetta Rangers in the knockout final last month, are optimistic of carrying that momentum into the Concacaf tournament. Defence Force assistant coach Hutson "Baba" Charles said his team will be going after three points in each of their four group matches, but he is aware of the threat posed by their Jamaican rival.
"(Cavalier) seem like a strong team and they have to be doing something good to get to this level," Charles told Newsday. "They have some decent players. They have one or two technically gifted players and we will not be taking them for granted."
Defence Force have reinforced their squad since their exploits in the TTPFL campaign, with cousins Isaiah Garcia and Nathaniel Garcia joining, alongside defender Darnell Hospedales and goalkeeper Jabari St Hillaire. The Garcias have made a handful of caps for TT's senior men's team and Charles is expecting the duo to bring their wealth of experience to the Defence Force setup.
Nathaniel and St Hillaire were members of the Rangers team who lost in the TTPFL knockout final. On Thursday though, Defence Force's new recruits will have a different mission.
"Even before the TTPFL started, we set our sights on qualifying for the Concacaf Champions Cup," Charles said. "And to do that, we first have to qualify from the Concacaf Caribbean Cup group stage."
Defence Force are in Group A of the 10-team Caribbean Cup, with Cavalier, Moca FC (Dominican Republic), Golden Lion (Martinique) and fellow TTPFL outfit AC Port of Spain rounding out the group. Each team will play each other once in round-robin play, with the top two teams in each group advancing to the knockout stage.
The knockout stage comprises of home-and-away semifinals, a third-place playoff and the final which will be contested in the later in the year. The Caribbean Cup winner qualifies for the Concacaf Champions Cup round of 16, while the runners-up and third-place team will qualify for round one of the competition.
Defence Force have been training assiduously at the Larry Gomes Stadium, Arima and the Hasely Crawford Stadium training field in the build-up, and Charles said the mood in the camp is excellent.
He said all his players are healthy.
"The boys are all excited and raring to go," Charles said of the final 32-man roster. "This is the perfect opportunity for us to start the tournament on the right foot. It's a good opportunity for the crowd to come out as well and we are expecting a bumper crowd."
"We put the tickets at just $25 (uncovered stands) and $50 (covered) with that in mind. Those prices are very reasonable so we are expecting a good turnout on Thursday," Charles said, urging supporters to paint the stadium with their blue and yellow.
According to TTPFL officials, just under 2,000 spectators turned out to witness the knockout final at the Diego Martin Sporting Complex last month. Tomorrow night, Defence Force would hope for similar backing at the national stadium.
"Right now, our whole focus is Cavalier FC from Jamaica," Charles said. "We are just taking it one game at a time. Every game Defence Force plays for a win and we will be going for three points."
After their tussle with Cavalier, Defence Force have an away game to Golden Lion on August 30, followed by games on local soil vs AC Port of Spain and Moca on September 28 and October 4 respectively.