Reigning Trinidad and Tobago Premier Football League (TTPFL) champions Defence Force are looking ahead to the upcoming league season with optimism, and head coach Lloyd Andrews says the Army are intent on defending the league and knockout titles they won in the inaugural TTPFL campaign.
On November 3, Defence Force was rewarded for their outstanding display in the first TTPFL season, as they dominated the TTFPL award ceremony. Free-scoring central defender Justin "Shiggy" Garcia won the Player of the Season and Defender of the Season awards for a campaign that saw him combining steely defence at the back with a total of ten goals across league and knockout tournaments.
Lanky striker Brent Sam, who registered a hat-trick in Defence Force's knockout final win over Terminix La Horquetta Rangers in July won the Golden Boot in the competition. Army goalkeeper Christopher Biggette won the goalkeeper of the season award and Andrews was named manager of the season.
Biggette, Garcia and Army's electric winger Reon Moore have all been picked in coach Angus Eve's TT squad for the first leg of their Concacaf Nations League A quarter-final vs the US on November 16.
Looking towards the TTPFL season which kicks off on November 24, Andrews is happy his players are getting the recognition they deserve.
"I want to congratulate the entire team, staff and players," Andrews told Newsday. "I got manager of the year award, but that was for the players and staff – not for me. Without them, I would have been nowhere. I have nothing but love for all who contributed. Those things are just blessings for us. It is something for the young players to look up to. Once you are committed to hard work, you can achieve."
Defence Force won the league title by a solitary point after getting a dramatic 2-1 over runners-up AC Port of Spain at the Arima Velodrome on June 24. Andrews anticipates another fight for the title in the upcoming season, but he says his troops will be ready for the war.
"If you are a champion team, you are expected to defend your championship. You have to play even harder (than the previous season).
"The new thing now is to go back through tapes and see how Defence Force played to see what strategy you can come up with to get three points when they come against us. It is expected teams will come out to play us much harder."
If he has things his own way, Andrews will love Army to wrap up their title defence before the nervy stages at the end of the season.
"It is difficult to predict whether or not there will be a close title race again this season. It is when the competition actually starts, by maybe the fifth round or so people will have an opportunity to kinda judge how (the title race is) going. I would not like it to go down to the wire."
Andrews' assistant, Hutson "Baba" Charles, a former Strike Squad player, coached Fatima College to their first league title in the Secondary Schools Football League's (SSFL) premier division era in the ongoing 2023 season. Andrews hopes Baba can bring the magic touch into the Army camp for the TTPFL season as well.
Following their double-haul in the TTPFL last season, Defence Force participated in the Concacaf Caribbean Cup alongside AC POS. However, neither team got past the group stage of the tournament.
Andrews says the journey to another Caribbean Cup tournament has already begun for his squad.
"The objective is to get back to the Concacaf Caribbean Cup. "(Preparations for the new season have been) going good. We have to do the best we can. We just came out of our Concacaf Caribbean Cup campaign so we had to try and try and bring down the players to a particular level in terms of intensity."
Former TT under-20 midfielder Kaihim Thomas, who scored the title-clinching goal for Defence Force on the final day of the league season against AC POS, has resumed training after sustaining an injury in a vehicular accident.
Andrews did not give much hints on new recruits coming into the squad though.
"We have some youngsters coming into the team but it is about bringing them up to the standard we require at this time."
For the upcoming season, Andrews wants Defence Force to play enterprising, but rewarding football.
"We want to play exciting football. Even though we want to be exciting, we have to ensure the excitement does not take away from our quality."
From November 24, Andrews and his Defence Force team will look to defy all comers when they begin the defence of their TTPFL double crown.