Caledonia AIA pulled off a stunning upset on Friday night when it ousted defending champions and four-time winners DirecTV W Connection from the 2014/2015 Digicel Pro Bowl, 5-4 on penalty kicks after an entertaining 3-3 draw at the Ato Boldon Stadium, Couva. In the winner-take-all $100,000 final on May 29, at the same Couva venue, Caledonia, tournament winners in 2008 and beaten in the decider, both in 2009 and 2012, will come up against first-time finalist Central FC, 1-0 winners over Police in Friday’s other semifinal.
It will be the second time that Central and Caledonia will be squaring off in a final after the latter won the T&T Football Association FA final, 2-0 at Couva in 2013, to ruin the “Sharks” prestigious title in their debut season. However, at Couva on Friday it was the Jerry Moe-coached Caledonia, disappointing eighth-placed league finishers this season which was on the tip of most spectators’ lips after dumping W Connection.
On the eve of the clash, a repeat of their previous two quarterfinal encounters, both won by W Connection 3-1, Moe had stated his team had much respect for its opponent, but held no fear. It was W Connection which struck as early as the third minute through defender Mekeil Williams, who rifled home past goalkeeper Shemel Louison from inside the six-yard box, off a rebound.
It did not take Caledonia too long to respond as Guyana international Pernell Schultz got on the end of a right-sided centre from Nathan Lewis to hit past Julani Archibald for a 1-1 score after only 11 minutes. Eight minutes before the half, Lewis was again the provider, this time for Kareem Joseph to fire past Archibald for a 2-1 lead which his team took into the break.
Caledonia could not have asked for a better start to the second-half when veteran midfielder, Conrod Smith latched onto a careless pass in his own 18-yard box by W Connection defender Alvin Jones and fired through the legs of defender Leslie Rusell on the goalline to extend his team’s advantage to 3-1 in the 56th and within sight of the finals.
The “Savonetta Boys” still searching for a first domestic title this season then mounted a late charge with Shannon Gomez and Jomal Williams replacing Yhon Stiven Reyes Lopez and Neil Benjamin Jr in the 61st minute while Jones made way for Christian Rodriguez 11 minutes later. The changes soon brought reward for coach Stuart Charles-Fevrier as Gomez right-sided cross was turned in by Shahdon Winchester in the 78th minute to reduce the score to 3-2.
Two minutes from the final whistle, with Caledonia hanging on by the thread, Gomez set up Arcia to net and leveled the match at 3-3 and send the contest to penalties. Williams (M) started off things for W Connection by converting his attempt while Joseph did likewise for Caledonia. Winchester then stepped up with W Connection’s next attempt, but looked on in dismay as it ricocheted off the base of the upright to hand Caledonia the initiative which Pierre Hitner took full advantage of by scoring his effort for a 2-1 lead.
The trio of Hashim Arcia, Williams (J) and Gerard Williams scored the remaining three penalties for W Connection, but Caledonia trio Keyon Edwards, Nicholas Marcano and Jameel Neptune also found the target to send their team to the final, its first in the competition since a 5-2 drubbing from Defence Force in the 2012 decider at the Hasely Crawford Stadium, Mucurapo.
...Plaza sends Central FC to final
The second semifinal failed to live up to the first encounter as Central FC needed only one goal from Willis Plaza to slip past last year’s beaten finalist Police FC and secure their spot in the final.
Plaza, who also netted the lone goal in his team’s quarterfinal win over Defence Force, hammered home the winner six minutes into the match past goalkeeper Adrian Foncette on his first post to ease off-field worries of his teammates who entered the match distracted over promised bonuses yet to be paid.
Caledonia 3 (Pernell Schultz 11th, Kareem Joseph 37th, Conrod Smith 56th) vs W Connection 3 (Mekeil Williams 3rd, Shahdon Winchester 78th, Hashim Arcia 88th) — Caledonia won 5-4 on penalty-kicks
Central FC 1 (Willis Plaza 6th) vs Police FC 0