This year’s edition of the premier club competition in the Caribbean is just a few months away. Here’s the build-up to it, including some background on the Championship, the recently announced groups and participating teams…
The CFU Club Championship is seen as a significant tournament by many clubs in the region, as it serves as the qualifying platform for the CONCACAF Champions League (CCL). Beginning March 21 and ending April 20, the top three finishers proceed to the CCL where they’ll meet the best of the best from United States, Canada and Central America.
Here’s how it functions: the Championship is only open to the champions and runners-up of each Caribbean association’s league and registration for all interested parties closed on the final day of December last year (so the respective league had to finish before the start of the new year in order to register). CONCACAF has tried to widen its entry criteria, rendering it perfectly legitimate for amateur as well as professional clubs to participate.
So in the 2014 edition, a total of 13 sides from nine associations in the Caribbean will test their mettle against each other, with hopes of concluding the Championship with qualification in the bag. Haitian team Valencia have been given a bye to the final round of qualifying as the top performers among the entrants in last year’s Championship and CCL.
CFU President Gordon Derrick said: “I consider them the lucky 13 and three of them will advance to face top flight competition in the CONCACAF Champions League. We in the CFU executive are encouraged by this response and bodes well for our agenda of developing football at every level in the Caribbean. I want to wish every team success in this competition and those who move forward , may they continue to make the CFU proud.”
Every group is played on a round-robin basis, hosted by one of the teams at a centralized venue. The winners of each group advance to the final round to join Valencia.
Group 1 (hosted by Bayamón in Puerto Rico)
Featuring: Bayamón of Puerto Rico, Bodden Town of Cayman Islands, Centro Dominguito of Curacao and USR Sainte-Rose of Guadeloupe (*Note: USR Sainte-Rose applied to enter the competition after both CS Moulien and L’Etoile de Morne-à-l’Eau, the Guadeloupe league champion and runner-up respectively, declined to enter)
Team to watch out for: Bayamón will have the home and squad advantage in that they boast a slightly more technical and experienced side than the others. Sainte-Rose are somewhat of a wildcard as their route to the competition wasn’t the most conventional and little is known about them.
Group 2 (hosted by Mirebalais in Haiti)
Featuring: Mirebalais of Haiti, Waterhouse of Jamaica, Inter Moengotapoe of Suriname and Caledonia AIA of Trinidad & Tobago
Team to watch out for: Caledonia AIA are frequent qualifiers for the CCL, albeit they usually surrender to those Central American teams which have the upper edge on them. Waterhouse aren’t the same force without their talismanic striker Jermaine ‘Tuffy’ Anderson (who departed for a pro contract in El Salvador). I have an inkling Caledonia will claim top spot in this group.
Group 3 (hosted by Harbour View in Jamaica)
Featuring: Harbour View of Jamaica, Alpha United of Guyana, Defence Force of Trinidad & Tobago and Notch of Suriname
Team to watch out for: This is quite a balanced group. Defence Force ran rampant in the Trinidad top-flight last year and offensively pose a threat with the likes of goal machine Devorn Jorsling in their ranks. Alpha United are the first Guyanese side to feature in the CCL (did so in 2011) and will fancy their chances of giving Harbour View a run for their money. Notch are the underdogs of the group.
According to the CFU, the host for the finals will be announced at a later date.
Broadening appeal to wider variety of teams not always practical
Indeed, the CFU has made their intentions clear of inviting a wider variety of clubs around the Caribbean to the competition, by altering the registration process. However, it isn’t always that easy for many smaller islands which struggle to meet the event’s entry fee, as well as dealing with transport issues and rosters. This may help explain the reasons behind CS Moulien’s and L’Etoile de Morne-à-l’Eau’s withdrawal from entering. The notion of increasing and broadening the number of sides from differing nations is, in theory, a good one. But in reality, it doesn’t always work out and that is a shame because these smaller clubs will never be able to push on and make strides.
Still large gap between best in Caribbean and best in US, Canada, Central America
Usually, Caribbean teams come unstuck in the CCL against superior opponents from America, Canada and indeed Central America. There is still a significant gap in quality and stature between the regions. Only one CFU member has made it as far as the semifinals since 2008 – the Puerto Rico Islanders made a super run in the 2008-2009 edition, playing and beating teams like Santos Laguna of Mexico and Honduran side Marathón before narrowly losing to Liga MX heavyweights Cruz Azul in the semis.
And more recently, the Islanders have seen off and humiliated MLS clubs in the CCL, recording a resounding 4-1 win over the Los Angeles Galaxy and eliminating them from the 2010-11 Champions League preliminary round. Apart from that historic feat, there has been very little to shout about for Caribbean representatives in the Champions League. For instance, in the 2013-14 edition – all three teams from the Caribbean (Connection, Valencia, Caledonia) finished rock bottom of their respective groups.
General facts (provided by SoundersFC.Com)
Since the Championship’s inception in 1997, only teams from Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and Puerto Rico have claimed the title.
W Connection (Trinidad) leads the way with 3 titles, followed by Joe Public (Trinidad). Puerto Rico Islanders (North American Soccer League) have also won the tournament twice, bringing home the cup in 2010 and 2011.
Anguilla, French Guiana, Saint Maarten, the Bahamas and Dominican Republic have never entered the CFU Club Championship – another six member associations have only sent a team on one occasion.
In the tournament’s most recent edition, only nine out of 30 eligible member associations sent a team to the competition.
By Nathan Carr
Thank you for reading! Feel free to leave any constructive feedback in the comments box below. Stay tuned for Part 3 coming out soon. Meanwhile, you can get in touch with me on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.