Akademiks true to form
When the draft was completed at Kensington Oval for the second LIME Pelican Football Challenge, Akademiks coach Ivan “Speede” Forde came up to me and said confidently, “Ezra, we have the best team.”
Forde, a household name in The Pine as a footballer, coach and event organizer, was so delighted with the selections made for the franchise’s roster that he told me there and then that Akademiks would win the tournament.
My response was that I believed they had a very good chance, especially since they had avoided the cardinal sin of the inaugural tournament when they opted almost exclusively for players who represented Pinelands.
“Speede” was particularly happy that they had gained “a homeboy” in Mario Harte, as well as the likes of defender Jermaine Caesar, striker Arantees Lawrence and midfielder Jason “Bullet” Goodridge.
Now can Akademiks, after a solitary loss to Top Bay Settlers in the group stage, teach the equally popular Phoenix UFO Toyota Fire House a lesson in the final at The Oval tomorrow Independence Day and have a rich payday worth $100 000?
Fire House were very lukewarm in their 2-1 semi-final win against Top Bay Settlers, who actually outplayed them for the most part.
Harte, the No.1 draft pick, has been provider instead of main goalscorer for Akademiks, with Arantees Lawrence scoring nearly all team’s goals.
Lawrence has scored six goals, two fewer than Fire House’s Paul “Soup” Lovell, whose tally includes a beaver trick against Galaxy.
But the final could very well be the time for Harte, who has come close to scoring in almost every game, and Lionel Paul to rediscover their goal-scoring ability.
They will be up against a Fire House defence marshalled by Oscar Nero and Llewellyn Broomes with support from wing backs Timothy Walton and Rohan Hall.
Walton looked very suspect against Top Bay Settlers’ striker Mustafa Haqq in the semi-final and could be under pressure from Harte and Damien Welch with their speed and ball skills.
Fire House have a massive injury problem on their hands with respect to their two marquee players, Lovell and inspirational captain Norman Forde.
Lovell aggravated the hamstring injury that kept him out of a couple of the group matches, while Forde had to be lifted into the Garfield Sobers Pavilion after being substituted midway in the second half.
If Forde is unable to play and Lovell still not fully fit, Akademiks’ captain Randy Burrowes should have things to his liking in midfield.
This would mean that Fire House, whose coach this year, Eric Alleyne, guided Bajan Pride to the title last year, would need to rearrange his line-up.
The versatile Ricky Barnes, who has played nearly every position so far, from defence to attack, is also carrying a niggling injury.
Hence, Kemar Bartlett, Dylan Marius and Nicholas “Alan” King will have to do the hard work in midfield with Barnes, Lovell and the fleet-footed diminutive winger Jason “Fowlie” Blackman up front.
Depending on the seriousness of the injuries, there is a possibility that either Darnell Murray, Troy Callender or teenager Shaquille Stewart could be given a starting role in the forward line.
Akademiks have been very stingy in defence, with goalkeeper Romayne Primus having five clean sheets in seven games while conceding just three goals.
Six-footers Omar Primus and Caesar have been doing a fantastic job in the centre of Akademiks’ defence while wing backs Corey “Yank” Taitt, who sadly lost his mother last Friday, and Jamar Thomas have done a good job, as has defensive midfielder Renaldo Bignall.