Jubilant Portmore United players, then called Hazard United, celebrate after defeating Arnett Gardens in last season's Premier League final.
Audley Boyd, Assistant Sport Editor
CHAMPIONS PORTMORE United, formerly Hazard, aim to open their title defence on a positive footing when they kick-off the new Wray & Nephew National Premier League season against promoted Star Cosmos at Ferdie Neita Park today.
Game time is 3:30 p.m., similar to most in a four-game Corporate Area and Portmore schedule.
Other matches put Waterhouse against Rivoli United at St. George's College's Emmet Park, Harbour View hosting Constant Spring at Compound and last season's dethroned champs, Arnett Gardens, hosting Trelawny debutants Invaders at Tony Spaulding Sports Complex in the only game slated to start at 5:00 p.m.
Twelve teams are competing with the other four matched for challenges out west (see 3B) at Jarrett Park where a battle among former champs Seba and Reno will unfold and at Elletson Wakeland Community Centre between Tivoli Gardens and Trelawny homesters Village United who are inspired by a first-time semi-final finish on the last outing.
Other things are providing motivation for the full field with some hoping to fulfill lofty ambitions and others, modest expectations. There is additional money ($1 million each for finishing with the most points and being the overall winner) and incentives for players and coaches but what they crave most is a crown and Portmore have no intention of relinquishing theirs.
"We're the defending champions so we have to defend it to the best of our ability," warned Lenworth Hyde, coach of the team with Clarendon origins that is now officially entrenched in Portmore.
They have lost two top players - captain and Claude Davis and Omar Daley - to the English leagues.
"We'll miss them a lot," said Hyde. "Claude Davis was the man who controlled the back. Omar Daley was a very clever player who used a lot of energy which will be missed."
He pointed out though that "... we've a good replacement for Omar in Winston Griffiths, we've Damion Williams (formerly Waterhouse) also, Jermaine Benjamin (Arnett) and also the Brazilian (Felipe Michel). He looked pretty good, has a lot of vision and passes and that will be good for 'Bumpy'. Maybe 'Bumpy' will score more than 30 goals this season," reasoned Hyde of Roen Nelson, who set a league scoring record with 30 goals last season.
"We want to start on a positive note. I don't believe in coming from behind. So we want to go out and win every game and maintain a momentum. We're taking every game as a final because we're the defending champions and everybody will be coming to beat us."
Hyde sounded off for the contest against their inexperienced St. Mary opponents.
Former Constant Spring midfielder Waheem Walker is the sole player in their squad with Premier League experience. Besides him, captain Donovan McDonald, Adrian Henry and Kirk Boswell, who led their scoring in the respective confed and play-off competitions last season, carry much hope.
Coach Lewin Purser, though, is banking on total effort.
He said: "What we try to do is to play a total team game. We don't try to focus on any individual."
For the impending challenge and others on the long haul, Purser said: "We hope we can go there and perform to our fullest.
"Seeing that this is our first time in the league ... we're looking to maintain a position to stay in the league for next season," the St. Mary man added.
Invaders, the other new team, want to retain their place as well.
"The goal is to remain in the Premier League," indicated Paul 'Tegat' Davis, the former top-notch national striker who guided them through the leagues.
They, too, will play away to a seasoned campaigner with a big reputation and top players who ensured two titles while playing in the past three finals. Davis says that won't frighten them.
"We expect them to put uzp a good show. You know Arnett Gardens are the runners-up from last year and they have a lot of experience. We have a few new players like Winston Anglin, Richard McCulloch (national Under-23 goalie), Thomas Grant - these men can help the team," he said.
Davis further explained though that "It won't be easy because they are a seasoned team and they have some very experienced players. They might be saying we are a new team and they'll want to baptise us but they've to come and play good football if they want to do that."
Walter Boyd, Cornel Chin-Sue, goalkeeping captain Julian McLeish, Fabian Davis, Denton Shedden and Jonathan Williams number among Arnett's talented lot which has been bolstered by Keith Kelly, Rae Graham and Kevin Mighty of Rivoli, and Wadadah's Garth Boota.
Like years gone by, they will not start the season with some key players, this time Kevin 'Pele' Wilson, Everton Bunsie, Shane Stevens and Oneil Dunn who are playing in the United States.
"Every year we have these things happening and despite all that the team that starts the season always makes an impact before reaching the first-round final. So Arnett is not a one or two-man team and the quality players we have this year will be a plus going right throughout the season," coach Jerome Waite said.
"We're expecting to continue playing on a high standard right throughout the season. We're looking to go one step higher this year," Waite said.
He added: "We're looking forward to starting on a high note.
"This Invaders team, they're coming to run like a scared hare seeing that they are in the big league for the first time. They'll be looking to give a good account of themselves ... but based on the standard of play that Arnett Gardens have I'm expecting the team to collect the three points."
Another semi-finalist from last season, Harbour View who were nudged by Arnett again, also have a number of top players unavailable as they are in the US. They are in one of the more even match-ups of the day against fellow long-time campaigners Constant Spring.
"Everybody wants to start with a win. That's a given. We're starting with some problems because five of our top players (Jermaine Hue, Clifton Waugh, Craig Stewart, Nicholas McCreath and Oneil Smith) are not home yet. Our defence has been depleted as Damion Stewart got hurt, he has a fractured nose ... he got that in a practice match. He'll be out for a few weeks," their manager, Vin Blaine, said.
"We are bringing up some youngsters from the Under-21 squad. They look quite good, it's up to what they will do on the day. We have high expectations."
Blaine also said: "The incentives are great so we are looking to be in a position where we can at least come away with some of that money. You're talking about a million dollars for the overall winner on points and another million for the winner of the knockout stage. So we want to position ourselves to get a shot at that."
In terms of their overall ambition, Constant Spring's top man Danny Lyn said "right now our aim is to finish in the top four in the preliminary round and take it from there".
For this afternoon's away clash, he said: "We are looking forward to it. Harbour View are always a strong contender. We have done exceptionally well at Harbour View, there's nothing really frightening about Harbour View. We respect them but right now we're expecting good things," Lyn added.
"This season we have taken a different route, we have gone for more depth and balance. We've basically gone for some veterans and a few young players - Markeino Gillings (Wadadah), George Pringle, Oneil Marshall, Marcus McDonald (Arnett), Christopher Currie (Village) and Jamie Lue and Khari Robinson are returning. We've gone for leadership qualities, veterans who can steady the ship," explained Lyn who in recent years had focussed on building a team around youth.
They too will miss some key players for today's start as Oneil McDonald and Sean Hunter have left, while Greg Gardner, linkman Richard Henry and defender Ajai Authers are not ready.
The Waterhouse-Rivoli match should also be quite interesting.
Apart from Damian 'Capo' Williams, Waterhouse have stayed sound with Irvino English, Damion Powell, Kevin Lamey, Roberto Fletcher and their junior brigade of Desmond Breakenridge, Demar Phillips and Weston Forrest intact.
They are also looking to sign big Nigerian Uhechkwu Chinyere.
"We expect to win the game on Sunday. We're projecting on winning the Premier League with the quality players we have in our line-up," their assistant coach, Barry Brown, said."
TODAY'S GAMESWaterhouse vs Rivoli at Emmet ParkArnett vs Invaders at Tony Spaulding Sports ComplexPortmore United vs Star Cosmos at Ferdie Neita ParkHarbour View vs Constant Spring at Harbour View Mini StadiumSeba United vs Reno at Jarrett ParkVillage United vs Tivoli at Elleston Wakeland Community Centre.
All matches begin at 3:30 p.m. except Arnett vs Invaders which starts at 5:00 p.m.