Nodley Wright, Sunday Gleaner Writer
Today's opening day of the 2012/2013 Red Stripe Premier League (RSPL) could be a cracker as not only does it offer a very tough baptism for promoted teams Savannah and Cavalier as they go up against the champions and the runners-up, but there will be two crucial derbies.
Savannah will get their taste of the Premier League against champions Portmore United at Ferdie Neita Park. They could find the distance between their previous level of competition as long as their trip from Westmoreland to Portmore.
In coach Patrick Graham, a former national midfielder, they have a bright young coach eager to make his mark at this level. Along with Graham, they have in their ranks players such as Fabian 'Lexus' Blake, who has been around the league, but has not quite set it on fire.
Portmore United, the defending champions, have lost the services of captain Ricardo Cousins, the talented but unsettled Carlos Barrett, the veteran Roen Nelson and energetic Eric Vernan, but have added goalscorer Mouracio Gordon to share the load with Alanzo Adlam and add some size to their forward line.
Like Patrick Graham, Andre Waugh will be getting a taste of Premier League action as the head coach for the first time. Adrian Reid should keep the defensive unit together, while young national representative Ewan Grandison and Andrew Vanzie, along with the experienced head of Damian Williams, should make it a bumpy experience for Savannah.
Last year's runners-up, Boys' Town, will host Cavalier and even though they should start favourites and coach Andrew Price is expecting to make the most of their home advantage and experience in the league. He is counting on a fast start this season as his team are perennial slow starters in the league and a fast start this season would help them to achieve their objectives, which include getting the Premier League title and playing in the Caribbean Cup.
The addition of the talented Romeo Parkes, who represented Highgate for the first part of the season before transferring to Tivoli Gardens where he was their main goal threat, should help their cause as he should work well with Renae Lloyd in particular.
Cavalier, on the other hand, have no fear of Boys' Town if general manager Kenrick Barnaby is to be believed.
'Boys' Town will have their own views about us, but we are not coming just to survive. We are here to compete and to give a good performance.
"Like Jamaica, we are celebrating our 50th year so we are looking to do something special this season," Barnaby said.
What makes Barnaby even more relaxed ahead of this encounter is their familiarity with Collie Smith Drive.
"We are no strangers to Collie Smith Drive. That is where we played most of our Super League games. We played Boys' Town in a couple practice matches last season in preparation for the Super League and the playoffs and we were competitive. Most of those spectators (at Collie Smith Drive) normally cheer for us anyway, so they will be confused as to who to cheer for tomorrow," added Barnaby.
To improve their chances of staying in the league and competing, Cavalier have brought in the experienced Kevin Lamey, Girvon Brown, Mitchily Waul, Ajuran Brown and goalkeeper Gariece McPherson. These players, they hope, will see them making an impression in a league they last competed in 18 years ago.
Any clash between Tivoli Gardens and Arnett Gardens should be tough and this one should be no different. Tivoli Gardens do not look to be of the same strength as they were last year with the loss of Parkes and Waul, both of whom contributed significantly to their goal count last year. Their long time servant Roland Dean has also departed, as have Jameel Thompson, defender Dwayne Holmes and Nackwayne Parchment. Navion Boyd should again lead Tivoli's charge, but he will need help.
Arnett Gardens have brought in a number of players with the most significant being returnee Errol Stevens, former schoolboy star Kemal Malcolm and current national under-20 utility player Shawn Lawes. They could significantly strengthen a team that has been looking better under the guidance of Paul 'Tegat' Davis.
Another cracker will be at Harbour View Mini Stadium where the 'Stars of the East' host Montego Bay United, a team looking to be the standard-bearers in the country. They have recruited heavily with a number of players from the wider Caribbean on the roster, but a lot of eyes will be on former Rusea's schoolboy, Brian Brown, who lit up the daCosta Cup competition last season. Club president Orville Powell believes these players, added to those retained from last season, will hand them the title this year.
Harbour View reshuffled
Harbour View have done some reshuffling themselves with Vin Blaine taking over as head coach. Harbour View have recruited heavily as well with Dean, Vernan, Evan Taylor and Nicholas McCreath among the major acquisitions. These players and the approach of Blaine will see them improve on their sixth-place finish of last season and take them back into more familiar territory closer to the top of the table.
Football lovers in Clarendon should have a feast tomorrow as they witness a clash between the two teams from the parish meeting for early season bragging rights. Humble Lion did well last season under the guidance of Lenworth Hyde Sr, while Sporting Central Academy once more were lucky to survive. Under new ownership, Sporting Central will be looking to shed their clothes of mediocrity.
At Highgate, Calvin Lewis will be looking to put his own stamp on a team that he guided to the top league. Portmore United benefited from his knowledge last season and he will be eager to show that Portmore's win under his guidance was no accident. In their way will be a very deep Waterhouse squad being conditioned by St Mary native, Donovan Duckie.
3:30 p.m. Boys' Town vs Cavalier at Collie Smith Complex
6:30 p.m. Harbour View vs Montego Bay United at Harbour View Stadium
3:30 p.m. Highgate United vs Waterhouse at Drax Hall Sports Complex
3:30 p.m. Humble Lion vs Sporting Central at Effortville Community Centre
7 p.m. Portmore United vs Savannah FC at Ferdie Neita Park5 p.m. Tivoli Gardens vs Arnett Gardens at Edward Seaga Complex