Ja's top club Cavalier, Dom Rep's Moca eye positive Champions Cup starts against FC Cincinnati, Nashville SC

By Sports Desk February 21, 2024
Cavalier's Shaniel Thomas (left) and teammates celebrate. Cavalier's Shaniel Thomas (left) and teammates celebrate. file

Jamaican club Cavalier and Dominican Republic’s Moca FC will be targeting quick starts in their respective 2024 Concacaf Champions Cup Round One campaigns, as they tackle Major League Soccer (MLS) outfits FC Cincinnati and Nashville FC in first leg action on Thursday.

Moca FC hosts Nashville SC at the Estadio Cibao in Santiago de los Caballeros at 7:00pm, while Cavalier will also be at home to FC Cincinnati at the National Stadium at 9:00pm Jamaica time.

Cavalier, who secured their spot in this edition of the Champions Cup by virtue of their runner-up finish in last year’s Concacaf Caribbean Cup, will be hoping to carry their form from the Jamaica Premier League into play and upset the proverbial applecart across the two-leg tie.

The Rudolph Speid-coached side currently head the Jamaica Premier League standings on the back of a 12-match unbeaten run, the last four of which ended in clean sheet victories.

“We have only conceded two goals in 12 (Jamaica Premier League) games, one being an own goal. So, we are on a trajectory and it is something that we plan because we know that we will be up against some good attackers in the Concacaf Champions League, so we try to hone our defence,” Speid said.

While the level of competition on the Champions Cup stage is more formidable that the Jamaica Premier League and the Caribbean Cup, Cavalier have proven that they can compete and, if their rich scoring from the Caribbean Cup, in particular, is anything to go by, then FC Cincinnati will have to put every foot right defensively.

No player had more goals in the Caribbean Cup than Shaniel Thomas, who finished with eight goals, including a pair of hat-tricks. However, Thomas didn’t do it alone as Jalmaro Calvin also scored four goals and was one of the playmakers in attack.

Speid is backing that dynamic duo and others to execute accordingly against an FC Cincinnati team playing its first match of the year.

“We just want to see what we can get from the two games against Cincinnati,” Speid added.

Cincinnati FC also enjoyed a fruitful 2023 season in MLS, where they won the Supporters Shield as the team with the best regular season record.

Like Cavalier, the Ohio-based club will be making their Champions Cup debut as well but boast both quality and experience within the squad. Attacking midfielder and 2023 MLS Most Valuable Player Luciano Acosta, who had 17 goals and 14 assists in 2023, is no stranger to the Champions Cup, as he enjoyed a stint with DC United in 2015-16 season. Now, almost eight years later, Acosta will get another crack at Concacaf glory.

FC Cincinnati also have great strength in defence, especially in central defenders Matt Miazga and Miles Robinson, both of whom have won a Concacaf Gold Cup with the United States Men’s National team.

A pair of seasoned FC Cincinnati defenders going up against Cavalier’s prolific attack should make for an intriguing first leg.

Moca FC vs Nashville SC

These two teams will also be making their Concacaf Champions Cup debuts, as Moca FC progressed by virtue of their third-place finish in the Caribbean Cup, while Nashville SC, due to their runner-up finish in last year’s Leagues Cup.

Moca used a stifling defence and timely goal-scoring to reach the knockout stage of the Caribbean Cup, as they conceded just three goals in their four group stage games.

In attack, Gustavo Ascona was a headache for opponents defence in scoring four goals, while Victor Sanchez was also threat in notching two goals.

But they are up against an MLS team that boast one of the strongest squads in the Eastern Conference, which makes for a daunting assignment.

Leading the way for Nashville is talented midfielder Hany Mukhtar, who pocketed MLS’s Most Valuable Player for the 2022 season, a feat he followed up with 15 goals and 11 assists in 2023. New arrival Tyler Boyd should also help in attack, after scoring seven goals and contributing four assists last season with the Los Angeles Galaxy.

Nashville SC are also quite strong in defence, with United States Internationals Walker Zimmerman and Shaq Moore at the back. 

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