As the final days drop off to the start of the Barbados Football Association's showpiece, all systems are go for the Premier League. With a new format in place, all 12 teams will be going hard over the next few months as they hope to come away winners of the 2018 edition of the competition.
Having had a chance to get all the chinks out of their respective armours due to the proving ground provided in the Williams Equipment Preseason Cup, all and sundry should have their ducks in a line and be ready to play some high-quality football for the fans.
This year's new format sees an additional two teams being brought into the fold for a total of 12. With Belfield Soccer Club being relegated out right last year, Home Improvement Hardware Compton were forced to fight for the right to stay in the top tier and made the cut. In addition to Empire Club and Porey Spring moving up by virtue of finishing first and second respectively in Division One last year, a third spot went to Abrahams United Silver Sands who won their promotion playoff.
All eyes will be on defending champions Weymouth Wales as they made a clean sweep of competitions in 2017, winning the League, the Reserve League and the Stag Beer Champions Cup. The burning question is if they can repeat are will they make way for another. Having not had a strong showing in the Preseason Cup as most of their top-billed players watched from the sidelines, many are wondering if the team is ready.
Preseason Cup winners Barbados Defence Force Sports Programme are known for their fortitude and resilience and the running start provided by the tournament might be just what they need to get back to the number-one spot. Also looking good in the competition were Brittons Hill United who made it to the final. They have made some changes in their line-up and the inclusion of their stalwarts Dwayne Stanford and Curtis Odle could see the boys from Valerie take their game to another level.
Silver Sands also gave a good showing of themselves with their third-place finish over Crane and Equipment Ellerton. Their young squad, marshaled by the experience of Troy Johnson, who seems to show no signs of slowing up can prove to be a thorn in the sides of those thinking they are a pushover. Also not to be underestimated are Porey Spring who gave a good account of themselves despite not having their full team for the Preseason Cup.
Premier League mainstay Paradise will be looking to do well as they continue to rely on the strengths of their side. Sporting a lot more young blood in recent years, they too will ensure that the league remains an exciting one. Also employing a young roster is Clayton’s Kola Tonic Notre Dame as their acquisitions have them almost exclusively under 30 years of age.
Over at the University of the West Indies Blackbirds, they will be hoping for a stroke of luck as there are rumblings of the return of one of the most valuable playmakers. Jairo Lombardo, the Panamanian who made his debut for UWI in their red-letter 2016 when they took the title, is back in Barbados and he suited up for the Blackbirds in their last preliminary game of the Preseason Cup. There is, however, no official word on if he will be running out for the Premier League.
Rendezvous had a hard start to the year as they struggled to put players together for the Preseason Cup. What they have done is assured their fans that they will have their overseas players on deck for the League so that will be at full strength. Also employing some overseas talent this year, particularly from St. Lucia, are both Empire Club and Compton and they will be hoping those changes pay dividends.
Slated for a 4:00 PM kick-off at the Empire Ground in Bank Hall, the league will get started with its traditional Sunday evening triple-header. Getting the proceedings off the ground will be the newly-promoted sides; Silver Sands and Empire. The 6:00 PM fixture features Ellerton and the BDF Sports Programme. The nightcap game goes to Weymouth Wales and the new-look Brittons Hill United.
Admission to the venue is $10 and all games will be broadcast live via Trident 10 TV and can be found on Channel 10 on Digicel Play, 116 on MCTV, @trident10 on Facebook and Youtube and also on the Barbados Football Association's website (www.barbadosfa.com).