ON THE EVE OF SEASON OPENER, the GFA Champions Trophy Charity Match against Sporting Clube de Goa, Salgaocar FC players looked lively and sharp as they were put through the paces at the Duler Stadium by Head coach Malcolm Thomson. Since taking over, the Scottish gaffer has made a few reinforcements to the squad to fill the void left by several key players who will be plying their trade in the second edition of the ISL and will therefore be unavailable for the Goa Professional League.
Salgaocar FC went through the league unbeaten last season and finished on pole position having amassed 33 points, nine points clear of runners-up Laxmi Prasad SC. They will now look to repeat that performance as the league format takes on a new avatar. Over the past few years, the Top 5 and Bottom 5 would compete in two separate groups, namely the Championship and Relegation pools respectively once the first round of 9 matches were done. This year however, the league will be played on a double-leg format, resulting in 18 games per side as opposed to the 13 last year. The league is expected to culminate around the end of December.
"We have a fairly youthful side, and hopefully some of the youngsters will make a mark and earn a place in the side that shall compete in the I-League," remarked Malcolm. Experience however comes in the form of long serving captain Rocus Lamare who will be in his 12th season at the club, Saran Singh, and Gilbert Oliveira. "No one can deny the importance of winning titles in football. However, it is equally important to be able to develop and produce players for the future. Finding a balance between the two is what we will strive to achieve at the club through the course of the season," he added.
The Goa Pro League regulations permit the registration of four foreigners, with a maximum of two taking the field at any given point. Salgaocar have currently filled two of those positions by extending the contract of Darryl Duffy, who is in his third season at the club and roping in Scottish medio Martin Scott. The rules also require every club to register a minimum of four Under-20 players with at least two being fielded in the starting 11 and playing out a total of 90 minutes between them. The Salgaocar FC U-20 side that performed commendably and punched above their weight to make the finals of the 13th Goa Police Cup only recently, has in it's ranks several talented players and the club have wisely chosen to promote four youngsters to the Senior team as opposed to looking elsewhere.
Whilst the first round of matches will all be played at Duler Stadium, the league will then be played at three other venues through the course of the second phase, with all of Salgaocar FC's home games scheduled to be played at Raia. The Greens undoubtedly go into the league as one of the favourites and it would take a brave man to bet against them retaining the crown.