Stage set for a blazing KPL 2018 season
After over two months break, the Kenyan Premier League (KPL) is back with all indicators promising an interesting competition for the 2018 season.
The transfer activities within the 18 teams, pulling out of the main league sponsors, coming in of giant television production company Media Pro to the beaming live of the matches, and presence of Vihiga United and Wazito FC in their debut seasons cannot add more spice into the looming simmering action.
Unlike last season when the league was delayed by court battles by major stakeholders K.PL Limited and Football Kenya Federation (FKF), this season nothing alarming found the way to the judicial corridors save for Muhoroni Youth aborted attempt to creep back to the topflight after relegation albeit on sporting merit.
In the opening day February 3, champions Gor Mahia, will kick of their campaign to fight for their 17th title against financially troubled FC Nakumatt at their new home Kenyatta Stadium Machakos.
Gor’s Head coach Dylan Kerr is keen to get off the blocks in style, in his first fresh season tenure at the local giants.
“It was perfect to win the Super Cup especially against AFC Leopards. We cleared that hurdle and here is another one, more importantly that sets the pace for the long season.
“I’m always very cautious when meeting the so called weak teams, while truly there is no weak team in the league because these clubs are here by merit. We will give it our best as we also prepare for the Champions League opener a week later,” Kerr said.
Having guided K’Ogalo to the 2017 season trophy with a whopping 74 points, Kerr knows the kind of the opponent he faces on Saturday, reflecting on their 39 points tally that saw them finish 15th in the previous campaign.
The club changed almost every member of the team due to financial constraints, while Gor added arguably local stars in their ranks despite the exit of the 2016 finest player Kenneth Muguna and Capatain Musa Mohammed to Albanian side FK Tirana.
The coming of Harambee Stars’ Wesley Onguso, Charles Momanyi, Samuel Onyango, former Tusker ace Humphrey Mieno among others is a statement of that should worry Nakumatt.
Wazito’s weight on the weigh-bridges
Another interesting fixture of the opening round will be that of Wazito against Sony Sugar at Jericho’s Camp Toyoyo, a ground head coach Frank Ouna is so familiar with since his days at Gor as an assistant coach.
He has already expressed confidence that his team registered a permanent membership in the topflight when they were promoted from the National Super League (NSL) for finishing joint top with Vihiga, and cannot wait for a positive start.
“We had a walk of confidence and purposeful fight last season eyes on KPL, and we are here. We really have to show we are worth this slot, and challenge for the best possible.
“KPL is tough, but we are ready for it. The best way to start is to start on a positive note and hopefully build on the result in the subsequent matches, one at time,” Ouna offered.
From last season experience, newbies are not necessarily underdogs; as Kariobangi Sharks went on to finish third behind Gor and 2009 champions Sofapaka, in their debut season.
Vihiga on the other hand will be tested how best they were to clinch the NSL gong, starting with the 2008 champions Mathare United.
“This is a different journey, different challenge and experience that we are in. However, the most encouraging fact is it is still football. We played football to be here and we will still play football against different sides.
“With proper support from all relevant stakeholders we will make it,” stated Vihiga’s Coach Edward Manoah.
Notably, sharp focus will be on Sharks, if the William Muluya coached side can sustain last season’s momentum.
He was named the Coach of the Year, and anything below a top-three finish will be a setback to his coaching career in the top league that started so brilliantly.
Without his most prolific striker Masoud Juma who signed for South Africa’s Cape Town City after hitting 17 league goals, Muluya could see what to expect after their icebreaker at Sudi Stadium against Nzoia Sugar.
At the den, Robert Matano has little excuses if any, having executed radical changes in the squad he inherited last season when he took over then relegation threatened AFC Leopards.
Three Ghanaians, a Ugandan and a Nigerian among other newcomers must prove their worth in the team, and a victory against Posta Rangers in their starter will massage the wounds of Super Cup loss to Gor a week ago.
Individually, among the hundreds of players the league will showcase, one Micahel Madoya has a chance to prove wrong his critics who faulted KPL for his four awards at the gala.
The league’s Most Valuable Player, the best midfielder, the newcomer finest and the fairest in play, Madoya will be the centre of focus in the Zoo Kericho team in their second season in the top tier.
Ulinzi Stars vs Zoo FC (Afraha Stadium)
Gor Mahia vs Nakumatt (Machakos)
Chemelil vs Tusker (Chemelil Complex)
Nzoia Sugar vs Kariobangi Sharks (Sudi Stadium)
Vihiga United vs Mathare United (Bukhungu Stadium)
Posta vs AFC Leopards (Afraha Stadium)
Sofapaka vs Bandari (Narok)
Thika United vs Kakamega Homeboyz (Thika Sub County Stadium)
Wazito vs SoNy Sugar (Camp Toyoyo)