By Tim Musungu
Since the start of the league, several teams have been on the rise. Compared to the last season, they have showed early intent of fighting with the ‘big boys’ in the league.
Goal.com takes a critical look at four teams - Nairobi City Stars, Thika United, KCB and Chemelil Sugar - clubs that have shown tremendous degree of competition ten weeks into the start of the Kenyan Premier League.
Particular players have been the backbone of their success and we analyse at how they have contributed to the team’s success.
GREATEST ASSET | Francis Kahata (right) is the darling of the crowd at the Thika Municipal Stadium.
|FRANCIS KAHATA (THIKA UNITED)
The rise of Thika United started last season. Under the stewardship of young Dutch trained coach John Kamau, the team which acquires a bulk of its players from high school games, has been rising from level to level. On Wednesday, they qualified for the finals of the KPL Top 8 tournament, in their maiden attempt. Thika United lead the KPL standings with 20 points after ten matches, and their 2-1 win against defending champions Tusker last Saturday goes to show that they are a force to reckon with in the league. However, one player who has been their greatest asset is Francis “Kachi” Kahata. Perhaps more famous for his wonder free-kick against the Super Eagles in Calabar, Kahata is the darling of the crowd at the Thika Municipal Stadium. In ten games, he has scored three goals, most famous the match winning free-kick against Nairobi City Stars at the beginning of the season when they were still struggling to find their footing. Kahata’s brilliance is unquestioned and ever since he made his maiden show for the national team in the Under 23 category, he has been a constant figure in the national team. His magic with his feet on the ball and mastery in taking free-kicks are his greatest assets. His importance to Thika United is undoubted, to the extent that coach Kamau had to warn him not to let off his feet on the pedals.
|JACOB KELI (KCB)
BANKING ON KELI | Keli’s exploits have not gone unnoticed as he has been called up to Harambee Stars.
The bankers have been known to be great starters in the league but slump from five games on. However, the bankers under the tutelage of coach Abdallah Juma, have tried to maintain their consistency. Eleven, matches into the season, they are perched third on the log with 17 points from four wins and five draws. Two players have seen the most contribution to the bankers’ success. Jacob Keli and Clifford Alwanga’s goal scoring exploits have been the single reason the team has been moving up and even had a run of seven unbeaten games before being halted by Gor Mahia. The duo have 13 goals between themselves, Keli (7), Alwanga (6), with KCB having scored a collective 17 goals. Keli’s exploits have not gone unnoticed as he has been called up to the national team. Many have touted the diminutive striker as the next big thing in Kenya especially going into the return World Cup qualifier against Nigeria with Dennis Oliech suspended. With the departure of Mungai Kiongera at the beginning of the season to Gor Mahia, many expected KCB’s goal scoring exploits to dip but instead, they have soared higher.
|JAMES OMINO (CHEMELIL SUGAR)
POWER AT THE BACK | Chemelil's James Omino (right) has been instrumental in the team’s great defense.
The Awasi-based side have always been a slow starter in the league, climbing up as the season grows. This season, they have been maintaining stance at the top eight. Their strongest area has been their defense alongside a good midfield that has been transformed by incoming coach Mike Mururi. Before, Chemelil were known to be a ‘long ball team’ but in a couple of matches, they have shown that they can take the ball down and play it. Daniel Mutahi has been one man doing the show for the sugar men at the centre of the pack. He has been commanding both in winning and distributing the balls. Mutahi’s exploits was more evident during the Top 8 match against AFC Leopards, where he played a key role at the centre of the pack winning most balls for the sugar men. At the backbone of their defense, James Omino has been instrumental. The no nonsense defender standing at over six feet tall though not with so much technical credential, has been efficient in his basic football seeing Chemelil concede only seven goals in 11 matches.
|JIMMY BAGAYE (CITY STARS)
CITY'S HOPE | Bagaye returned to City Stars with fire gutting from his feet and has scored four goals already this term.
In the last two seasons, the Kawangware-based side has been flirting with relegation, exchanging between 15th and 16th on the log. In both 2011 and 2012, they have survived relegation on the final day of the season and are seemingly the league’s blue eyed lady. However, things have been different for City Stars this season. Though at mid-table, they have maintained some consistency and have been showing great performance in their matches. It is this performance that has seen them win four out of eleven opening matches, including a win against AFC Leopards. Clearly evident is the role played by particular players in the team. Dennis “Wise” Okoth has been without a shadow of a doubt City Stars’ greatest asset this season. Okoth left the club in 2011 for Gor Mahia, but failed to make a cut after Coach Zedekiah Otieno moved. He later joined Sony Sugar, where he as well got dropped at the end of last season, choosing to go back “home” to City Stars. He has fostered a hip-bone midfield partnership with Boniface Onyango. With his experience playing as a defensive midfielder, he has managed to arrange the whole team from a central focal point, encouraging the young lads and calming the game down when under pressure. Though not the skipper of the team, Okoth’s leadership on and off the pitch has been something worth noting. Another player that has been instrumental for City Stars is Jimmy Bagaye. Just like Okoth, the Ugandan came back “home” after wandering off for two seasons. Bagaye left City Stars in June 2011 for AFC Leopards, where he had a great time albeit many controversies. Towards the end of the 2012 season, he had fallen out with the Leopards’ technical bench and this necessitated the axe from the squad. He has returned to City Stars with fire gutting from his feet and has scored four goals already this term. He has also provided numerous assists including the 2-1 win over City Stars, where he assisted the first and scored the winner, despite his father having passed away the previous day.