Posted: Sunday, March 24, 2019. 4:44 pm CST.
By Aaron Humes: The loss may have been narrow, but it stings nonetheless.
That the national side, the Jaguars, had their opportunities in Saturday’s game with Guyana is not in doubt. That for the most part, they took them, is also not in doubt. But the biggest takeaway from the 2-1 result is that Belize’s tried and tested method of playing few international warm-ups and calling players in for training camp from 2 weeks to a month out of tournaments is not working.
Guyana can boast players playing in professional and semi-professional leagues from England to the United States to Canada to Trinidad and Tobago. Penalty-taker Neil Danns plays for Bury F.C. of the English Football League, League Two, while Emery Welshman appears for Forge FC of the newly formed Canadian Premier League. A few other famous names such as Bolton Wanderers, Reading, Stevenage and Philadelphia Union of the MLS appear on the Guyana team sheet.
Belize, on the other hand, can only boast six international players – goalkeeper Woodrow West for Honduran team Juticalpa; unused defender Mike Atkinson for Oxford City F.C.; Nana Mensah for Turkish side Balya Belediye Spor; Deon McCauley for fourth-tier U.S. side Georgia Revolution FC; Michael Salazar for Rio Grande Valley Toros F.C. and previously Montreal Impact; and Randy Padilla of Chimal F.C. in Guatemala.
The midfield play was lacking, the final touches inaccurate, and the fast pace in the first thirty minutes seemed to tire Belize out more than the Guyanese in the late evening heat in Leonora. The match was scheduled thirty minutes later than planned. While the television commentators marveled at the apparent strength and success of the Premier League of Belize, the majority of players picked came from former Sports Minister John Saldivar’s Belmopan Bandits side, with a few from Verdes and Police United in the mix.
It now seems clear that the next hurdle for the Football Federation of Belize is to expand the Belizean brand of football internationally, seeking out tryout and contract opportunities for our best players, especially in defense and midfield. Deon is a young 31 and Salazar a fit 26; midfield sensation Krisean Lopez is a youthful 20, but the average age of the defense led by stalwart Elroy Smith, the team captain, is closer to 35. The hope may lie in some of the recent call-ups, mostly Premier League players but all in their twenties (Wagiya’s Jonard Castillo is 19). The FFB may also try to seek out Belizean-parented players abroad as some countries have done, while trying not to run afoul of FIFA rules that are strict on players qualifying to play for more than one country.
A look at Wikipedia’s list of most caps for Belize shows Smith on 56, having played since 2004. Ian Gaynair and McCauley have 47 and 46 caps each and have played since 2007. Goalscorer Elroy Kuylen has played 32 times for Belize since 2009 while goalkeeper Shane Moody-Orio, not used versus Guyana, has amassed 31 caps in an amazing 19-year career for the Jaguars. Kuylen, by the way, is now alone in second place with six goals scored for Belize, trailing McCauley’s 23.
Guyana is now qualified to the Gold Cup and in the top six pending five final games this evening. They can still qualify for League A of the CONCACAF Nations League kicking off in September. Belize is locked into League B but depending on its group can qualify up to League A and participate in the final round.
The Jaguars return home later this week.
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