BELIZE CITY, Wed. Jan. 6, 2016–It was a tough choice for the Premier League of Belize (PLB) awards committee members on Sunday evening, December 27, at the FFB Stadium, after Police United clinched the 2015-2016 PLB Opening Season championship with a nil-nil draw against defending champions, Verdes FC. (Police had taken game 1 by a 1-nil score the previous week at the Norman Broaster Stadium.) Would it be Leechi or Burger who would be chosen as the Playoff MVP?
All regular season awards had been decided a few days before, most from votes cast by the six coaches of teams in the PLB Opening Season 2015-2016 tournament, while some were decided by game statistics, like goals allowed (Golden Glove), goals scored (Golden Booth), and least cards received (Fair Play). But the Playoff MVP was to be decided right after the championship game; and, in keeping with tradition, it would have to be from the championship team.
The Police United team had arrived at the playoffs brimming with confidence on the strength of its superb defence, allowing an amazing 6 goals only in 10 regular season games. They started the playoffs with a surprising 2-1 loss to Placencia Assassins in Independence; but those were the last goals they allowed on their way to the championship, registering 3 straight shutouts, against the Assassins (2-0), and then against Verdes FC (1-0 in San Ignacio, and 0-0 at the FFB Stadium).
But games cannot be won without goals scored, and while the Police defence had been stellar in the playoffs, their strikers, Carlton “Fubu” Thomas, Lennox “Criminal” Castillo and Harrison “Cafu” Roches, had great difficulty in finding the target. Following the 2-1 loss to Placencia, elimination stared them in the face going into second half nil-nil at the FFB Stadium in game 2 of their semifinal series. After entering the game in second half, it was the Police United veterans, Norman “Tilliman” Pipersburgh/Nunez and Orlando “Leechi” Jimenez who teamed up for the game winner, a free kick by Tilliman leading to a header by Leechi for the winning goal at the 77th minute. And for good measure, Leechi struck again with another header from a corner kick by his brother Danny at the 90th minute, for the 2-nil final score. And they were on to the finals.
In game 1 of the finals against Verdes FC at the Norman Broaster, the Police defence again held serve, but so did Verdes’, and it was nil-nil at the half. Again, the defence can’t win the game unless the offence provides a goal. And that is what the veteran Leechi did for Police United again, entering the game to start second half, and delivering what proved the game winner at the 50th minute. After that, it was Police on “lock down,” as they held off the Verdes offensive, led by Deon McCaulay (who was reportedly playing injured), Jarret Davis and the wizard Gilroy “Bredda” Thurton, for the 1-nil victory. Verdes even got a chance to equalize from the penalty spot, but outstanding veteran goalie Jamie Brooks used all his experienced wit to bait Deon, and made a spectacular save of a well-placed shot that Jamie read correctly.
Going into Sunday’s final at the FFB Stadium, Police United carried a 1-nil lead, and it was enough. After a scoreless first half, Leechi was inserted around the 59th minute; and though he created some anxious moments for the Verdes defence, there were no goals this time for the legendary Leechi; but none was needed this time.
The match-up was tight, and the Verdes brain trust, Walter Salazar and Marvin Ottley, tried their best to break through the Police “iron wall,” but to no avail. Verdes’ Chris Gilharry, Victor Cruz and Willian Nascimento matched up fairly well against the Police back line of Byron Usher, Frank Lopez and Darien Myers. But in the stopper position there was a problem. There seemed to be no answer that Verdes could find for the commanding presence of Police’s Trevor “Burger” Lennen in that central area overlapping midfield and defence that he dominated with his height (around 6 feet 3 inches), relentless pace and tenacity, matched with his surprising agility for such a tall man, and excellent ball handling skills. His veteran counterpart on the other end, the gallant but small-bodied warrior, Rodney “Shamir” Pacheco was simply over-matched by Burger; and in desperation, the Verdes coaches had to concede, as Shamir was substituted at the 55th minute.
It is good that Channel 5 videotaped the games of the finals. They should be reviewed, to fully appreciate the outstanding performances of a number of players on both teams. And to better assess the tough choice made by the awards committee, in giving the Playoff MVP award to Burger, instead of Leechi. Jamie was also considered as a serious contender for the award, as was young Darien Myers, both of whom were already slated to receive regular season individual awards. Awards are to recognize and acknowledge great performance and achievement, and to inspire athletes to reach “for the stars.”
There are calls that a referee wishes he could make again, and there are shots that a striker would like to have another chance at.
As a member of the PLB awards committee, I have to confess my bias as a long-time fan of Leechi Jimenez; and he proved doubters wrong by once again playing “big” in “money time,” and setting the Police team on the road to victory.
For some fans, Leechi, with his 3 goals off the bench, two of them game winners, should have been the obvious choice as Playoff MVP; and in that they are fully justified. Leechi’s place in Belize’s football Hall of Fame, when it is launched, cannot be denied.
For other fans, Burger’s herculean performance throughout many grueling but effective minutes of “heart-and-soul” work in defence, midfield and even attack, was instrumental in shutting down the “green machine,” especially in the final, and so he was more than deserving of the Playoff MVP trophy.
Agree or not, the call has been made, gentlemen. If it is any comfort, fans of Leechi can rest assured that he is the goleador of the playoffs, a distinction for which the league may need to look at as deserving of a separate individual award.
(Ed. Note: Perhaps a way can be found for football fans to be included in the voting next season for individual awards. Suggestions anyone?)