It was billed as the best offense against the best defense; the leading goal scorer, Danny Jimenez of Police United vs the best goalkeeper, Woodrow West of Belmopan Bandits.
The league and the media have more work to do to better familiarize paying fans with the players on the field. But where the big name stars are concerned, fans know them well, whether or not their numbers are printed large on their jerseys, or announcers are calling out their names when they trot onto the pitch.
Danny led all strikers in scoring this year, drilling 12 of his team’s league leading 30 goals in regular season; and West was mean between the sticks all season long, yielding only 4 goals in their 14-game regular season.
West and the Bandits had blanked Placencia Assassins in the semifinals, beating them 1-nil in Placencia and then ending 0-0 at home in Belmopan at the Isidoro.
Danny was scoreless in the semifinals against BDF, with their game winner at the Norman Broaster coming from Trevor “Burger” Lennon in injury time (90+’). His teammate Evan Mariano, second on the goal scoring list, had tied it up before the intermission (33’) for Police, after Vallan Symms had gotten an early goal (11’) for BDF. And their return match was also scoreless, 0-0.
But with the crowd jamming the Isidoro Beaton Stadium for the Finals game 1 yesterday under bright sunshine and a light, cool northerly air flow, goal hungry fans were given a treat approaching mid-way of the first half, when Danny Jimenez completed a long run from the left wing, cutting into the middle, avoiding a few attempted tackles, and culminating near the 18-yard line with a hard right foot grounder that caught West leaning the other way. Danny was guarded all the way by a defender, and West might have anticipated a pass to his teammate on the right side. But Danny must have glanced at an opening, for suddenly he pulled the trigger, and aimed right, which is what “prize strikers” do. 1-nil, Police.
It was a spectacular goal, from a solo effort by the league’s leading striker against the best ‘keeper. But the buzz had hardly died down among excited Police fans, when lightning struck at the other end. Veteran striker Dennis Serano has not had a banner year, to put it mildly; but he puts enough pressure on opposing defenses for the Bandits team to still amass a total of 26 regular season goals, of which “Den Den” had accounted for none. But like his under-performing teammate, Jeremy “Jarro” James, whose sudden back-to-back strikes had first salvaged the Bandits’ undefeated season in their last game against BDF, and then clinched the 1-nil victory in the first semifinal against defending champion Placencia Assassins, Den Den had a big moment coming. And it happened barely 5 minutes after Danny had given Police the 1-nil lead. From the right wing (kicking into the northern goal) Serano swerved left, and continued protecting the ball from Police defenders Glenn “Tipu” Martinez and Shannon Flowers until he was near the edge of the 18, still on the right side, but facing the western sideline, away from his powerful right foot. But, though not a very hard shot, his quick left foot release caught Police ‘keeper Charlie Slusher a bit off guard, and the sharp grounder drained past his diving outstretched hands and into the left corner. 1-1 ball game.
There were some close calls on both ends in second half. Jarro got the best look for the Bandits and Amin August for Police, but both failed to capitalize; and it remained deadlocked at 1-1 ‘till the final whistle from referee Gerald Henry.
Spotlight on goal scorers
So far in the playoffs, characteristically, the Bandits have had goals coming from different places in their line-up. Neither Jarro or Den Den even appear in the top half of the “goleadors” list, Jarro scoring only 2 goals in regular season, and Den Den failing to score. But they both came up big when their team, the Bandits, needed them most.
Both Police top gunners, Danny Jimenez and Evan Mariano, who are also one-two on the league’s top goaleadors list, have shaken the net already in the playoffs, Mariano in the semifinal and Danny yesterday in game 1 of the Finals. But, besides these two “’pend upon” goal getters, Police have also found clutch performances from the likes of Trevor “Burger” Lennon, who got the semi-finals game 1 winner against BDF, and Lennox “Criminal” Castillo who scored in injury time to secure the critical final game 3-2 winner against a troublesome San Ignacio United that ensured their spot in the playoffs.
Both teams have many “weapons,” and goals can come from unlikely heroes when the Bandits clash with the Police. But for sure, all eyes were focused on the league’s top goleadors yesterday, and the oohs and aaahs were a constant echo each time they approached the goal area. So it was understandable that the whole stadium was holding its breath when Danny’s trademark run took him closer and closer to the eighteen, and all eyes were on him when he unleashed the shot that tightened the net for the first time in two weeks at the Isidoro Beaton Stadium. Gooaall!!
The joy and celebration among Police fans was abruptly ended when Den Den tied it up about 5 minutes later for the Bandits. Den Den surprised everyone, and he was certainly a hero for the Bandits yesterday. But Danny surprised no one; instead, he lived up to his billing as the league’s number one striker, making his statement against the best defence and the best goalkeeper, and at the best time to do it, in the Finals. For that, we have to give maximum respect to the young man.
Who will shine in Game 2?
Game 1 was Police’s home game; and they wanted it in the afternoon sun. Game 2 will be Bandits’ home game, and it has been confirmed that they will play the game at the FFB Stadium at 3:30 p.m. on Sunday, not on Saturday night as we reported in our last issue. Bandits coach “Buzzard” Pandy says he is satisfied, from last Sunday, that his team can handle the 3:30 schedule; and his management is confident that it will be more comfortable for the fans at the FFB Stadium, which has better seating and bathroom facilities to accommodate what is expected to be the biggest fan turnout of the year.
Awards ceremonies begin at 2:00 p.m. on Sunday; game time is 3:30 p.m.
This Sunday’s game must produce a winner for the championship; so if they are deadlocked in regulation, then it is overtime, and then penalties if necessary. For sure, there will be a big celebration on Sunday in Belmopan, where both teams call home. See you there for the Grand Finale.
Sunday, December 30 2:00 p.m. – PLB Awards Ceremonies – FFB Stadium
3:30 p.m. – Belmopan Bandits vs Police United FC – FFB Stadium