BELIZE CITY, Thurs. Dec. 29, 2016–This coming Saturday night, New Year’s Eve, will see the Championship Finals Game 2 of the Premier League of Belize (PLB) Opening Season 2016-2017 at the Isidoro Beaton Stadium in Belmopan, featuring home standing and defending champion, Belmopan Bandits SC against visiting Belize Defense Force FC.
The Bandits have the edge, on paper
The star-studded Bandits are the automatic favorites, with as many as 8 players from their roster being regular members of the National “A” Team, and their coach, Kent Gabourel, is the incumbent Goalkeeper Coach for the National “A” Team. The first team to qualify for the recent PLB playoffs, the Bandits, was undefeated in regular season. Featuring 4 foreign players, the Bandits sported an impeccable regular season record – the most goals scored at 45 (Police United was next with 39), and the least goals allowed at 11 (BDF was next with 13). And in total points, the Bandits garnered a league leading 40 regular season points, with second place BDF way behind at 31.
(Top-4 playoff teams *)
If it was the “La Liga” format, Belmopan Bandits SC would have already been declared the champion. But the PLB utilizes the playoff format; and so, the regular season is past, and it is now a “brand-new” ball game.
In the semifinals, the Bandits had to get through FC Belize, whom they subdued with a 1-1 draw at the MCC followed by a 1-nil win at the Isidoro Beaton. Meanwhile, in their semifinals, BDF fell 3-1 to Police United at the Norman Broaster; but rebounded with a dramatic 2-nil victory at the MCC, that saw them through to the Finals on the strength of the “away goal rule.”
Now we are in the Finals, and, amazingly, it is BDF that sports a 1-nil win in Game 1 at the MCC this past Christmas Eve; and the Bandits have their work cut out to secure their championship on New Year’s Eve at the Isidoro Beaton.
A real match-up
Lost among all the attention to the Bandits’ undefeated record all season long, was the fact that BDF had only lost one game in regular season, and that was when they were edged, 2-1, by Verdes FC. Both BDF meetings with the Bandits in regular season had ended in draws, 1-1 and 0-0. With the BDF 1-nil victory over the Bandits in game 1 of the Finals, it is BDF that now sports a 1-goal edge over the Bandits in their head-to-head meetings this season.
In their “Goals Against” columns in regular season, their records were again extremely close; the Bandits allowing only 11 goals, while BDF allowed 13. By comparison, the next closest teams in the defensive department were Police United and Placencia Assassins, each with 21 goals allowed in regular season. So, what we are seeing in the PLB Finals are by far the two best defensive teams in the competition. And by fans and pundits alike, it is acknowledged that a significant part of that is due to their goalkeepers, the two best in the league – internationally acclaimed Shane Moody Orio of Belmopan Bandits, and Tevin Gamboa of BDF, both National “A” Team goalkeepers.
It is in the offensive area that the Bandits have out-done BDF this year, but not in their head-to-head meetings, which is where it now counts. In regular season, the Bandits tallied 45 goals, while BDF could only muster 29. Two Bandits strikers, Honduran Jairo Rochez and Brazilian Aloisio Teixeira, are featured in the Top-10 list of goal scorers in regular season, a list that included no BDF striker. (See below.) The nearest BDF player to the Top-10 list was sweeper Vallan Symms with 6 goals, mostly from the penalty spot.
It’s “Money Time”
But in Saturday night’s championship final, it will not be about who is prolific, but which player can score “in the clutch,” and against the best defenses in the country. Goals have been scarce between these two teams. In their three meetings so far this season, twice in regular season and once in the Finals, the Bandits have scored once – by Jerome “Jarro” James in Week 9 on October 9; and BDF, twice – by Vallan Symms (penalty) in Week 9 on October 9, and Trimayne Harris in Finals Game 1 on Christmas Eve, December 24.
The Bandits, being a goal down, must score on Saturday if they want to retain their title, so they will be throwing everything into their attack. At home, with the comfort of their familiar astro-turf, the Bandits’ internationally reinforced attack will surely test the mettle of the BDF defense; but then, that is what the BDF is all about, and they have been tested before.
Of importance for the Bandits in Saturday night’s Final, will be the expected return of Brazilian striker Aloisio Teixeira; but again they will miss veteran striker Elroy “Bibbs” Kuylen, who was red-carded in the semifinals game 2 against FC Belize.
For BDF, a concern will be the availability of midfield star Osmar Duran, who had to leave last Saturday’s game due to injury; he was sorely missed in their 3-1 semifinal loss to Police United. Also missing due to injury from their last two outings has been BDF’s outstanding defender Ricky Rickets.Who will suit up on Saturday night?