BELIZE CITY, Mon. Dec. 11, 2017–Although they lost, 2-1, to Belmopan Bandits SC at the Isidoro Beaton Stadium in game 2 of the finals on Saturday night, Verdes FC was still declared champion of the Premier League of Belize (PLB) 2017-2018 Opening Season, by virtue of the “away goal rule,” since they had won game 1 the previous week on their home turf at the Norman Broaster Stadium by a 1-nil score.
It was a highly anticipated game 2 for the PLB championship, and the game lived up to expectations, as fans were treated to some real exciting football action, both teams demonstrating the qualities that made them finalists in the competition. Top striker, Honduran Georgie Welcome, who left game 1 injured in first half of game 1 and was questionable for game 2, was in the Bandits lineup on Saturday, and played the full ninety, though obviously handicapped by a sore knee. As important for the defending champions was the return to their lineup of captain Elroy Smith and midfielder Khalil Velasquez, both missing from game 1 of the finals because of red card suspensions in the semifinals.
From the opening whistle on Saturday, Verdes was on the offensive, and it was only 5 minutes into the game when Bandits keeper Shane Moody Orio had to make a spectacular save, when Gilroy “Bredda”Thurton’s center from the left goal line found the head of Verdes striker Alcides “Paco” Thomas, who re-directed the ball toward goal from the edge of the six-yard box; but somehow Shane “got there” to stop the first serious Verdes attempt. But less than a minute later, the relentless Verdes attack paid off, as another left-side serving from Bredda towards Paco inside a scramble in front of the Bandits goal resulted in an own goal by Bandits’ Kervin Johnson, to give the visitors the 1-nil lead. Already sporting a 1-nil victory in game 1, the 1-nil lead put Verdes in a commanding position; but the Bandits were undaunted.
3 minutes later, Bandits Honduran midfielder Darwin Bermudez sent a hard a left foot shot from thirty-five yards out that saw Verdes goalie Zeron Sagastume diving to just push off to the right for the corner. But, the next minute, the Verdes attack was in full effect again, as Bredda Thurton shook himself free of the Bandits defence, and unleashed a hard right foot shot that rebounded off the Bandits goal post. Moments later, after a corner, Bredda got a break again, but his shot was just a foot outside the left goal post.
A champ does not go down easily; though some frustration was setting in, as Bandits midfielder Jerome “Jarro” James was yellow carded at the 16th minute. Two minutes later, Darwin Bermudez’ center into a crowd of Bandits attackers resulted in a header that beat goalie Sagastume, bounced off the Verdes goal post and drained along the goal line until cleared by a Verdes defender. And some three minutes later, the Bandits spirit rose mightily, as a rolling ball some thirty yards out was met by a ferocious left foot cannon from Bermudez that tightened the Verdes net in the upper left corner past a diving Zeron Sagastume; a brand new 1-1 ball game at the 22nd minute.
The large crowd in attendance was evenly shared between Bandits and Verdes fans, who were both vocal in support of their teams, blaring horns and all, especially when they threatened, or scored a goal.
Knowing the “away goal rule” in effect, the Bandits pressed on. Georgie Welcome had a scare after a hard tackle and a fall, but he got up and continued. This would be a battle to the finish. At the 30th minute, Bandits’ Brazilian midfielder Amilto Filho got an open break at the left edge of the eighteen, but he didn’t get enough on the shot, and Zeron collected easily. A couple minutes later, it was a right foot blast from captain Elroy Smith, that saw Sagastume just pushing it off at the last moment.
It was attacking football from both teams, as the Verdes camp knew it would be a mistake to lay back on the defensive against an efficient attacking force such as the Bandits presented. Verdes was dominating midfield play with the likes of Brazilian Rodolfo Silva de Lima, Denmark Casey, Elroy “Bibbs” Kuylen and Jarret Davis; while the Bandits countered with Jarro, Amilton Filho, Khalil Velasquez and Honduran Kervin Johnson, captain Elroy Smith floating behind the attacking duo of Georgie Welcome and Darwin Bermudez, who alternated in spells with Kervin Johnson. Verdes, meanwhile, had Bredda committed to the attack along with Paco from the start. After a splendid give-and-go sequence, Rodolfo found himself all alone against an oncoming Shane, but he lifted his lob too high, and it floated harmlessly over the goal post. Silva certainly wished he could get that chance back; because three minutes later at the other end, it was a long center from Bandits’ Darwin Bermudez that saw Jarro surprise the oncoming Sagastume with a semi-volley lob that curled over Sagastume’s head and bounced into the open goal, to the roar of jubilant Bandits fans. 2-1, Bandits in front; an aggregate tie at the 43rd minute, and 1 goal away from the championship!
First half ended that way; and so did second half, although both teams strove to get one more goal, Bandits to gain the championship by overcoming the “away goal rule,” and Verdes to put the game out of reach of their desperate opponents. Mr. Midfield, Denmark Casey was creating havoc for Bandits’ All-Belize defender on the right side, Ian “Yellow” Gaynair, and after Yellow got a yellow card, and came close to getting another, which would mean ejection, coach Kent Gabourel replaced him with rookie Norman Anderson. It didn’t matter to Denmark, who pretty much controlled the flow of the game for Verdes, who maintained much of the possession in second half, while Bandits relied on their long lobs forward to their tall strikers, Georgie Welcome and Jarro. In one spectacular Verdes sequence on the left side around the 74th minute, it was from Denmark to Bredda, who took it to the left goal line and across, “setting the table” for the oncoming Jarret Davis on the right side, but Jarret’s left foot shot from just inside the eighteen was wide right of the mark.
Fans were off their feet as time began winding down, all aware of the score implications on the championship. There were some near misses on both sides, and strategic substitutions made by both teams, as everything was on the line. Already in injury time, Verdes’ Jarret Davis, being substituted, a time consuming strategy, no doubt, was yellow carded for leaving the pitch too slowly by referee Irfan Basdemir. But the Bandits could not get another goal; and as the referee blew the long whistle and indicated the end of the match, the Verdes celebration began.
Verdes FC – 1 goal (Alcides “Paco” Thomas 5′). Team – goalkeeper #1 Zeron Sagastume; #16 Evral Trapp; #18 Victor Cruz Mejia; #4 Brandon Jones; #2 San Mendez; #5 Elroy “Bibbs” Kuylen (#8 Ricardo “Cheety” Jimenez 75′); #15 Rodolfo Silva de Lima; #7 Denmark Casey, Jr.;#10 Jarret Davis (#13 Desmond Wade 90+’); #9 Gilroy “Bredda” Thurton (#23 Anderson Cordoba 81′); #25 Alcides “Paco” Thomas. Coach – Marvin Ottley. Assts. – Philip Marin and Peter Jones. Goalkeeper coach – Carlos Campos.
Belmopan Bandits SC – 2 goals (#12 Darwin Bermudez 22′; #15 Jerome “Jarro” James 43′). Team – goalkeeper #1 Shane Moody Orio; #7 Ian “Yellow” Gaynair (#3 Norman Anderson 67′); #13 Dalton Eiley; #23 Tyrone Pandy; #15 Jerome “Jarro” James (#10 Rene Leslie 87′); #16 Amilton Filho (#21 Humberto Requena 77′); #11 Khalil Velasquez; #27 Kervin Johnson; #8 Elroy Smith; #9 Georgie Welcome; #12 Darwin Bermudez. Coach – Kent Gabourel. Asst. – Dale Pelayo.
Referee – Irfan Basdemir. Assistants – Ricardo Ake and Windell Esquiliano; 4th official – Christopher Reid.