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Verdes survives the Bandits

BELIZE CITY, Thurs. Dec. 17, 2015–After completing game 1 of their semifinals series a week earlier, where Placencia Assassins shocked Police United, 2-1, in Independence; and Verdes FC dropped Belmopan Bandits, 2-0, in San Ignacio; the top 4 teams in this Premier League of Belize (PLB) 2015-2016 Opening Season took the field again this past weekend; and when it was all over, 2 teams emerged aggregate winners of their series, and are now set to clash in the best-of-2 games PLB championship series. Those two teams are Verdes FC and Police United FC.

For the many fans that couldn’t make the journey to witness the “do or die” semifinals game 2, we take a look back at these two big semifinal encounters this past weekend.

Verdes 1:1 Belmopan Bandits, game 2

For an elimination game in the Premier League of Belize (PLB) tournament, it was a surprisingly small crowd at the FFB Stadium on Saturday night, December 12, a couple hundred at most, with the visiting Verdes fans apparently outnumbering the Bandits home fans. Nevertheless, the Bandits organization was in full force, even former coach Edmund “Buzzard” Pandy was on hand to support his former players, including his son, Edmund Pandy, Jr. who is still on the Bandits roster. While Verdes only showed 4 players on their substitute list, the Bandits had filled in all 7 spaces allowed, and their dugout appeared much more robust and ready to take the victory.

As expected, the game started “fast and furious,” with Bandits pushing the attack. Trailing 2-0 from their previous meeting last Sunday in San Ignacio, the Bandits were willing to gamble, if that’s what it would take to break through the stern Verdes defence. Bandits’ regular sweeper/captain Elroy Smith was now playing in front of new sweeper, Humberto Requena; and Elroy was prominently involved in the Bandits attack from midfield, sending long lobs for indefatigable speedster Evan Mariano on the left midfield/wing. Jordy Polanco started in central midfield along with Khalil Velasquez, and Ian “Yellow” Gaynair was on the right side, where he occasionally covered for right defence Tyrone Pandy, who was nursing a right knee problem. Everal Trap handled the left defence position, and young Jerry Trejo was in goal. Up front the Bandits started the sturdy but agile Randy Padilla along with the tall and talented young striker, Highking Roberts. Notably among their substitutes were Denmark Casey, Jr. and Jerome “Jarro” James, so the Bandits were planning to be strong for the whole ninety.

Verdes, for their part, were prepared to meet the Bandits firepower, and they almost capitalized on a few early breaks in counter attack. Within the first 15 minutes, Verdes had very good opportunities at goal, with shots wide from Bredda Thurton and over the cross bar from Nahjib Guerra, and a high lob, over Bandits’ goalkeeper Jerry Trejo’s head, from Deon McCaulay, that hit the cross bar and rebounded out. But the Bandits also had some very good breaks, two headers from point blank range over the crossbar by Evan Mariano, and a good shot by Highking Roberts that was stopped by Verdes goalie, Yusef Guerra. It was an incisive pass from Bandits midfielder Jordy Polanco that split the Verdes defence on the right side of the eighteen, and found Randy Padilla with lots of time to pick his spot and blast one past Guerra for the Bandits’ 1-nil lead at the 30th minute.

If the game was fast and furious, and exciting to watch, it was even more intense now with the Bandits trailing by only a goal to knot up the series. The stadium should have been full for this one, but the few fans were increasingly vocal.

Referee Christopher Reid had to eventually resort to his cards, when repeated verbal warning could not control the level of physicality in the game. Even Deon McCaulay was yellow carded, after he vented his frustration by retaliating with an elbow against the dirty tactics of defenders at his back.

With sweeper Victor Cruz apparently hobbled by a leg injury, Mariano got what appeared to be an open break at the 35th minute, after chasing down a cross goal ground pass on the right side, but his shot went way high over the open goal.

Despite their formidable line-up, things were not looking good for Verdes at this stage of the game. Verdes had started with their usual defence line, with Chris Gilharry on the right and Brazilian Willian Nascimento on the left, Victor Cruz sweeping and captain Rodney Pacheco playing stopper in front. They had adopted some flexibility to try and adjust to the Bandits attack. The elusive Gilroy “Bredda” Thurton started up front striking along with Deon McCaulay, but quickly there were changes, with Brazilian Yoras Silva moving up alternately in striking mode, and Deon or Bredda, and sometimes both, dropping back to midfield along with Jarret Davis who anchored the central midfield area. Their midfield flankers remained Ricardo “Cheety” Jimenez on the right and Nahjib Guerra on the left.

The injured Victor Cruz had to leave the game, and he was eventually replaced by Delroy “Tin Man” Andrews who added some attacking spark to the Verdes midfield, after Jarret had to move back in sweeper position to replace Cruz.

There was no love lost in this one, as Bandits sweeper Requena was yellow carded about 7 minutes before halftime for pushing Deon in the face.

The second half started with a bang for Verdes, as Nahjib Guerra got a clean break-away down the left line toward goal, but his shot went wide left. A few minutes later, the Bandits made the first of three substitutions within a ten minute period, replacing injured Tyrone Pandy with Denmark Casey, Jr., who filled his usual spot in midfield, while Gaynair dropped back in defence to replace Pandy; putting Edmund Pandy, Jr. in place of Khalil Velasquez in midfield; and inserting veteran goal scorer Jerome “Jarro” James for the also injured Highking Roberts up front.

Bandits continued attacking desperately, and Verdes was hanging on. Frustration was setting in, as the Bandits’ Jordy Polanco, who was causing problems for Verdes with his nifty maneuvering and crisp passes in midfield, was kneed in the rear end by a Verdes defender. (Mariano was similarly and more seriously injured.) To break the Bandits momentum, Verdes made their second substitution, inserting young Jamil Cano in midfield for the veteran “Cheety” Jimenez. Two minutes later, after he stalled in frustration at being pulled back by a Bandits defender out of sight of referee Reid, Deon regained his composure in time to win a foot race to the goal line, as Yoras Silva’s hard grounder across goal saw Deon slamming it into the net for the tying goal at the 73rd minute. Euphoria swept the Verdes bench, as their fans erupted in the eastern bleachers, and the Bandits cringed with disappointment, as their hopes were effectively dashed for reaching the finals. With the Verdes “away” goal, the Bandits would need not 2 more goals (which would tie the aggregate at 3-3, and Verdes would get the nod), but 3 more goals in the remaining 17 minutes of regulation. When the 4th official signaled 3 minutes of extra time, and Verdes “killed” some of the clock by making their final substitution, bringing in Marlon Molina for Deon McCaulay, it was clearly over. 1-1 ball game and Verdes on to the finals.

Police United 2:0 Placencia Assassins, game 2

According to their team public relations officer, “5 star general” Aaron “Gambis” Gamboa, Police United’s strategy was to play their home game against Placencia Assassins in the early afternoon “sun hot,” because the Assassins were used to night games in Independence; so game 2 was set for 3:30 p.m. at the FFB Stadium on Sunday; and the plan may have worked for Police, who had lost game 1 by a 2-1 margin on Saturday night, December 5, in Independence.

As 1980’s super-striker, now Krem sports show commentator Maurice Jones had observed earlier in the week, Placencia Assassins had been pretty much “under the radar;” and their familiarity with the coaching style of Police’s Hilberto Muschamp (Hilly’s brother Robert Muschamp coaches the Assassins), would make them a very difficult opponent for the highly touted Police United. And it was so.

Despite some acknowledged setbacks, the Placencia Assassins staff yesterday was determined to get past Police United and go on to the finals. The closure of shrimp farms in the south (due to disease problems) had affected some of their players, who had to seek employment in the tourist industry; and perhaps their biggest setback was an injury sustained by young midfielder Delone Torres during workout in the past week, which made him unavailable for this big game.

Nevertheless, Police hands were “full” on Sunday, and, as it turned out, it was the “old veterans,” Orlando “Leechi” Jimenez and Norman “Tilliman” Pipersburgh/Nunez who paired up to deliver the needed goal for Police to clinch a spot in the finals.

It was nil-nil at half time, and Placencia was not giving an inch to Police. Placencia’s four midfielders – Ashely Torres, Osmani Sanchez, Arnie Whyte and Kareem Haylock were playing conservatively, ensuring they could get back to assist the back line of Daiton Corado on the left, Lionel Cabral on the right, captain Dalton Eiley sweeping, with Mario Villanueva in front of him. The attack was pretty much left to tenacious workhorse Alexander “Pleck” Peters and the highly skilled but less durable Luis “Baaka” Torres to create for themselves with limited support from midfield; but protecting the 2-1 lead they brought into the ball game was Placencia’s priority, and their plan was working, with Elias Pelayo in goal doing a good job handling long shots from Police. In fact, Placencia got their best opportunity just 4 minutes into the ball game, when striker Alexander “Pleck” Peters found himself all alone inside the Police eighteen facing veteran goalie Jamie Brooks. But the ball was on the left side, his “negative,” and Pleck’s shot was weak, easily handled by Brooks.

Police had started with their full force – Jamie Brooks in goal; fast and resilient Byron Usher on right defence; outstanding rookie Darien Myers on left defence; multi-talented Frank Lopez sweeping, with Trevor “Burger” Lennon playing stopper in front; in midfield they had the tireless Danny Jimenez on the right and another aggressive runner Devon Makin on the left, with rookie Byron Chavez along with captain Andres Makin, Jr. in the central area. Up top striking were seasoned veteran Harrison “Cafu” Roches and explosive young dynamo, Carlton “Fubu” Thomas. But they couldn’t “buy” a goal in first half. If it stayed scoreless, Placencia was on to the finals.

At the intermission, to start the second half, Police coach Hilly Muschamp went to his veteran player/assistant coach, Norman “Tilliman” Pipersburgh/Nunez, to replace rookie midfielder Byron Chavez; and Placencia coach Roberto Muschamp countered with his veteran Lisbey Castillo replacing Osmani Sanchez in midfield. The chess game was on.

Not only was the coaching chess game in effect, but, with the countdown to the finals on, the intensity of tackles increased, and referee Irfan Basdemir had to reach for his cards to try and control things. He dealt 4 yellow cards within the first 10 minutes of second half action – to Placencia’s Kareem Haylock and Lionel Cabral, and a double yellow card to Police’s Danny Jimenez and Placencia’s Arnie Whyte, where blows were thrown but missed.

At the 58th minute, Police went for another renowned veteran, Orlando “Leechi” Jimenez, who is no stranger to big goals in big games; he replaced right midfielder Devon Makin who, like Danny Jimenez on the left, had done a lot of running to wear down the Placencia defence in the afternoon heat. Tilliman and Leechi soon began to find a rhythm on the right side of the Police attack; and it looked like a certain goal, as an advancing Burger chased a draining pass in front of the Placencia goal, but almost on the goal line his shot was miraculously blocked by Placencia defender Lionel Cabral, who received many “high fives” from teammates, as he kept alive their dream of making the finals.

With the Police pressure building, Placencia had to make a move, and at the 66th minute, coach, Roberto Mushcamp brought in defender Jason “Pack Bread” Kelly to replace the tiring Kareem Haylock in midfield. The finals, for Placencia, was getting nearer; but some players, notably strikers Baaka Torres asnd Pleck Peters were showing the wear of their many solo efforts.

Police’s Hilly Muschamp again went to his bench, relieving the tiring Burger Lennen with the “fresh legs” of midfielder Amin “Tacos” August, Jr. at the 69th minute; 21 minutes of regulation remaining to make the finals. Things were looking desperate for Police.

6 minutes later, Police got a free kick, after Placencia defender Daiton Corado had to grab and pull down a breakaway Police attacker outside the area on the right side. While referee Irfan Basdemir issued a yellow card on the play to Corado, coach Roberto Muschamp made his final substitution, replacing Arnie Whyte with tall midfielder Gilbert “Hoof” Swazo. Tilliman had gone ahead and taken the kick, but it was called back, while the substitution was being made. The “dry run” had apparently given the veterans a clue to a crack in the Placencia defence, because when the ref finally gave the whistle for the kick, Tilliman’s perfectly placed drive into a space in front of goal saw Leechi reaching the spot ahead of everyone else and nailing the header past a bewildered Elias Pelayo in goal for Placencia at the 77th minute. It was pandemonium on the Police bench and on the bleachers, where over a hundred new Police recruits in uniform were in attendance to support their team.

The relief was so overwhelming to the Police fans and players, that harsh words came from the veteran Tilliman, trying to get his teammates back on the field to continue the game; and we saw referee Basdemir show a yellow card to someone, to captain Andres Makin, Jr., we suspect, for his team’s delaying the game.

Indeed, as predicted, Placencia was no pushover; they were 13 minutes away from eliminating, Police from the playoffs. In the end, the bio-rhythms may have been their undoing, being unaccustomed to playing in the afternoon.

Play resumed, and Placencia continued playing with desperation, realizing that they needed to score, as the away goal that Police had scored in Placencia would make them advance because of the “away” rule in the current 2-2 aggregate situation. Police got a corner; and who would believe, but Danny Jimenez’ lob from the right corner flag was met again by the tall Leechi before it reached parallel to the near goal post, and Leechi’s “splice” header sent the ball up and swerving down into the top far corner “V” past a diving Pelayo in goal at the 90th minute of regulation; 2-nil, Police, and it was all over, despite an added 3 minutes of extra time.

What a game!

Football fans, you missed a couple good ones, indeed! The finals should be good too. Both regular season games between Police United and Verdes ended in draws; it was 0-0 on Sunday, October 4, in San Ignacio, and 1-1 on Sunday, November 29, again in San Ignacio. One of these two will become the PLB 2015-2016 Opening Season Champion.

Game 1 of the finals is this Sunday in San Ignacio, and game 2 will be next Saturday, Boxing Day, in Belmopan.

PLB Finals Game 1:

Sunday, December 20
4:00 p.m. – Verdes FC vs Police United FC – Norman Broaster Stadium

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