Mon. July 3, 2017–When it comes to raw talent, especially as it relates to football, Belizean athletes are abundantly blessed with it. When it comes to the technical aspect of football, however, we sometimes seem to be light years behind our neighboring countries.
Take the recently concluded UNCAF U-20 Female Championship, that was held last month in Managua, Nicaragua, for example. Our female players exhibited the will to win, and did their best on the field; but due to a lack of preparation, among other factors, they ultimately succumbed to the superior tactics of both Nicaragua and Costa Rica.
Sometime in 2012, under the guidance of Santiago “Santi” Valencia, a reinforced Youth With A Mission (YWAM) All-Belize Male U-15 team won a gold medal in a quadrangular football tournament held in the Dominican Republic (DR).
This YWAM All-Belize U-15 football selection, with technical assistance from the FFB, clinched the Gold medal in a tournament that included a team from Guadalajara, Mexico, considered the favorites to win it all. There were 5 teams from the DR along with a team each from Belize, Haiti and Mexico.
Belize was placed in the toughest group, which included Mexico, but our boys rose to the occasion, after being down 1-nil, and defeated Mexico 2-1. The team achieved a similar result in the championship match against the Dominican Republic national youth selection when, after being down 1-nil in the first half, they came back in dramatic fashion to win by a 2-1 score. (Source: Amandala, November 30, 2012).
The players on this historic Gold Medal winning team were as follows:
Roaring Creek – Malcolm Daly 16 yrs, Mario Valencia 14, Alexander Scott 13, Eduardo Valencia 12, and Dale Pelayo 14.
From George Town, Stann Creek District – Arzel Arzu 14 yrs.
From Belmopan – Ainsleigh Perez 12 yrs, Jamir Alpuche 14, Rogi Solorzano 14, Jamaal Tejeda 13, and Elton Gordon 13.
From Belize City – Dmitri Fabro 15 yrs.
From Dangriga – Karl Haylock 13 yrs, and Kowat Nicholas 13.
From Orange Walk Town – Marlon Garcia 14 yrs, and Randy Serrano 14.
Belize’s Randy Serano won the Most Goals award with 6 goals in the tournament; while his teammate Rogi Solorzano was the tournament MVP.
(Source: Amandala 2012)
A year after, in August 2013, Belize participated in the first ever CONCACAF U-15 Championship that was held in the Cayman Islands. Interestingly, the Youth With A Mission (YWAM) team formed the backbone of this selection, but this time the Football Federation of Belize [FFB] oversaw recruitment. Sure enough, after the end of the 1st round, Belize had a record of 3 wins and 1 loss, finishing second in the group, which also featured Guatemala (the eventual sub-champions), Jamaica, Grenada and St. Lucia.
Here at Belize Football News, we believe one of the primary reasons the YWAM / U-15 National Selection could be as successful as it was, had to do with the preparation they went through under the tutelage of Mr. Santiago Valencia. He has been an instrumental force in the development of youth football in western Belize, particularly in the Roaring Creek area. Regretfully, since the initial success of the YWAM team, it seems that the formula to replicate this success has now eluded everyone, including the decision-makers at the Football Federation of Belize. The oldest player on the team at that time was sixteen  years old, while the youngest was only thirteen , which would have made them ideal candidates for a strong U-21 selection today.
It begs the obvious question: Where are these players today?
If we [Belize] had the right structure in place, which allows our youth players to progress through the ranks until their eventual inclusion into the National “A” Selection (Jaguars), then our representation in regional and international tournaments such as the Gold Cup would be a different story. The time has come and gone for us to place more emphasis on developing a system of continuity, where our youths can progress through the ranks with a sound understanding of the tactical aspect of the sport. But at the same time, we cannot scrap our present 1st Division/Semi Pro leagues, because we still need these to be the final stepping stones within the players’ learning cycle.
Moral of the story: Continuity and Long Term Strategy
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(Amandala Sports Ed. Note: Omar Ayuso is a Belizean presently based in Dallas, Texas, who makes regular visits to the Jewel. The FFB’s Acting President, Marlon Kuylen has publicly extolled the YWAM Academy as a model worthy to be emulated across the country.)