BELIZE CITY, Mon. July 15, 2019– At the MCC Grounds yesterday, in game 2 of the National Amateur League Competition (NALC) home-and-away championship series, defending champions, Club Atletico of Belmopan came away with a 1-1 draw against Belize City’s Caesar Ridge FC, and it was all that Club Atletico needed, after their 1-nil win in game 1 at Isidoro Beaton Stadium, to emerge as back-to-back champions.
After a somewhat difficult start in the 20-team National Amateur inter-district football tournament, where they lost a home-and-away series to Caesar Ridge FC, Club Atletico was not one of the 10 winners that automatically qualified to the next round; but they were still able to join the Round of 16 by being among the 6 teams with the best record among the 10 losers of the first round of the competition.
After eking their way into the Round of 16, Club Atletico struggled through the quarterfinals and a tough semifinals, where they drew twice with Progresso FC, and only succeeded in a penalty shootout. They then stood on the brink of a series loss to Barrack Road FC in the semifinals; but again prevailed after some controversy, to find themselves in the finals, a familiar place for the defending champions, and this time against the very team that had edged them 4-3 in the first round series of the tournament, Caesar Ridge FC.
But the tide had silently turned in favor of Club Atletico. Star striker Sydney “Buck-it” Bradley had reportedly not appeared in the Caesar Ridge line-up for game 1 of the finals in Belmopan, where Atletico had prevailed, 1-0. That Atletico goal was scored by one Andrew “Chu Chu” Allen, a former San Pedro Pirates FC player who had suddenly retired with a kidney condition that threatened his life. Remarkably, with some months of herbal treatments in Corozal, Chu Chu’s condition had improved to the point that he could give some quality minutes on the field; and the Atletico scouts had wisely recruited him.
Cream rises, and quality players rise to the occasion at championship time. There was again no sign of Buck-it in the Caesar Ridge line-up or on their bench yesterday; it’s a sad story that Belize police could best explain. But also of note, on the Thursday before game 1 of the championship, star midfielder/striker, Orlando “Bredda” Velasquez of Caesar Ridge had been called up for tryouts with the National “A” Team in Belmopan.
In place of the missing Buck-it, coach Julius Allen inserted Shawn Young, the young striker who had caught attention with some spectacular goals for Ladyville Warriors in the recent CYDP tournament; and Shawn delivered yesterday at the 35th minute, giving Caesar Ridge the 1-nil lead and aggregate tie; but they could not produce the go-ahead goal, as the championship hung in the balance. It was a defensive lapse early in second half, and a smart pass from Chu Chu Allen to Hamma Ciego, and Hamma took advantage of the opportunity and did what he has been known to do in championship situations; he scored what proved to be the series winning goal at the 54th minute. With the 1-1 tie and aggregate 2-1 lead, Club Atletico’s defence, anchored by outstanding goalkeeper Orlando Galdamez, weathered the storm of all the attacks that Caesar Ridge forwards could muster, until referee Efren Guy blew the long whistle, and Club Atletico fans erupted in celebration of their championship.
After the game, Caesar Ridge manager Brenford Middleton, himself a Police Officer, lamented that he had lost the services of star striker Sydney “Buck-it” Bradley in the finals series, because of the Police “drag-net” detentions following the Felix brothers murders, in which Buck-it was twice detained for 48 hours without charge by Police, causing him to decide to leave town. And coach Julius Allen remarked, when asked why he took out Bredda Velasquez in second half of such a big game, that Velasquez’s legs were gone, a result he feels from the intense training he endured with the National Team tryouts so close to the championship series.
In the award ceremony that followed the game, FFB Vice President Cruz Gamez, accompanied by General Secretary Earl Jones and National Team Coach, Vincenzo Annese, presented medals to players of both teams; the Golden Boot for most goals (12) to Steven “Breds” Baizar of Barrack Road FC; the MVP trophy (for the 3rd year running) to Tyriq “Hamma” Ciego of Club Atletico; the big champions trophy and a check for $6,000.00 to Club Atletico; and a check for $4,000.00 to Caesar Ridge FC.
Despite the unfortunate controversy in the semifinals, and the player inconveniences in the finals, it was a good season of football, with some lessons to be learned. Congrats to the champions, Club Atletico; sub-champions, Caesar Ridge FC; all teams who participated in the tournament; and the die-hard fans who give the players inspiration to play their best game.
Feature photo caption: Club Atletico captain and playoff MVP, Tyriq “Hamma” Ciego (center) receives team championship trophy from FFB Vice President, Cruz Gamez (right) accompanied by FFB General Secretary, Earl Jones (far left)