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Port Layola FC are national football champions

SportsPort Layola FC are national football champions

BELIZE CITY, Mon. May 20, 2024

That’s why Pele called it “the beautiful game”! Amazing things happen sometimes, and it was an amazing happening yesterday evening at the Norman Broaster Stadium in front of a huge crowd of Cayo fans, relishing the moment that was so near when Verdes FC would be crowned champions again. They had clipped Benque United 1-0 in Benque, and come home to hold them to a nil-nil stalemate to advance to the finals. In the finals they had clipped Port Layola FC 1-0 at the Marion Jones Sports Complex field; and now they were home for the grand finale, to add another shutout to their record season and claim the championship.

Two Port Layola shots had hit the goal post last Sunday, but they just couldn’t get one into the net past national team goalkeeper Woodrow West. Among West’s and Verdes’ 11 shutout games in the regular season, Week 4 was a 1-0 win over Port Layola, and Week 11 was a 2-0 win over Port Layola. So that, with all their renowned goal scorers, including league leading Latrell Middleton, Verdes had shutout Port Layola in the regular season, and in game 1 of the finals, it was the same, 1-0 Verdes over Port Layola.

At the Norman Broaster Stadium yesterday evening, the action was “fast and furious” at the starting whistle, but the Port Layola strikers seemed over-eager, and their shots were off target. When neither Gilroy “Bredda” Thurton, Shawn Young or Latrell Middleton could get one past West in the first half, the prospect of another Verdes shutout seemed more and more real; and more ominously, the Verdes attacking thrusts were more purposeful and strategic. Only spectacular goalkeeping from Charles Tillett in goal for Port Layola prevented Verdes from putting the icing on the cake with an insurance goal. A well-placed header from close range by Jordy Polanco off a center from the left side by Evral Trapp should have sealed the deal. It was a miraculous save.

The minutes were winding down and the game still scoreless, when Christian Ramirez over-reacted to a little nudge on the leg from Bredda Thurton, a certain red card for the act of retaliation. But the referee, after a short discussion with his linesman, decided that Thurton deserved to be sent to the showers too, thus the game continued an even ten against ten, instead of a man advantage for Port Layola with more room for the ball wizard to navigate. Instead of the tide turning in favor of Port, it was even more now a defensive game with both teams a man short.

With just over 2 minutes left in regulation, and the championship so close for Verdes, it looked like the day was over for Port Layola, although their cheering fans kept riding them on with prayers for something spectacular. A rejected Port Layola attack and a deflected air ball about thirty-five yards out when the lights were already on at the Norman Broaster, probably should have been controlled and distributed to the flank by Port Layola midfielder Leocadio “Peely” Briceno. But who knows what mischief lurks in the hearts of men? With West keeping a close watch on the dangerous Latrell Middleton lurking on the left side, Peely, who entered the game in the second half, chose to try his luck, and he caught it right, a sweet left foot volley that exploded off his boot like a rocket. From that distance nobody should kick so hard that the great West couldn’t snatch it with his hands only, but that was his mistake; the force of the shot surprised him and it slipped from his grasp, and into the net. Goooaaaall!! The Port Layola bleachers went wild!

The iron clad Verdes defense resumed its posture, and Port Layola managed to hang on, with the veteran Ian “Yellow” Gaynair somehow avoiding a second yellow card or conceding a penalty.

They say every day carry bucket to the well … Port Layola FC had finally pierced the Verdes defense and scored a goal after nearly four nineties. Well, it was soon time for the bottom to drop out.

Overtime went scoreless, and it would be decided in penalties. And what a shootout it was! The tide had suddenly turned. What seemed like a certain championship and another trip to Concacaf for Verdes a few minutes earlier, had descended into gloom. After a long wait while the referee saw the crowd controlled near the sidelines, Verdes’ Jordy Polanco sent his shot over the cross bar. League leading goal scorer, Port Layola’s Latrell Middleton stepped up and executed perfectly, sending West to the wrong corner. 1-0, Port. Verdes’ Michael Palacio sent his shot off the crossbar. Port Layola’s Colombian sweeper Juan Ocampo nailed his shot. 2-0, Port. Verdes’ third kicker was another Belize City import, Eldon “Tuncy” Reneau, and Tuncy’s shot was read perfectly by Charles Tillett. Three straight misses for Verdes; unbelievable. And the third kicker for Port Layola was, you guessed it, Leocadio “Peely” Briceno. Heroes are born in a football game; and Peely chose not to launch a bomb that might go wild, but dribbled a little “rollins” into the left corner that West almost, but not quite, reached as it trickled into the back of the net. Pandemonium all over the Port Layola bleachers as fans went crazy. 3-0 and the championship!

There was no joy in Verdes-land last night, but the celebration of Port Layola fans and players continued all the way from San Ignacio to Belize City where they finally arrived sometime around midnight, according to reports.

There are many heroes in a big victory, as many played their part in what turned out to be a spectacular season for Port Layola. Coach Charlie Slusher deserves maximum credit for steering the ship. Goalkeeper Charles Tillett made two absolutely spectacular saves, either of which could have ended all hopes for Port Layola. And Leocadio “Peely” Briceno took a chance with a shot, and covered himself in glory.

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