Saturday night finale at FFB Stadium – the new capital against the old capital – Belmopan Bandits vs FC Belize for PLB Belikin Cup Opening Season 2013-2014 championship
Both teams had high hopes and dreams of “finishing” the finals series at the MCC Grounds yesterday, following the pattern set by the Bandits in their semifinal series with BDF, where a 3-0 shutout at the Isidoro Beaton Stadium for all practical purposes determined the outcome of that series. No way any right thinking fan, or even the BDF squad themselves, could have realistically hoped for a comeback against such enormous odds and against such a formidable opponent. The draw in their return match at the Carl Ramos was no surprise to anyone, but at least BDF salvaged some respect by managing a draw in injury time, after trailing their Belmopan visitors 1-0 for most of the game.
On Sunday at the MCC, there were shades of déjà vu, as once again the Bandits took an early 1-0 lead over their opponent in Game 1, after starting the game at a torrid pace that saw some confusion in the FC Belize defensive line. Bandits’ super striker Deon McCaulay capitalized on some FC Belize defensive hesitation after David Trapp centered across goal, and Deon’s well placed grounder caromed off the inside of the right goal post near the southern “ragamuffin” bleachers, outside the reach of a diving Glenford Chimilio in goal for FC Belize. 1-0, Belmopan Bandits, at the 5th minute of play. And what a way to start a game for FC Belize, after bold predictions of “ending it all” by some of their fans, who turned out in huge numbers for this gala at the MCC.
The atmosphere was indeed festive at the Garden on Sunday, bringing back memories of football’s glory days, when fans jammed the old stadium in the city. The first indication that the turnout would be big, was after we turned left from Wilson Street into Princess Margaret Drive, and spied the road ahead for parking space inside our usual spot in the parking lot facing the sea. No such thing; and the right road side as far as we could see up to the MCC was jammed with parked vehicles. Luckily, we noticed a big enough opening on our left on the wide sidewalk adjacent to the Mexican Embassy compound, which some other desperate drivers had already decided to also use for parking.
By kickoff time on the MCC, the surrounding wire fence was lined with fans, and both the big northwestern bleachers and the southern “ragamuffin” bleachers were decked; only the northeastern “sun hot” bleachers (fans are looking directly into the blazing afternoon sun) had a lot of empty space. And a number of fans were making ample use of their vuvuzela horns, filling the stadium with an air of fun and festivity. A home loss was nowhere appropriate after this massive turnout, and the gallant FC Belize squad, who have known enough adversity through the course of the season, rallied back unfazed, and regained their composure against a Bandits starting eleven that featured all of 6 national team players, besides the former national team coach, now head coach of the Bandits, Leroy Sherrier Lewis.
With Bandits searching for an insurance goal, the equalizer for FC Belize came suddenly in a surprising turnaround of fortunes – a classic “contra golpe,” as the FC Belize defence was “on the ropes,” repelling two consecutive shots, right and left footed, by the Bandits’ Deon McCaulay; when suddenly the outlet pass saw FC Belize’s Mark “Kelo” Leslie running “full speed” with the ball down the open central area past midfield. Kelo made a long pass to right midfield-winger Stephen “Breds” Baizer, who drove toward the right goal line before sending a cross goal lob for an advancing Kelo to hit on the drop from point blank range past Woodrow West in goal for the Bandits. 1-1 ball game!
After the game, we sensed some concern among the Bandits coaching staff, that, after executing their game plan perfectly to gain the 1-nil lead, they were unable to “put away” their opponent. The scenario was similar to their previous outing against BDF; but in that case their series victory was already assured after their 3-0 win at home in game 1. In this case with FC Belize, who had beaten the Bandits 3-2 at home in regular season, the 1-1 draw in the Finals Game 1 on Sunday only underscores the fact that this series is indeed up in the air, anybody’s game in the Grand Finale. FC Belize will not likely be making the same defensive goofs to start the game again, like they did in Game 1; and the Bandits will be more comfortable playing at night, which they are used to at the Isidoro Beaton Stadium for all their home games.
Take your pick: Deon McCaulay vs Jarret Davis; Denmark Casey, Jr. vs Mark “Kelo” Leslie; Dalton Eiley vs Leon “Chow” Cadle; and Woodrow West vs Glenford Chimilio.
The Bandits last championship was in 2012; FC Belize last wore the crown in 2006.
Leading goal scorer in the playoffs, Deon McCaulay, has scored in every game of the playoffs, with 4 goals from 3 games. Jarret Davis’ only playoff goal was under the greatest pressure any player could endure, a late game tying penalty after nearly 6 minutes of game delay at the Marshalleck Stadium, sending the game with Verdes into overtime, and an eventual 2-1 victory for FC Belize, courtesy of a “money” strike by Michael “Suit” Hernandez. Kelo’s game-tying goal this past Sunday at the MCC was also huge. Who will “play big” this championship Saturday night?
Latest word this morning from the PLB secretariat says that, following in the tradition of the past few PLB tournaments, the championship Game 2 will be played at the FFB Stadium, which can provide adequate seating facilities for the expected record crowd of fans, as well as a much better playing surface. The game was previously advertised as being at the Isidoro Beaton Stadium. Fans and players alike will appreciate the change – the best stadium in the land for the biggest game of the season.
Championship Final Game 2:
Saturday, February 8
7:30 p.m. – Belmopan Bandits FC vs FC Belize – FFB Stadium