Top seeds lose Wednesday, but win big Sunday, to make PLB Finals
BELIZE CITY, Mon. May 22, 2023
The oft postponed Premier League of Belize (PLB) semifinal playoffs of its 2022-2023 Closing Season finally got under way last Wednesday night, after a controversial back match had been played the previous Sunday, May 14, at the Isidoro Beaton Stadium, where Verdes FC prevailed, 3-0, over San Pedro Pirates FC in what was supposed to be a Pirates “home” game. Verdes goals were by Joel Burgos (59’), Izon Gill (60’) and Jerome “Jarro” James (90+2’). The result sealed the final regular season standings with Verdes as the top seed with 30 points, followed by Pirates at 26 pts, Port Layola FC at 25 pts, and Progresso FC at 23 pts.
The rush to the May 28 Concacaf deadline then meant that mid-week playoff games were necessary, and the bad luck fell to the lower seeded teams, which play at home first in the home-and-away playoffs according to the PLB regulations. So, last Wednesday night, May 17, it was #3 Port Layola FC hosting #2 seed San Pedro Pirates at the Marion Jones Sports Complex, and #4 seed Progresso FC hosting #1 seed Verdes FC at the People’s Stadium in Orange Walk.
As fate would have it, both top seeds lost their first-round games in the semifinals. At the Marion Jones, Latrell Middleton (10’ & 55’) scored both goals to lead Port Layola to a 2-1 win over San Pedro Pirates, whose lone strike was by the veteran Trevor “Burger” Lennon (65’) on a direct kick around the wall from twenty-five yards out. Meanwhile, Progresso got the game winner in injury time to defeat Verdes by the same score, 2-1. Marlon Gutierrez (61’) put Progresso in front, Darrell Myvett (83’) equalized for Verdes, and Zamir Bonilla (90+4’) got the game winner for Progresso.
The decisive 2nd leg of the semifinals both took place yesterday, Sunday, one starting at 4:00 p.m. at the Norman Broaster Stadium, and the other at 6:00 p.m. at Ambergris Stadium; and both saw the higher seeded teams (both having championship finals experience) coming away with big victories and a spot in the finals. Neither Port Layola FC nor Progresso FC had given up more than 2 goals in any previous regular season match or in the first semifinal leg, but that was not the case yesterday.
At the Norman Broaster Stadium, after Verdes had opened a 2-nil lead on goals by Joel Burgos (18’) and Nicholas Gomez (47’), Progresso made it very interesting with a late strike from 30 yards out by Jonard Castillo (86’), making it a 2-1 score and potentially leading to overtime. But just a minute later Jordy Polanco’s volley (87’) from a Progresso defensive header, deflected off a defender and into the net to make it 3-1 Verdes, and that’s the way it ended, to give Verdes the aggregate 4-3 series victory.
The 6:00 p.m. showdown between visiting Port Layola FC and home standing San Pedro Pirates FC at the Ambergris Stadium was dominated by San Pedro ball possession from the start, while the explosive Port Layola offense could not find the target. It ended 4-0 in favor of San Pedro Pirates, with Andir Chi (44’ & 65’) and Louis Valdez (45+4’ PK & 50’) sharing the scoring, to give the Pirates the aggregate 5-2 series win and a spot in the finals against Verdes.
As the top seed in regular season standings, Verdes FC again gets to play at home in the second leg of the championship finals, the first leg being this Wednesday night in San Pedro.
PLB Finals game 1 schedule:
Wednesday, May 24
6:30 p.m. – San Pedro Pirates FC vs Verdes FC – Ambergris Stadium
P.S. It is not known if Verdes goalkeeper Woodrow West will return to duties in the finals. He was removed from the field of play by police mid-way in first half of their semifinals first leg at People’s Stadium last Wednesday night and taken into custody for questioning in a murder case, but has reportedly been released. Since his detention by police, Verdes has relied on foreign substitute goalkeeper Leonardo Paz.