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Jaguars down; not out!

The Belize Jaguars’ returned Wednesday from the 2013 Gold Cup without a win, but all is not lost, as the experience has inspired major changes for Belizean football, FFB president Ruperto Vicente said Thursday.  

Vicente, who arrived in Belize on a United Airlines flight Wednesday afternoon, said the FFB will form a National Team committee that will be made up of professional people to manage the team.

He also plans for the national team members to be engaged in a continuous training program.

He also admitted the FFB cannot afford to continue footing the bill for the team’s training and team needs to generate its own income.

For this the FFB plans to schedule a number of international friendlies to give the Jaguars the playing experience they need; but also for them to generate the sort of funds the Jaguars training program will need. These games will be played in the United States.

Regarding other sources of finances, Vincent pointed out that FIFA does help the FFB with a US$250,000 annual subvention for the development of youth football. However, the FFB had depleted those funds for the national team’s Gold Cup preparation, which is why it embarked on fund-raising drive to replace those funds.

Belize will also be hosting the CONCACAF under-16 Central American championships in November.

Optimistic, the executive says that while they may not have conquered – suffering three consecutive losses—the Jaguars remain confident that they have the ability to do well in the next UNCAF Copa Centroamericana in 2015 and qualify again to the Gold Cup 2015.

Following the games, several persons, including members of the national team, have expressed discontent with Jaguars’ head coach, Ian Mork’s methods. But regarding the calls for Mork to be replaced, Vicente said that he cannot make a unilateral decision regarding the coach; the FFB executive has to determine his fate as a collective body.

THE PLAYERS’ OUTLOOK

Reporter also spoke with members of the team, upon their return, and they, like the FFB president, have a pragmatic and equally optimistic outlook at the future of their football careers.

Thirty-two-year old goalkeeper Shane Orio, the oldest player on the team, envisions himself playing another five years professionally; presently he is with Marathon in Honduras or perhaps even returning to Costa Rica, where he did so well with Puntarenas at the start of his pro-career.

He even sees himself playing another five years after he returns home to Belize.

He and Elroy Smith, 31, who plays with Deportes Savio in Honduras, are the only two Jaguars who know the personal discipline it takes to prepare themselves physically and mentally to play three games in eight days. Shane said he is accustomed to playing one game Sunday, another Wednesday and another the following Sunday.

Considering the other members of the team who were exhausted after their all-out effort in the 1-0 loss to Costa Rica in Salt Lake City last Saturday, and too fatigued to perform at 100 percent in their third game against Cuba, which ended in a 4-0 loss, Shane also said the Jaguars need to play more international friendly matches against professional teams, to build up their experience.

Shane was able to stop 20 of the shots made by the United States’ players in Belize’s 6-1 loss in the Jaguars debut at the Gold Cup. The six that got through not even the best goalkeepers in the world could have stopped because they came from point-blank range.

Shane said the team’s lack of international experience was one of the biggest obstacles in the opening game against the United States. The team was up against players who play in Europe, Mexico and in Major League Soccer in the U.S.; they were more experienced and their level of physical conditioning was much higher.

He said that more of Belize’s players need to win professional contracts to play abroad so that they will be part of the more disciplined training regimen that is required to play at the professional level.

One objective of Belize’s competing in the Gold Cup was also for Belizean players to be scouted by professional teams, and this has certainly panned out for Tyrone Pandy, who did not return home with the team, because he was invited to try out with an MLS team in the U.S.

Elroy Smith, 31, the second oldest player on the squad, has been with the national team since Belize played its home and away qualifying matches for World Cup Seoul 2006 against Canada in Edmonton in 2004.

Despite his teammates’ criticisms of Coach Ian Mork’s methods, Smith said some of his teammates were not physically ready; their talent had earned them their places on the national team, but this also meant they had to put in the training to be ready for the level of competition.

He also recognized that some of the jaguars simply had an off-day when they took the field and were nor ready to run at the pace of their opponents.

Ian Gaynair, the only Jaguar to score a goal in the Gold Cup, and against the U.S. at that, already has his sights set on Belize qualifying again to the Gold Cup 2015.

He said the national team needed more continuity in its preparation for international tournaments and should start its preparations for the next UNCAF tournament from now.

Harrison “Cafu” Roches, 29, is the only other Jaguar who has played professionally in Honduras, even though he played semipro this past year with the Belize Defence Force team in the Premier League of Belize.

He played the first game against the U.S., but he was not happy about being benched for the entire Cuba game and most of the Costa Rica game, until he was substituted for Andres Makin, with only 17 minutes of game time remaining.

Belize’s most prolific striker who remains the world’s top goal-scorer of the World Cup Brazil 2014 qualifiers, Deon McCaulay, also expressed his disappointment in not scoring any goals after the Cuba game.

He was the only jaguar who had prior experience of the artificial turf at the Jeld-Wen field in Portland Oregon, as he had tried out there for an MLS team last year.

Others who got no playing time, such as Lennox “Criminal” Castillo, despite his stature as a striker in the PLB, was more sanguine, and since he is related to Harrison Roches, he also felt his cousin’s disappointment.

Trevor Lennen, the 30-year-old striker whose cannonball goal against Nicaragua got Belize to the Gold Cup, was also not happy to be benched for most of the second and third games, even though his late header almost salvaged a draw for Belize.

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