By William Ysaguirre
Barely a thousand fans filled a quarter of the seats at the FIFA Goal Project Stadium in Belmopan on Tuesday night, September 22, but they saw history made, as Belize’s top striker, Deon McCaulay led Verdes FC of Benque Viejo to a 2-1 upset of San Francisco FC, Panama’s champions, in Verdes’ third outing in the 2015 Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Football Federations (CONCACAF) Champions’ League.
It was Verdes’ first win in CONCACAF Champions League and the first time a Belizean team has ever made 4pts in Champions league. A second win in the rematch in Panama on October 22 would give Verdes 7pts to tie with the Gallos Blancos of Queretaro, who had effectively eliminated Verdes from advancing to the next round by an 8-0 rout at the Corregidora Stadium in Queretaro last Thursday, September 17. Emmanuel Alejandro Villa alone scored five goals, while Kevin Gutierrez, Antonio Naelson Matias “Sinha” and Danilo “Danilinho” Veron each added a goal to Queretaro’s overwhelming victory.
Deon McCaulay and Alcides Thomas spearheaded the Verdes’ offensive, supported by Brazilian import Yoras Silva and Nahjib Guerra on the wings, and backed up by Mexican import Jesus “Chui” Patino and San Leobardo Mendez at midfield. They were stymied in the first 15 minutes of play by Panama’s Roderick Miller who anchored the visitors’ defense along with Alberto Quezada, Francisco Palacios and Martin Gomez.
The visitors needed the 6pts from two wins over Verdes, as they picked up only 3pts, when an injury time auto-goal by Quereataro’s Mario “Mono” Osuna gave San Francisco FC the 2-1 win over the Gallos Blancos at the Maracana Stadium in Panama City on August 26.
Two wins would give the Panama champions the 9pts they need to qualify to the next round, over the Gallos Blancos’ 7pts.
Eduardo Jimenez and Abdiel Aguilar led the visitors’ attacks, supported by Daniel Moran and Eric Vasquez on the wings, and by team captain Pedro Jeanine and Richard Rodriguez at midfield.
They dominated the play and ball possession, and only 12 minutes of play had elapsed when the ball was shunted across to Daniel Moran, who blasted it into the left corner of the net. Verdes’ goalkeeper Benito Moriera was caught flat-footed and could do naught.
While Verdes lacked the technical polish of the visitors’ precise aerial passes and ball control, they made up for it with heart, to put aside the 8-0 loss of four days before. The visitors’ game plan went awry as Alcides Thomas and Yoras Silva led a counterattack that led to Silva’s pass to McCaulay on the edge of the 18-yard box.
The entire stadium came to its feet with joy; for McCaulay’s header in the 18th minute was a thing of beauty, perfectly placed to the left corner of the goal, beyond the reach of goalkeeper Alex Rodriguez.
The visitors lost their composure, and it showed as they began to make incomplete passes that sent the ball off the field, and Verdes gained possession bringing on an attack that led to Alberto Quezada bringing down Jesus Patino on the penalty spot six minutes before intermission.
It was a clear penalty, but Deon McCaulay failed to convert as the ball rebounded off the crossbar. Martin Gomez beat McCaulay to the rebound, heading the ball to Roderick Miller, who cleared it out of the goal area.
Alcides Thomas centered the ball again but the visitors cleared the ball out to their captain, Jeanine, who got the worst of an aerial contest for the ball with Yoras Silva in front of the visitors’ bench.
The referee reprimanded Silva with a yellow card, and Verdes’ captain Shamir Pacheco was similarly reprimanded for protesting the call.
Eybir Bonaga, Francis Betancourt and Ervin Zorrilla refreshed the visitors’ offensive in the second half; as they sought a second goal to put away the win, but Pacheo anchored the Verdes’ defense, and with Chris Gilharry, Victor Cruz, Brazilian William Nascimento and Moriera in goal, they frustrated every play. Moriera was tested to the limit, having to fly and dive for several saves.
Verdes’ technical director Walter Salazar introduced Jarret Davis to relieve Shamir Pacheco some 19 minutes into the second half, but Davis’ first shot was two feet wide of the goal. Only three minutes of regulation time remained when Yoras Silva brought the ball to the edge of the goal area and unleashed a shot, which goalkeeper Alex Rodriguez slid to block. But now Rodriguez was down and out of the play as Silva recovered the rebound and tried again. The ball went between Eric Vasquez’s legs as he leapt over Rodriguez, and reached McCaulay, whose right foot shot into the empty goal sealed the 2-1 victory. Roderick Miller and Francisco Palacios were in the goal area, but could only watch helplessly as the ball found the back of the net.
The referee added two minutes of stoppage time, as the visitors tried for the equalizer but Verdes’ Richard “Cheety” Jimenez relieved Nahjib Guerra and helped secure the 2-1 win.