By William Ysaguirre, Freelance Reporter
The Football Federation of Belize unveiled its new logo for the Belize Jaguars at press conference on Friday to update the fans on the Jaguars’ readiness for their first qualifying match towards World Cup 2018 Russia. This is when Belize hosts the Cayman Islands at the FIFA Goal Project Stadium in Belmopan on Wednesday night, March 25.
Head Coach, Jorge Nunez said his players had been working out together since November of last year, and he had molded them into a team, in which no once could be singled out as a star, but that he was confident they would work together as a team to win games.
Assistant Coach Charlie Slusher was more sanguine. He compared Belize’s FIFA world ranking: 164th to Caymans’ 200+, and noted their recent losses in practice friendlies with Jamaica’s Reggae Boys, and he projected that the Jaguars might win by as much as 6-0! In comparison, the Jaguars won 6-1 against Club Deportivo Rivera, a first division team from Flores, Peten in Guatemala, in an international friendly played at the Isidoro Beaton Stadium in Belmopan last Thursday night, March 12. Jarret Davis scored two goals for Belize, and Amin “Tacos” August, Harrison “Kafu” Roches, Danny Jimenez and Elroy Kuylen also scored.
Other strikers on the Jaguars’ roster include Marlon Meza, Highking Roberts, and Gilroy “Bredda” Thurton. The midfielders include Denmark Casey Jr, Andres Makin Jr, Stepehn Martinez, Najib Guerra, Khalil Velasquez, Delone Torres, Jordy Polanco, Byrone Chavez, Carlton “Fubu” Thomas and Luis “Barker” Torres.
The Jaguars’ defensive line-up includes Dalton Eiley, veteran international Elroy Smith, Ian Gaynair, Trevor “Burger” Lennen, Kyle Garcia, Allan La Flore, Alexander Inez and Norman Anderson, with goalkeeper Woodrow West of the Bandits and the Premier league’s Best Goalkeeper of 2014-2015, Tevin Gamboa of the BDF team, and newcomer goalkeeper, Rai West.
Slusher noted that the fans would note the absence of many big name players who were part of previous national selections. Some of the Jaguars from Gold Cup USA 2013 whom fans might miss include No.9 Deon MaCaulay, veteran international goalkeeper, Shane Moody Orio, No.6 Evan Mariano, No.23 Tyrone Pandy, No.24 David Trapp, No.2 Lennox “Criminal” Castillo, No.21 Christobal Gilharry, No.15 Floyd Jones, goalkeeper No.26 Frank Lopez, Harrison Tasher, Bernard Linares, Ashley Torres, No. 11 Michael Salazar and Everald Trapp.
Slusher explained that Shane Moody had been invited to be a part of the selection, but had communicated to the FFB that he had been injured while playing for a professional club in Guatemala, and had recently had surgery, from which he was still recuperating.
Slusher also spoke about the controversy and rumors that had been swirling around why Belize’s most prolific striker, Deon MaCaulay, was not on the roster. He said MaCaulay had been invited to try out for the team when the players were first called up last November, but the FFB subsequently learnt that MaCaulay had been injured last May while playing for the Atlanta Timberjacks and had been recuperating. He said MaCaulay had communicated to two members of the FFB executive, that he was now fully fit, but Slusher noted that MaCaulay had not been actively playing with his professional club for the past six months, and so would not be game-fit for next week’s game. He said if the FFB had wanted MaCaulay to play for Belize, they would have had to communicate to his professional club for them to release him for a few days before the game, but MaCaulay had not presented himself to work-out with the team.
Slusher did not set aside the possibility of MaCaulay playing with the Jaguars in the future, perhaps for Belize’s next fixture with Dominica in June, if MaCaulay is willing; but that he could not be ready for next Wednesday’s game nor for the return match in Grand Caymans on March 29
FFB President Ruperto Vicente also announced that Belize will be participating for the first time in FIFA’s beach soccer World Cup eliminations for the CONCACAF zone in El Salvador from March 28 to April 5. Frank Lopez is one of the goalkeepers on that selection that includes Rugerri Trejo as an alternate goalkeeper with Frnz Nunez, Shawn Vasquez, Jesse Smith, Lionel Cabral and Byron Usher as forwards, Dennis Serano, Elton Gordon and John King as midfielders and Keithon Dyer, Shawn Mass, Lloyd Nunez and Germaine Jones as defenders. Their first fixture is against El Salvador on Saturday, March 28, they play Jamaica on Sunday, March 29 and Puerto Rico on Monday, March 30.
Vicente also commented on the absence of logos on the Jaguars’ uniforms, noting that Nike, which had gifted two sets of uniforms to the Belize Jaguars for the their participation in Gold Cup 2013, required that the Jaguars be able to pull at least 10,000 fans to their games; the FFB is only selling 3,000 seats for the Caymans game. Other corporate sponsors who have helped back the FFB in the past, had not yet confirmed their sponsorship for the Jaguars this time around. He said this was part of the reason the Jaguars had not played more practice friendlies in preparation. When the Jaguars had played Trinidad’s Soca Warriors in March 2013 in preparation for the Gold Cup USA, for example; the FFB had to pay the visitors’ air fares, their hotel accommodation and the players’ stipend, which had come up to over $60,000.
Vicente said the FFB had invested over $220,000 so far on the team’s preparation for World Cup 2018, and as he envisaged they would make it past Dominica in the second round and into the third round, the FFB would need much more financing. The FFB spent half a million dollars for participation in Gold Cup 2013, and he estimated the FFB would need a million dollars once the Jaguars advance to the third round of World Cup 2018 qualifiers.
As to the state of the FFB finances, he said the FFB had presented an audited financial report at its last general congress, and would do the same again at the next general congress later this year, and the media would be free to peruse this document. As to suggestions that a financial report for the Gold Cup were not yet presented, Vicente begged off saying a whole cheque book with cheque stubs had gone missing in FFB Vice President Rawel Pelayo’s luggage when he was arrested by the DEA, when he arrived in the United States for the Gold Cup.
As to the possibility of Minister John Saldivar, who is also volunteering as the Jaguars’ team coordinator, enlisting the Government of Belize to contribute to the FFB; Vicente did not set aside the possibility of GoB contributing to the Jaguars’ fund in the future, when they reach the third round, but said he did not wish to tap into that source at this juncture.