Belize Made (and Making) History
When the U.S. Men’s National Team opens the 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup against Belize Tuesday night at Portland’s JELD-WWEN Field, it will mark the first time the U.S. has taken on the small Central American country about the size of the state of Massachusetts.
Belize, bordered by Mexico and Guatemala to the West and the Caribbean Sea directly East, is appearing in its first major tournament and is the last of the seven Central American Zone countries to play in a CONCACAF Gold Cup.
The Jaguars have continued a magnificent run by qualifying for their first ever Gold Cup after reaching the semifinals of the UNCAF Copa Centroamericana for the very first time. And they aren’t just content to be here.
Belize Federation president Ruperto Vicente has issued a proclamation to his players and his country in advance of the tiny nation’s first ever Gold Cup match: “I call on our national team to not only beat the United States but to humiliate the United States. It is your responsibility. It is your task.”
In a bit of irony, the head coach of Belize is born and bred in the United States. Ian Mork, a native of Wichita, Kansas who currently lives in the San Francisco Bay area, is doing his second tour leading the Jaguars.
Mostly comprised of domestic-based players, their roster features two players who compete in the Honduras Primera Division: goalkeeper Shane Orio (Marathon) and defender Elroy Smith, who is the nation’s all-time cap leader with 31 appearances.
Striker Deon McCauley leads the attack, having scored 11 goals in eight matches in 2014 World Cup Qualifying, making him the current top goal-scorer in the CONCACAF region for this cycle. McCauley has been productive throughout his career, scoring 16 goals in 26 full international matches.
Virtually all of the other players on the Belize roster come from clubs in Belize. There are six from Police United, five from Belize Defense Force and four from Placencia Assassins. In yet another American twist, forward Michael Salazar plays at the University of California-Riverside.
Although Belize hasn’t played in the Gold Cup, it does have previous experience on CONCACAF’s biggest stage. Mork previously coached Belize in two 2010 World Cup Qualifying games against Mexico in 2008. The first was played in front of 50,000 in Houston, where the game was scoreless at halftime before Mexico pulled away for a 2-0 victory.
That fact, coupled with upsets pulled off by both Martinique against Canada and Panama against Mexico to start this year’s edition of the Gold Cup, guarantees the MNT are not taking their opponents lightly.
“Respect everyone and fear nobody, that will be our mindset going in,” said midfielder Kyle Beckerman. ”Every team can be dangerous, so you really have to be on your toes and make sure you’re playing as well as you can.”