By Dylan Butler
With the hopes of “shocking the world,” Belize is preparing for its first-ever CONCACAF Gold Cup.
The Jaguars have competed internationally for less than 20 years, but they have made great strides of late. A fourth-place finish – their best ever – in the 2013 UNCAF Copa Centroamericana sealed them a trip to the United States.
Belize was drawn into Group C along with four-time champion United States, perennial powerhouse Costa Rica and Cuba, which won the 2012 Caribbean Cup.
American Ian Mork is embarking on his second stint as head coach after serving in an interim capacity 15 years ago. Belize drew 0-0 with Guatemala in its first game since his return last month.
“We are looking at shocking the world, so to speak, and become giant killers,” Mork said. “It is not an easy task, but I think we are up for it and we are going to go there with a lot of confidence.”
Mork’s team is almost entirely comprised of players who compete in the Premier League of Belize, which was founded in 2011, including Belmopan Bandits forward Deon McCaulay, CONCACAF’s top scorer in World Cup Qualifying for Brazil 2014. McCaulay has 16 goals in 26 international appearances.
The squad also features six players – midfielders Trevor Lennen, Andres Makin Jr. and Devon Makin and forwards Evan Mariano, Daniel Jimenez and Lennox Castillo – from Police United, which won its first national championship in May.
Two players – goalkeeper Shane Orio (Marathon) and defender Elroy Smith (Deportivo Savio) – compete in the Liga Nacional de Honduras. The 31-year-old Smith has a team-high 31 caps.
Looking to make his first appearance for the senior national team is 20-year-old forward Michael Salazar, who competes collegiately in the United States with the University of California-Riverside after transferring from California Baptist. He previously played for the Belize U-16, U-17, U-18, and U-20 teams.
Belize makes its CONCACAF Gold Cup debut against the U.S. at Portland’s JELD-WEN Field on July 9, before taking on Costa Rica at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah, on July 13 and Cuba at Rentschler Field in East Hartford, Conn. on July 16.
While Belize is playing to win all three of its group stage matches, Mork is hoping for at least four points, which would give the team a chance of advancing to the knockout stage.
“Ultimately we want to advance and I can guarantee all of you that, for all the players and the coaches, we don’t step on the field without thinking about winning a game,” Mork said at a recent press conference. “It’s just in us…that’s just what we do. We’re top competitors.”