By Dylan Butler
EAST HARTFORD, Connecticut – Belize’s first appearance in the CONCACAF Gold Cup ended without a victory, but there was still a lot for the Jaguars to take from the experience.
“There were too many things that were new to us,” Belize coach Ian Mork said following a 4-0 loss to Cuba on Tuesday night at Rentschler Field. “I’m not sure the people back in Belize realize that when you’re on an airplane, you have a lot of things going on. You get on another airplane, go to another hotel. There’s a lot going on for these kids.”
It’s an experience Mork said should help Belize, which has aspirations of competing in the Gold Cup for years to come.
“For us, it’s about becoming more mature and starting to take more of a professional mentality as a group and as a professional organization,” Mork said. “I can say the next time we are in this situation I expect us to be at a much higher level. I think it was a good learning experience in many ways.”
Belize opened its tournament with a 6-1 loss to the United States in Portland, but bounced back to give Costa Rica all it could handle. The Ticos won, 1-0, on an own-goal and nearly conceded the equalizer in second-half stoppage time if not for a goal-line clearance by defender Junior Diaz.
Mork said that the match showed what Belize is capable of doing in an international tournament. The key, he said, is for the Jaguars to do that on a consistent level. That wasn’t the case in losses to the U.S. and Cuba.
“The Costa Rica game to us, it proved to us that we could play at a higher level consistently throughout a whole match,” he said. “That’s an area we really need to improve on. We have moments that are good, but for 90 minutes we are not consistent enough.”
The American-born coach said that he has tried to usher in a new era of soccer in Belize. Historically a team that likes to bunker down defensively, Belize tried to attack more in the Gold Cup. Even though they didn’t score in a 4-0 loss to Cuba, the Jaguars showed a willingness to be aggressive in the attacking third.
“I can say we started to possess the ball better, we started to create more chances,” Mork said. “Moving forward, ultimately we’re going to have to score goals.”
Going forward, Mork said for Belize to be successful over the long haul, there must be an investment in the youth.
“I think that’s looked past too much,” Mork said. “We really need to get to work. We need to invest more in the youth and we need to be more serious about different types of systems and different ways of playing.”