By Dylan Butler
SANDY, Utah – Belize coach Ian Mork believes some of his players were overwhelmed by competing against United States in the country’s first CONCACAF Gold Cup match.
He doesn’t anticipate that being a concern in their second Group C match against Costa Rica Saturday at Rio Tinto Stadium. For CONCACAF official notes about this game, click here.
“I think it’s going to be a completely different story against Costa Rica,” Mork said before Friday’s training session. “I would expect us to be ready from the very beginning of this match.”
In the last encounter between the teams, the Ticos eked out a 1-0 victory at Estadio Nacional in San Jose in Copa Centroamericana in January. Costa Rica went on to win the tournament, while Belize finished fourth, booking the historic berth in the Gold Cup.
“I respect Costa Rica a lot, they’re a very good, good team and they know how to bring the pain,” Belizean goalkeeper Woodrow West said. “I’m here to support my team 100 percent. As long as we work as a group we can give them a good game and hopefully get the result we want.”
West will start against Costa Rica, replacing Shane Orio. Mork said the change is based on a pre-tournament plan to rotate the goalkeepers.
One change the coach wasn’t hoping to make was replacing standout striker Daniel Jimenez. But Jimenez, who played the full 90 minutes against the United States, has returned to Belize to tend to his mother, who is on life support.
“It’s not ideal and it’s going to be something that affects our team, but at this point we have a lot of players that are also ready to step in to take his place and we’re also going to have play a bit differently in this next match because of our opponent,” Mork said.
The coach said that he hopes Jimenez’s absence will also bring an already tight-knit group even closer.
“Ultimately it should bring some more unity into our group because we all love him very much and we’re supporting his family,” Mork said.
While Mork was hopeful to have Jimenez return in time for the final group stage match against Cuba Tuesday in Hartford, he expected Dalton Eiley to be available Saturday. Eiley was in Mork’s original starting lineup against the United States, but he was pulled off late when he complained of breathing problems.
Following a 3-0 victory over Cuba that extended the team’s six-game unbeaten streak, Costa Rica will also make roster changes, but more out of want than necessity. Coach Jorge Luis Pinto, who said he aims to use all 23 players on his roster during the competition, will bring in six new players to his lineup against Belize.
Included in that group is Carlos Johnson, a Cartagines defender, and Junior Diaz, a defender who competes for Mainz 05 in the German Bundesliga.
“I’m privileged and it’s an honor for me to be here,” Diaz said. “I’m happy to play and give the best I can here with the national team.”
Pinto said the changes weren’t made because his team is considered a strong favorite against the Gold Cup debutants.
“I respect Belize,” he said. “They’re fast and it’s going to be a hard opponent. The changes have nothing to do with [Belize].”
Costa Rica, which hasn’t conceded a goal in 614 minutes, can book its stop into the knockout stage with a victory. That, Diaz said, is all that matters.
“We know it’s going to be a hard game, but the objective here is to win, whether its 1-0 or if we have the opportunity to score more goals then we will take advantage of that,” Diaz said. “But the objective is to win.”