Scholars ahead after 1st leg against Athletic

James Ebanks (blue) controls the midfield for Scholars.

Legendary NFL coach Vince Lombardi once said “perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection, we can catch excellence.” That message would have been appropriate in the dressing rooms after the first semi-final game of the CIFA Men’s President’s Cup Sunday (5 February).

Neither of the teams came away happy with their performance after the first leg of the final four round – all acknowledging much work is needed to get them through to the championship round of the league cup.

The first game saw Scholars International playing against Cayman Athletic. Both teams came in with much to prove, as neither is having a dream season in the Cayman Premier League.

Scholars controlled the ball early and the first chance came to James ‘Paddy’ Ebanks, who collected the ball at the top of the 18-yard box but his shot was drilled just wide of the mark.

The defending league champions would find the back of the net three minutes later. Forward Rolly Bodden had his initial shot stopped by Shakur Welcome but the keeper failed to do his job cleanly. Bodden jumped at a second chance and slid the ball into the back of the net as Welcome looked on helplessly. Scholars out front 1-0 after 13 minutes.

Michael Brown (8) had a few chances for Scholars.

Bodden momentarily sensed a second five minutes later but his header was high and sailed out of play. Another moment of drama six minutes later, as Michael Brown hit the post on a shot that clearly had the potential to double Scholars’ lead.

Cayman Athletic, though, fancied their chances to stay in the game and got a chance when Kareem Foster came down the left wing in the 22nd and beat Jermaine Brown to his right but the ball came off the post. Donito Zelaya found the ball on his boot and drew Athletic level. Then it was time for celebration with the crowd erupting as the Zelaya let his joy be known to all in attendance.

Donito Zelaya celebrates in style.

Welcome was called upon to keep the Scholars attack at bay and had an attitude betraying his name, as he denied the forwards multiple opportunities to put the ball in his net. As the interval drew near, Scholars would edge ahead. It was Bodden, again. He collected the ball from Ebanks and provided a clean finish.

Just as the second frame got going, Ebanks’ shot from the edge of the box was hard and high, reflecting a chronic issue in this game for both sides – failing to finish when chances present themselves. It’s certainly an issue that will grab Scholars’ coach, Collin Rowe as his club gets set for the Caribbean Club Championships in four weeks.

The West Bay club extended its lead to 3-1, as Bodden recorded a hat-trick when called upon to take a penalty kick in the 63rd minute.

Rolly Bodden (blue) scored a hat-trick for Scholars.

Carson Fagan, who came off the Scholars bench, was also a rusty marksman on the day, missing a few easy chances.

Rico Bodden dazzled with his skillful footwork on a couple occasions, bringing the crowd to life but also drawing criticism from Athletic’s technical director, Ernie ‘Gillie’ Seymour, who would have preferred to see the young forward show more intent toward goal. It appears he heard the cries from the bench in the 87th minute when he connected with fellow teenager Foster square in front the Scholars’ net and Foster hammered it past Brown.

Even with three minutes added, it was too little, too late for Athletic as Scholars held on for the 3-2 win.

Rico Bodden tries to get by Cesar Fajardo.

“It was not the best,” Bodden told afterward. “We can perform better than this. We have a lot more to work on so we can compete in the CFU [Caribbean Club Championships]. We’re working on that now taking it one step at a time.”

Cayman Athletic defender Stephen Tatum doesn’t think all is lost for his side. “We have some improvements to make but two goals wasn’t bad. We just need to work on our defence for next game and we should be good,” he said.

Tatum added that positioning in midfield and finishing their strikes are also needed. It’s little consolation that they played without some of their better finishers – Matthew Suberan is resting following injury, while Martin Webb and Kyle Santamaria are forced to watch from the stands due to suspensions.

The teams meet again for the second leg on 19 February.



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