Part 2 – Liga Dominicana de Fútbol: A new dawn in the Dominican Republic

Part 2: Professional league football is coming to the Dominican Republic in March 2015. Here’s the second part, focusing on the remaining five teams involved and exploring what the LDF potentially means for the future…

Note: At the time of this article’s publication, the LDF inaugural season has already kicked off, starting on 8 March.

You can read Part 1 here.

Name: Barcelona Atlético 

Location: Santo Domingo

Stadium: Paraque del Este

Founded in 1989 by Spanish owner Angel Baliño Gonzalez, the club was originally known as Bancredicard FC before changing their name to Barcelona Atlético in 2003. In 26 years of existence, Barcelona – nicknamed Blaugrana Quisqueyanos – have demonstrated impressive progress under the watchful eye of Gonzalez, claiming the First Division title in 1995 and Liga Mayor trophy in 2007. “Since the foundation I have taken this club with passion, both in sports and in the human and social,” explains Gonzalez. Javier Ledsema is the side’s manager and reportedly has a good “chemistry” with Gonzalez while Sergio Bermudez, a former player in his native Colombia and also England, is the technical director. Barcelona’s team is a young one with the average age being 24 years, and almost all the players coming “from the bowels of the club”, according to Bermudez. They’ll need some older pros in the squad to offer experience, though, and they have that in veteran Antiguan international Peter Byers who joined in early March. Byers is a prolific goalscorer who has previously spent time playing in the United States – in theory an effective partnership could be formed between him and winger Kerbi Rodríguez. The latter is a regular for the Dominican Republic national team and can swing in the sort of crosses that somebody like Byers will thrive on. There’s a solid base on which to build on at Barcelona, so a top half finish should be a feasible target.

Name: Atletico Pantoja 

Location: Santo Domingo

Stadium: Estadio Olímpico Félix Sánchez

It all started fifteen years ago for Atletico Pantoja. A group of friends, mostly Argentine immigrants, gathered at night to share their passion for football in the crowded neighborhood Pantoja de Santo Domingo. They used to play for fun and enjoyment, and gradually more and more nationalities were added to the group, including Dominican. One day the Federación Dominicana de Fútbol invited them to participate in a tournament for veterans, which they accepted, and incredibly ended up winning. The club started off at the bottom of the ladder but they have been able to climb up over the years, and now find themselves at the pinnacle in the LDF. With the motto “One Team, A Passion”, Pantoja are one of the wealthiest teams in the league alongside Cibao, and boast a very extensive set-up, one of the best in the whole country. There’s an Executive-Management Committee, Sporting Director in Enrique Costa, Technical Director in Orlando Capellino, Doctor in Lisbet Sánchez and Physiotherapist in Jerome Penon, as well as people employed to look after the administrative aspects, clubhouse and training camps. Uruguayan Capelllino will be in charge of first-team affairs and he says: “My biggest challenge would be to win the league with Pantoja, [this] is the dream for any leader. Football is a wealth of learning, every country has its idiosyncrasies.” He has taken advantage of his connections in order to bring in a couple of foreign reinforcements: compatriot Pablo Cabrera, who operates as a forward, and Juscelio de Souza of Brazil. Because of Pantoja’s wealth of resources, there is added pressure for them to deliver this season. They’re unlikely to win the league like Capellino mentioned but they stand a good chance of giving the likes of Moca and Cibao a run for their money.

Name: Universidad O&M 

Location: Santo Domingo

Stadium: Estadio Olímpico Félix Sánchez

This club represents Universidad Organización y Método, a university that was founded in 1966 by a select group of professors and teachers. Although based in Santo Domingo, it has campuses in six other provinces in Santiago de los Caballeros, La Romana, San José de Ocoa, San Felipe de Puerto Plata, Moca and Santo Domingo Este. O&M are one of the weaker teams involved in the LDF, reinforced by the fact they finished last in the 2012-13 Liga Mayor season, winning just one and losing twelve. 45-year-old Haitian Chemlay Estilin is the boss and has been living in the Dominican Republic since 1994. A former player for Hoglam (Honour, Glory, Love) in Port-au-Prince back in Haiti, Estilin has been in charge of O&M for the last three years. The squad includes Haitian students who were signed by being granted scholarships at the university. Estilin is able to communicate fluently with both the French-speaking Haitians and Spanish-speaking locals which is a plus point. Despite not being one of the more economically advantaged sides in the league, O&M will play with their heart and fight until the very end.

Name: Eastern Dolphins FC

Location: La Romana

Stadium: Estadio Francisco Milleli

Originally called Romana FC, it was only a few days before the LDF’s commencement that this club was given a new name: Eastern Dolphins FC. With it came a new badge, too, as there were reportedly some problems concerning rights and Romana could no longer be used. Representing the province of La Romana, one of the most popular tourist destinations in the country due to its beautiful beaches, they featured in last season’s Liga Mayor. Eastern Dolphins are coached by 53-year-old Cuban Clemente Domingo Hernández, formerly in charge of Cuba’s U-17 and U-20 teams as well as most recently the Dominican Republic seniors. However, he was replaced by José Eugenio Hernández earlier this month. Hernández has an interesting background – having picked up a degree in Physical Culture and Sports in 1984, he came to the Dominican Republic in 2010 as part of the work agreement between the ministries of Cuba and the Hispaniola nation. He played football in the the first division in his homeland in the 1970s before taking up coaching in 1985, and hasn’t looked back since. Hernández has described the opportunity to work in the LDF “a dream” and “major achievement”. It’s a tricky job he has on his hands in La Romana…

Name: Bauger FC 

Location: Santo Domingo

Stadium: Estadio Olímpico Félix Sánchez

Named after Jorge Rolando Bauger who created the club back in 1986, Bauger FC are one of four LDF representatives hailing from the capital Santo Domingo. Similarly to Barcelona, they underwent a name change five years ago when scrapping the original Escuela Bauger and opting for the one they have now. Rolando Bauger is the man at the top and makes all the decisions while Jorge Allen Bauger is employed as the team’s manager. The former explains: “We believe and trust that the ability, dedication, effort and passion will eventually prevail and be recognized.” There’s certainly ability in the Bauger squad with a nice combination of experience and youthful exuberance. La Escuela’s main transfer signing is 27-year-old attacking midfielder Jonathan Faña, who has 20 goals in 31 appearances for Dominican Republic, as the Bauger fans greeted his arrival with much enthusiasm. Fellow national team regular and central defender Danco Garcia provides solidity at the back, while youngster Jose Joaquin Puello is one for the future. Just like Atletico San Cristóbal, Bauger have made a formal agreement with Uepa Ticket for the company to help distribute tickets for home matches at the Estadio Olímpico Félix Sánchez. Bauger’s Marketing Manager, Mynor Valverde, broke the news last week: “For us it is of great satisfaction to announce this agreement with Uepa Ticket, a company of great prestige that has vast experience in the sale of tickets to the public for important events. Everything is for the convenience of our fans.” The fact that they have two senior national team players in their squad will no doubt help raise the attendance levels.

LDF bodes well for future

Undoubtedly, the fact the Dominican Republic now has a professional domestic setup is hugely promising for the future of the country’s game. There are a number of positives to take from this. Creator of the Domifutbol blog, Aldo Mercedes, told me: “I think the LDF will increase the level of Dominican players, like Edward Acevedo, Heinz Barmlettler, Jonathan Fana and others. These guys used to play in other leagues but are now playing in their own country. Young players should gain experience to be called up for the national team in the future. The restriction on foreign players per club will assure more chances for homegrown talent to grow.” The regulation over foreign imports is something that many other leagues share around the world, and in theory it’s an excellent system, shifting the focus onto the homegrown players instead. Aldo’s point on the national team benefiting is a worthy one, as the likes of Acevedo, Fana, Jean Carlos Lopez and Kerbi Rodriguez will be playing first-team football against each other on a regular basis. So when they are called up for international duty, it should mean less ring-rustiness and better results.

Having talked to avid Moca FC and Dominican football follower, Carlos Peralta, he explained: “In my humble opinion I can tell you that the league is the best thing that has happened to our football so far. The implementation of player contracts will eliminate the way players used to play at different teams and tournaments without any control. The league will be broadcast on national television for the first time which should bring more publicity to the sport. The winner of the LDF should be participating in the CONCACAF Champions League qualifiers, too, but this depends on what team wins, since most of the teams do not have the economic solvency to compete at an international level.” 

However, there are some potentially negative aspects associated with the project that must be addressed. There was some initial scepticism over stadiums and whether they’d all be built in time, but the workers seem to have done a decent job so far. Not all of the venues are up to professional standard, though, so there’s work to be done over the course of the season. In the past, the federation has regularly come under criticism for alleged incompetence and Aldo admits their “management is not well valued.” Carlos concurs and says “our federation lacks the trust of the general population due to the constant mismanagement of funds and basic organisational skills.” It is hoped that the Federación Dominicana de Fútbol can look after everything competently and help play their part in making the LDF the kind of thrilling spectacle that everyone believes it can be. The Dominican Republic’s in a unique position in the sense that they actually have a professional league – most other Caribbean islands work on an amateur or semi-pro basis – so they should absolutely capitalize on it. It’s going to be truly exciting and intriguing to witness how the season unfolds, which players make their mark and if any successful connection with the national team develops.

By Nathan Carr

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Thank you for reading! Feel free to leave any constructive feedback in the comments box below. A special thank you to Carlos Peralta, Aldo Mercedes, DOMIFUTBOL and Balompie Dominicano for their insightful comments and assistance with key information over the two parts. Meanwhile, you can get in touch with me on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

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One thought on “Part 2 – Liga Dominicana de Fútbol: A new dawn in the Dominican Republic

  1. Pingback: 2018 WCQ (Round 2): Qualifying heats up as 10 countries advance |

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