Monday, March 16, 2009
TAMPA, FL – The USL First Division Puerto Rico Islanders return to CONCACAF Champions League competition Tuesday evening when they play host to Mexico’s Cruz Azul on Fox Soccer Channel at 8:00 pm ET. Underdogs based on perception, the Islanders may actually head into the home match with even odds against a club that is in the midst of a subpar campaign in the Mexican Primera Division.
Puerto Rico comes into the Semifinal series having knocked off Honduran club Marathon, who recorded a 2-0 victory and 1-1 draw against Cruz Azul in the Champions League last fall to capture the top spot in their group. Marathon accounted for three of the four goals the Mexicans allowed during the group stage.
Since finishing second in the Champions League group in October, Cruz Azul has struggled to find much success in league play during the Clausura with a current record of 2-3-5 (W-L-D). After opening with a 3-3 road draw against Guadalajara (currently 3-4-3) and a 4-0 home victory against Atlas (currently 4-3-3), Cruz Azul has posted only one victory in eight games, a 4-2 win over Necaxa, who were winless on the year until this past weekend (1-6-3). In the seven other matches, the side has only scored seven goals while going 0-3-4 and come into the first leg of the semifinal series on the heels of a 3-1 loss at home to America (3-4-3) with their lone goal coming as consolation via a penalty kick.
Cruz Azul took advantage of a Pumas UNAM (5-4-1) side that was fielding a squad with numerous reserves in the Quarterfinals and posted a pair of narrow 1-0 victories over their Mexico City rivals. Travelling outside of Mexico City, however, was a difficult task for Cruz Azul in CONCACAF group play, suffering a 2-0 loss to Marathon and a 1-0 defeat in Costa Rica to Saprissa. The only positive result was a narrow second half 1-0 win over DC United, who were winless in the group.
The five-time CONCACAF Champions Cup winners may be intensely focused on capturing their sixth with their last title having come in 1997. This is their first trip to the Semifinals since they repeated as champions that year.
Although Puerto Rico remains a month away from the start of the season, the club has shown that it can overcome the task of facing a club in the midst of league play with their two victories over Marathon, who were the Honduran league leaders going into the first leg. The Islanders dominated much of the first leg at home against the Honduran champions, overcoming an initial deficit after offseason rust left their shots just off the mark in the first half as Marathon capitalized on a defensive lapse. Late in the second half, however, the late-game heroics previously shown in the competition again propelled the Islanders as they scored two late strikes in the final 17 minutes to take a 2-1 series advantage on the road.
Having previously shown an ability to excel on the road with a 1-1 draw in their tournament debut against former CONCACAF Champion and Costa Rican power Alajuelense, the Islanders steadfastly held onto the one-goal edge while trailing on the away goal tiebreaker that would have sent Marathon through on the strength of a 1-0 victory. Instead, Puerto Rico capitalized on Marathon’s late push to score the needed series equalizer when defender Osei Telesford stole the ball at midfield and after a few passes the ball was sent down the middle of the defense to a streaking Nicholas Addlery, who secured the semifinal berth with a low shot past the keeper seconds into stoppage time for the 1-0 victory.