Tuesday, March 17, 2009
BAYAMON, PR – The Puerto Rico Islanders stunned five-time CONCACAF champion Cruz Azul with a 2-0 first leg Semifinal victory on the efforts of Sandy Gbandi, Nicholas Addlery and Bill Guadette in front of over 13,000 at the Juan Ramon Loubriel Stadium Tuesday evening.
Facing a side that has only allowed a goal once per 180 minutes in the Champions League, the Islanders became just the second club to register twice against the Mexican giants, joining Honduras’ Marathon, whom Puerto Rico eliminated in the Quarterfinals.
The action started quickly for the hosts as less than a minute into the match a ball up the left flank was mishandled by a Cruz Azul defender after Addlery’s attempted to bring the high ball down. The miscue allowed Addlery to cut into the box and get a low shot off that troubled the goalkeeper Alfonso Blanco.
Just three minutes later, however, the Islanders made good on their efforts to offensively challenge the superior club when a goal kick from Bill Gaudette was quickly worked up to the box, finding its way to Josh Hansen inside the penalty arc. Hansen slipped the ball off to his right to Sandy Gbandi, who slotted it home inside the far post from 16 yards out.
Cruz Azul nearly leveled on a corner in the 13th minute found the head of Julio Cesar Dominguez, but his attempt flew high of the crossbar. Within the next minute on a counter, a ball centered low across the box presented another opportunity for Cruz Azul only to see Gaudette make the stop.
In the 27th, the visitors had to swap Julio Cesar Pardini in for striker Pablo Zeballos due to injury.
In the 37th minute Puerto Rico delivered another surprising blow out of a free kick from midfield on the left flank. The restart sent into the box by Gbandi curled as it came down in the penalty area. A wide open Nicholas Addlery tallied in his third consecutive Champions League match since joining during the offseason from Vancouver, stretching out with a high leg to redirect the ball past the goalkeeper from 10 yards.
Early in the second half, Pardini ripped off two long-range shots seconds apart in the 48th minute when his first attempt was blocked well by Gaudette, but found itself quickly redirecting with pace back to the top of the box where Pardini remained for the second attempt that flew high.
In the 56th, Noah Delgado racing to a free ball in the box was taken down in the area by the goalkeeper, but the potential penalty on the late tackle was not awarded much to the dismay of the home fans.
Repeated chances for the visitors in the latter stages began in the 67th when Christian Riveros received a turned over ball and let loose a low, long-range effort with pace that Gaudette dropped on and smothered.
In the 71st, a cross from Fausto Pinto was slightly headed out by an Islander defender, but the ball would be redirected into the middle of the box where Gerardo Torrado would get a quick shot off from 16 yards that Guadette made a spectacular reaction save on. The loose ball ricocheted its way back toward goal, but the netminders recovery to his feet was fast enough to keep it on the right side of the line.
Another stunning reaction save from Gaudette in the 75th kept the Cruz Azul ledger clear yet again. Second half substitute Edgar Lugo ran onto the ball in the box and one-timed a rocket on goal from 12 yards out.
The series concludes in Mexico City at Estadio Azul Tuesday, April 7. The winner of the series will face the winner of the all-Mexican Semifinal featuring Atlanta and Santos Laguna, whom the Islanders defeated in the Group Stage.