What is Puerto Rico? Is it a state, an island, a territory? They have their own flag, sing their own national anthem, and compete in Olympic sports as a nation. According to Wikipedia it is a self-governing unincorporated territory of the United States. Most people describe it as a beautiful place under the sun that enjoys year round warm weather and excellent tax breaks! Outside of San Juan nothing is American about it except maybe the crazy drivers. But when you take a Northern Irish Coach, mix in some diverse Americans with Island boys you get America’s Dream Team; The Puerto Rico Islanders!
This Tuesday, March 17th, the Puerto Rico Islanders will take on Cruz Azul in the CONCACAF Champions league 1st round semifinal. CONCACAF stands for The Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football. The Champions league tournament is a mix of the top club teams in these regions with predominately the top teams being MLS and Mexican clubs. This year though it’s been different; its been USL-1 and Mexican clubs. Puerto Rico (representing America’s USL-1 League) has been storming through the group stages, winning on the road, and is now America’s sole hope of winning this year’s tournament.
One of the reasons this team is on a dream run is because of the team’s captain, Noah Delgado. Noah, 29-year-old native of Freemont, California, is a converted Island boy. He has been a pro since 2002 and jumped around the frigid North East for a while before signing with the Islanders in 2005. Since then he has become a mainstay in the team and has logged over a 100 appearances. After learning to speak Spanish, growing his hair out, and being capped six times by Puerto Rico the locals have welcomed him as one of their own.
Like a Caribbean Pirate who has plundered up some old Spanish treasure Noah Delgado is doing well for himself and today he has been kind enough to take some time to answer a few questions before his club’s historic first round semifinal match.
Life Size Poster of Noah with a Fan
JM – What does it feel like to be the last “American” Team in the CONCACAF Champions League?
ND – We do play in an American league but I think we are a Puerto Rican team. Its feels good to be the last team other than the Mexican league to be left in this tournament. Its shows we have some talented players.
JM – Not even two years ago the team was just considered average. Now yall are the defending regular season champs, you have the coach of the year, the goalie of the year, the defender of the year, and the MVP of the league. What has been the reason for the sudden change? What are yall doing differently than before?
ND – One of the biggest changes with our team has been the arrival of Colin Clark. We have always had quality players here playing but he brought organization and discipline where it was lacking. We have a tough environment to play in at Puerto Rico and we have recently been taking advantage of that.
JM – What I have always admired about Colin Clark is the way he manages his team. They call him the “General” on the island and every week he has the Islanders prepared to go to battle. What has he been doing to prepare the team for this first round game? What will the approach and mindset be playing at home?
ND – We are doing a lot of the same things we do for other games. Watch our recent games and make adjustments. Also watching their recent games and seeing ways we could exploit them. Not much has changed with our preparation compared to other games. We would like to go to Mexico with an advantage.
JM – Javier Orozco of Cruz Azul is the leading scorer of the tournament with six goals. A key to the game must be to keep him off the score sheet. How do you think your back line will fair against him?
ND – Our backline is one of the strongest parts of our team. I expect them to fair well against all that Cruz Azul has to offer. It will be difficult but I believe they are up for it.
JM – Confidence is a big part of winning. Watching the team play you can see there is that belief yall can win. Now the only teams left to beat are massive Mexican clubs. No matter what, at some point you are going to have to go to Mexico in hostile stadiums and perform well. Being the Captain what do you tell your team and how do you keep that belief going and not let fear creep into the squad?
ND – We have played in a few hostile environments over the last year. Including Guatemala, Panama, Costa Rica, Trinidad and Tobago and Mexico. So I think we have some good experiences under our belt. I try to show how we are prepared and we should be confident when we step on the field.
JM – There has been a lot of debate lately on the internet about USL-1 vs MLS teams and why USL-1 teams such as the Islanders and Montreal (who at the last second got scored on to miss out on the other semi-final leg) are performing so well in this growing tournament and MLS teams are losing out early. What do you think the difference is and why have the USL-1 teams been successful thus far?
ND – I don’t have an answer why USL-1 teams have faired better than the MLS sides. I know our team and we have some very good players and well coached which enables us to be competitive with most teams.
JM – Has there been a good buzz going around the Island with all the team’s success in Cup and League play? How many fans can we expect to see filling el Estadio Juan Ramon Loubriel de Bayamon on Tuesday? (My Spanish isn’t the best; I apologize ahead of time if I spelled it wrong)
ND – The islanders have brought a buzz to this island that I have not seen in my five years playing here. I think the crowd on Tuesday could be the best yet. People here are saying a sell-out. I guess we have to wait and see.
JM – I think, and I hope, all American soccer fans are happy to see the run the Islanders are putting together. I feel like most people would love for yall to win but know that the team is an under dog at this stage and the odds are not in your favor. Do you believe the Islanders can win the CONCACAF Champions League?
ND – We defiantly have the underdog tag on us. We are a few games from going to the world club championship. We have a chance if we stay disciplined and take our chances. It will be tough but I think the team is determined.
JM – What is your score prediction for tomorrow night’s game?
ND – I hope an islander’s win with no goal against………