USL News Release
Monday, September 15, 2008
TAMPA, FL – The USL First Division’s Puerto Rico Islanders and Montreal Impact resume play in the CONCACAF Champions League this week when the Group Phase opens play Tuesday evening. The Islanders host Tauro FC Tuesday with the Impact beginning Wednesday at home versus Joe Public. All eight matches for the two sides can be seen on Fox Soccer Channel.
The Preliminary Round series the Islanders and Impact advanced from two weeks ago marked the first time since the 1996 Seattle Sounders of the then independent A-League (now USL First Division) that a USL First Division team participated in a confederation club championship event. The Sounders defeated Transvaal (Suriname) 10-0 in Seattle to advance from their opening round. In the final round, they lost to Communicaciones (Guatemala) 2-0, Nexaca (Mexico) 4-1, and Cruz Azul (Mexico) 11-0, to finish 4th and last. Cruz Azul (Mexico) won the round and took the title.
Historically, the CONCACAF Champions’ Cup (the forerunner to the newly formed CONCACAF Champions League) has been kind to Mexican sides, which won 23 titles in the tournament’s 42 years of competition, including seven since Seattle’s appearance and Major League Soccer’s inception in 1996. Mexican clubs have taken four of the last six sandwiching a pair of Costa Rican side titles in 2004 and 2005. Current tournament participant DC United won the title in 1998 with the Los Angeles Galaxy following it up two years later. DC United and 2005 winners Saprissa are the only remaining championship teams from the last nine years in the tournament following Cruz Azul’s 1996-97 repeat. Puerto Rico eliminated the 2004 champion Alajuelense in the Preliminary Round.
Both Montreal and Puerto Rico enter the tournament’s group phase having secured postseason berths in the USL First Division. Puerto Rico currently leads the league and is one point away from clinching the regular season title with a record of 15-6-7. They rank as the league leaders in offense with 1.5 goals per game and defense at 0.79 allowed per match. Montreal is currently third, trailing Canadian rival Vancouver. The 12-11-5 Impact are second in the league in defense with only 0.89 goals allowed per game.
GROUP C – MONTREAL OPPOSITION PROFILES (courtesy concacaf.com)
JOE PUBLIC (T & T) — 9/17 @ Montreal; 10/8 @ Macoya
In just a few short years Joe Public has asserted themselves as one of the Caribbean’s most feared football clubs. In the 12 years since the team joined the Trinidad & Tobago semi-professional league (they joined the full-professional league when it was established in 1999) they have already won the TT Pro League, as well as two Caribbean Club Championships.
They qualified for the CONCACAF Champions League as CFU 2, after placing second in the Caribbean Football Union’s 2007 Club Championships. It was a tournament that they had dominated right up until the final match, having scored 17 goals without conceding, but in the end Joe Public came up just short of ultimate triumph by losing to fellow CONCACAF Champions League qualifier Harbour View FC of Jamaica. The win for Harbour View was historic, as it meant that they could now join Joe Public as the two most successful teams in the history of the competition; with two championship crowns each. Joe Public had advanced to the final with a 1-0 Semifinal victory over the Puerto Rico Islanders, who tied Harbour View 2-2 en route to winning their group.
With the Islanders as their lone common opponent, the Impact have played their USL-1 foes to a split series thus far with each team winning on the road 1-0.
A big part of this future success for Joe Public will depend on their ability to continue a strong track record in the Caribbean, while also finding success on a larger scale. When Head Coach, Ralph Nelson leads his team into the new Champions League, he will be looking to improve on the club’s past performances in the CONCACAF Champions Cup.
Joe Public has already taken a step in that direction with a shocking 6-1 aggregate victory over a depleted New England Revolution side. Gregory Richardson and Jamal Gay gave the club a 2-0 lead at home in the first leg before a penalty cut the deficit to one for the return leg. But the game in Foxboro was the shocking result as Richardson struck three more times, along with one from Roen Nelson, to bury the Revolution on their home turf.
ATLANTE FC (Mexico) – 9/24 @ Montreal; 10/28 @ Cancun
In 2007 Atlante relocated from Mexico City’s goliath Azteca Stadium to the world famous beach resort of Cancun. From the season’s opening kick, it was evident that the supposed rigors of transition were completely lost on Atlante. For the first time in 14 years, and mere months after moving to their new home in the Estadio Andrés Quintana Roo, Atlante was able to win the Mexico Primera Division’s 2007 Torneo Apertura (Opening Tournament).
For Atlante, the victory was its third title (after championships in 1947 and 1993) in what has been a long and fluctuating past. Since its inception in 1916, when it was called Sinaloa, Atlante has had to deal with the challenge of being a “low-budget” club trying to keep pace with Mexico’s rich, something it has achieved, although sporadically. Besides its three national titles, it has finished runner-up four times in its 82-year existence and also won a CONCACAF Champions Cup in 1983.
Whether Atlante are able to capitalize on these new opportunities could come down to a matter of form. Prior to the start of the 2007 Apertura, Cruz’s men were written off as largely “inexperienced, unknown and forgotten.” But behind his leadership and the goal-scoring prowess of Venezuelan international Giancarlo Maldonado, Atlante posted a 9-6-2 record in the regular season and left many of Mexico’s historic clubs in their tournament winning wake.
It was against this backdrop that much was expected of the “Potros” in the Torneo Clausura 2008 (or Closing Tournament), but recent times have not proven as easy. Following its December championship, Atlante could only muster a 3-8-6 record in the Clausura and failed to qualify for the playoffs, stealing away some of the club’s momentum.
The club, however, has rebounded in the current Apertura season, leading their group with a 3-1-4 record despite struggling offensively with only nine goals to their credit and going 1-1-1 in their last three, including a 1-1 draw against fellow Champions League participant Cruz Azul this past weekend.
The team is built largely on youth heading into the 2008-09 CONCACAF Champions League. Atlante will rely upon top marksman Giancarlo Maldonado, who scored 15 goals in the Apertura 2007 regular season as well as a number of World Cup Qualifying goals for his native Venezuela; goalkeeper Federico Vilar, who has spent time with Argentina’s Boca Juniors, and Christian “Hobbit” Bermudez, who was a member of Mexico’s U20 World Cup team last year and is on the cusp of senior national team duty.
CLUB DEPORTIVO OLIMPIA (Honduras) – 10/1 @ Tegucigalpa; 10/21 @ Montreal
With 27 Honduran league titles, Deportivo Olimpia has at least matched the success, if not the fame, of some of the North American continent’s more well-known sports teams.
Honduras’ most popular club has won nearly twice the number of titles as any other in the country’s Primera Division and has finished runner-up another 14 times. Based in the capital Tegucigalpa, Olimpia qualified for the Champions League by claiming the 2008 Clausura title and ending three-season championship drought.
It still had to face 2007 Apertura champion Club Deportivo Marathon to determine the first seed from Honduras, and claimed the direct berth 8 July, beating its rival 3-1 at Estadio Olimpico in San Pedro Sula. The win was Olimpia’s second over Marathon in as many matches and came on the heels of a 1:0 victory in the Clausura championship match in May. Striker Wilmer Velasquez, who scored the lone goal in the Clausura championship, burned Marathon again with two goals in the playoff.
Velasquez will look to repeat his heroics as captain of a club made up mostly of Honduran players. The club’s career scoring leader with over 175 goals is the key to the team’s attack and has been one of the main cogs behind Honduras’ rise in CONCACAF. Velasquez will be joined up front by Washington Bruschi. Silva and fellow midfielder Danilo Turcios anchor the middle and provide an offensive spark. Walter Hernandez anchors the defense and has shown an ability to score.
Aside from Velasquez and Co., the Leones also will have the advantage of a wealth of international experience. The club has represented Honduras on the international stage more than any other team. Olimpia has appeared in the CONCACAF Champions’ Cup 24 times, winning twice – in 1972 and 1988 –and is the only Honduran club to claim the title.
Olimpia enters the contest with a mid-table position in Honduras at 3-3-4 with only eight goals in 10 games. They have lost two of their last three and have only one win in their last four (1-2-1). The club has also struggled at home with just one win in four contests (1-1-2) with their lone loss to league leader and Champions League participant Marathon.
Olimpia emerged from modest beginnings when a group of young Honduran men sought to establish a sports club. They adopted the lion as the team’s mascot to symbolize ferocity, nobility and bravery. Established on 12 June, 1912, the organization began as a baseball club known initially as Olimpia National, named in honor of the first Olympic Games in Athens, Greece, in 1896. In 1924, the club started a soccer team and soon cemented its rivalry with Marathon and fellow Tegucigalpa club Club Deportivo Motagua, with which it shares 35,000-seat Estadio Tiburcio Carias Andino.
GROUP D – PUERTO RICO OPPOSITION PROFILES (courtesy concacaf.com)
TAURO FC (Panama) – 9/16 @ Bayamon; 10/29 @ Ciudad de Panama
The Asociación Nacional Pro Fútbol (ANAPROF) is the top-flight football league in Panama. Like much of Central and South America, the Panamanian professional football year is broken up into two seasons, the Apertura (Opening) and Clausura (Closing); with a national champion being crowned in each. Despite losing in the final of this year’s Apertura Tournament, Tauro FC earned their spot in the CONCACAF Champions League as the second team from Panama (PAN2), thus adding to an already impressive club history.
Currently in the midst of their offseason with the Clausura set for November, Tauro FC was founded in 1984 by an Italian industrialist, Giancarlo Gronchi, with the aim of having the team participate in the ADECOPA; a tournament which was designed to provide foreign colonies residing in Panama with a competitive footballing outlet. This structure lasted but a few years for Tauro FC, when in 1988, the club along with seven additional teams formed ANAPROF. The move was spearheaded by a group which included the Tauro FC founder, with the aim of improving the stature of football in the country and of helping to develop the national team program.
It wasn’t long after ANAPROF was established that Tauro FC began asserting itself as one of the league’s most prolific sides. The “Toros” won their first title in 1989, and then repeated as ANAPROF champs in 1991. These victories laid the groundwork for what has been a triumphant existence, as the club also won the full national championship in the 1996/1997, 1997/1998 and 1999/2000 seasons, as well as Apertura season titles in 2003 and 2007 and Clausura season titles in 2003 and 2006. These nine titles make Tauro FC the winningest side in Panamanian professional football history. In fact, despite finishing as runners-up to San Francisco FC in the 2008 Apertura, Tauro FC finished the regular season with the league’s best record of 7-2-4; only finishing second by losing out to San Francisco FC in the Apertura Tournament final.
Looking to staunch the attacking intentions of Chivas USA will be 17-year old goalkeeper Luis Mejia. Mejia received much attention at last year’s FIFA U-20 World Cup™ in Canada, where his performance in Panama’s first match against Korea DPR was instrumental in the young Canaleros earning their nation’s first ever FIFA World Cup point. Also joining Mejia on the Tauro’s side will be a pair of senior Canaleros internationals, goal scoring defender Luis Moreno and deadly front-runner Edwin Aguilar. Together this trio should form the backbone of a squad capable of making waves in this year’s Champion’s League.
CLUB SANTOS LAGUNA (Mexico) – 9/23 @ Bayamon; 10/8 @ Torreon
Club Santos Laguna will attempt to follow-up its recent Clausura 2008 victory with an encore performance at the CONCACAF Champions League. The Mexican-based club secured a position in the tournament after defeating CD SC Cruz Azul, 3:2 in aggregate, to win Clausura 2008, one of two annual tournaments in la Primera Division de Mexico. Santos’ momentous victory would mark its third tournament title in its brief, yet successful history.
Grupo Modelo, the brewery that produces Corona (beer), created Santos Laguna on August 13, 1983. In constructing the club, Grupo Modelo adorned the team logo with its trademark Corona crown. The brewery also named the stadium Estadio Corona, as a means to simultaneously market the product and the club. During its initial years as an expansion side, Santos endeavored to gain respect as a competitive organization. It competed in la Segunda Division “B” for five years.
In 2006, the club hit rock bottom with abysmal showings in the Clausura and Apertura tournaments. After finishing 17th of 18 in Clausura and dead last in Apertura, Santos entered the 2007 season in danger of being relegated to the second division. The team purchased superstars such as Juan Pablo Rodriguez, Ivan Estrada, Daniel Ludueña, and Vicente Vuoso, but the club continued to falter. Losing its first seven games, Santos was on the brink of relegation until the players rallied together with spectacular play. In the next 10 games, the club won six games and tied the other four. Santos finished Clausura 2007 with a 6-4-7 record, evading relegation by .0589 percentage points.
The players rode the triumphant momentum into Apertura 2007, achieving a regular season best 11-5-1 record. However, seventh-seeded Club Universidad Nacional A.C. upset Santos in the semifinals, 5:4, to advance to the finals. Nevertheless, the club proved it could overcome adversity. This past season, manager Daniel Guzman, a former Mexican league and MLS player, coached his Santos arsenal to a Clausura 2008 title. Vuoso and Christian Benitez led the offensive attack with 11 and 10 goals respectively. Captain Oswaldo Sanchez, known as one of the best goalkeeper’s in Mexican soccer history, also had an excellent showing in goal throughout the tournament.
In the current Apertura season, Santos Laguna is second to fellow Champions League participant Atlante in their group with a record of 3-2-3, but have gone winless in their last two with a 2-0 road loss and a 1-1 draw at home.
CSD MUNICIPAL (Guatemala) – 10/1 @ Ciudad de Guatemala; 10/23 @ Bayamon
After winning the Clausura for its 26th Guatemalan league title in 2008, CSD Municipal will be looking to parlay domestic success into the international realm during the CONCACAF Champions League. Municipal clinched a spot in the tournament by vanquishing arch-rival Comunicaciones 4-3 to win Guatemalan crown, one of two annual tournaments in the Liga Nacional. The title simply added to the numerous achievements in Municipal’s esteemed history.
In 1936, a group of workers from the Guatemalan City Hall, known as the Municipalidad, formed the club. At the time, employees were not compensated for playing on the team. Instead, they were permitted to leave work two hours early to train or participate in club matches. Little did the workers know, that one day Municipal would become one the most successful club in Guatemala.
In 2000, the championship for the Liga Nacional was split to two annual tournaments. Since the format change, Municipal has won 11 of 18 titles, surpassing Comunicaciones and re-establishing itself as the leader of the historic rivalry.
During this time, the club also claimed two UNCAF Club Championships, trouncing Costa Rica’s Deportiva Saprissa in 2001 and 2004 for the crown. Forward Juan Carlos “Pin” Plata’s scoring prowess has been pivotal in the club’s return to preeminence. An 18-year veteran, Plata has scored 392 goals in 513 appearances, breaking virtually every scoring record in Guatemalan history. His efforts have helped catapult Municipal to one of the most prolific soccer dynasties of this decade.
The club’s 26 domestic league championships tie it with Nicaraguan club FC Diriangen, and Saprissa for most by a CONCACAF club.
Municipal is currently second in their domestic league with a record of 3-1-3. Their lone loss came two weeks ago against league leader Comunicaciones, but rebounded with a 4-0 result against third place Zacapa.