CONCACAF.com

Cruz Azul’s Pablo Zeballos scored his fourth goal of the Champions League
Photo courtesy of femexfut.org.mx
4/7/2009 – MEXICO CITY – Cesar Villaluz scored nine minutes into injury time to secure a 3-1 victory for Cruz Azul, which prevailed on penalties over the Puerto Rico Islanders on Tuesday to reach the finals of the CONCACAF Champions League in a bid for a sixth title.

Javier Orozco scored a tournament leading a seventh goal in the 84th minute and converted the clinching penalty to help the Cementeros to a 4-2 victory in the shootout, after the two finished tied on aggregate 3-3.

Cruz Azul, which played with 10 men for the final 59 minutes of regulation and 30 minutes of extra time, lost the first leg 2-0 three weeks ago. But it equalized on the goal by Orozco, who volleyed a cross from 13 meters to force the extra periods.

Sandy Gbandi scored with a 30-yard blast two minutes into extra time, seemingly giving Puerto Rico the advantage. But Cruz Azul, which dominated possessions and chances throughout, equalized a second time when Villaluz chested a cross into the air and headed over Islanders goalkeeper Bill Gaudette.

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The result assures an all-Mexican final. Cruz Azul will play either Santos Laguna or Atlante in the two-leg final April 22 and April 29. Atlante hosts the second leg of its semifinal on Wednesday after Santos won the first leg 2-1 three weeks ago.

Puerto Rico, which plays in the United Soccer Leagues’ First Division – essentially the second tier of North American soccer, was trying to become the first Caribbean club to reach the title match of the CONCACAF club championship since Police FC of Trinidad in 1991. It is set to begin its league season on Saturday against the Vancouver Whitecaps in a rematch of the USL championship match.

Cruz Azul was reduced to 10 men in the 31st when Cristian Riveros was sent off for a challenge on Gaudette.

The Islanders played defensively from teh start, often putting nine men behind the ball and not even attempting a shot until the 27th minute. Joaquin Beltran put a header off the right post in the 30th minute and the rebound trickled to the left of Gaudette.

As Gaudette waited to pick up the ball, Riveros challenged with a two-leg tackle and bumped the airborne keeper with his arm, drawing a red card from Canadian referee Paul Ward.

The expulsion did little to change the match, and Pablo Zeballos pulled Cruz Azul within a goal on aggregate in the 44th minute. Taking a side-heal flick from Luis Landin, Zeballos, with his back to goal one step outside the penalty arc, turned away from Islanders defender Kyle Veris and drove a right-footed shot into the upper right corner for his fourth goal of the tournament.

Cruz Azul continued their domination in the second half and nearly had another goal in the 78th when Orozco toe-poked a loose ball from six yards that Nigel Henry cleared just before it crossed the line.

But La Maquina’s persistence paid off when Orozco converted his chance with six minutes remaining.

Cruz Azul, which won the Mexican Apertura title in December, had lost four straight – including the first leg of the semifinals, and was winless in its last six, falling to 16th in the 18-team Primera Divsiion. It returns to the final for the first time since 1997, when it defeated the Los Angeles Galaxy for a fifth CONCACAF title.

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Edwin Jusino
Director Ejecutivo de FutbolBoricua.net. Actualmente estudiante de Historia de las Américas en programa combinado Maestría/PhD de la Universidad Interamericana de Puerto Rico, Recinto Metropolitano. Lleva más de una década cubriendo el fútbol de Puerto Rico. Actualmente está trabajando su disertación doctoral sobre el pasado presidente de la FPF, el Dr. Roberto Monroig. Hincha del Club Atlético de Madrid y de la Selección Nacional de Fútbol de Puerto Rico. Puede contactarle via twitter o Instagram en @erjusinoa