BAYAMON, Puerto Rico – Alejandro Vela scored with four minutes remaining to complete Cruz Azul’s rally from a two-goal deficit for a 3-3 draw with the Puerto Rico Islanders Tuesday night in a rematch of last season’s CONCACAF Champions League semifinals.
Vela converted a cross from Javier Orozco for an easy tap-in at the back post to increase the Mexican side’s lead atop Group C.
Pablo Zeballos scored a pair of goals, one in each half, to pace Cruz Azul, which improved to seven points as the Group Stage reached its midpoint.
Nicholas Addlery scored one goal and helped on another for Puerto Rico, which earned its first point in three games.
The Islanders, who already have qualified for the playoffs in the United Soccer Leagues First Division – the second tier of North American pro soccer, were the more aggressive team in the first half, hitting the woodwork in the second minute when Jonathan Steele volleyed a cross from Noah Delgado off the right post.
Cruz Azul had more possession and chances in the second half, creating its first corner in the 49th, but Puerto Rico did not retreat into a shell, striking the bar with Jonathan Steele’s right-footer from distance in the 55th.
Zeballos pulled Cruz Azul within 3-2 in the 68th, taking a cross from Jamie Lozano, settling with a touch of his left foot just outside the 18, turning and driving a bouncing shot past goalkeeper Bill Gaudette.
Vela equalized in the 86th. Alejandros Castro worked free on the right, forwarded the ball to Orozco, whose rolling cross found Vela just inside the 6-yard box at the back post.
Puerto Rico had the better possession and chances in the first 45 minutes.
Puerto Rico took the lead in the 24th when Scott Jones looped a cleared corner kick back into the top of the area. The ball pinged off John Krause’s head and landed at the feet of Mexican defender Cristian Arrieta, who converted for an early lead.
Zeballos equalized 10 minutes later, taking a ball on the left side of the area, spinning outside to create space from Krause and driving a right-footed shot into the opposite side netting.
Puerto Rico reclaimed the lead in the 40th minute. Addlery sent Fabrice Noel through with a side-heel flick from a throw-in that the Haitian one-touched past Cruz Azul defender Joel Huqui, chased down the ball and toe-poked it past goalkeeper Yosgart Gutierrez.
Addlery then reacted to a loose ball in the area four minutes later to secure a two-goal advantage for Puerto Rico heading into halftime.
Puerto Rico had scored only two goals in its previous four Champions League games this season, including its 1-0 win over Toronto FC in Canada in the first leg of the Preliminary Round.
Cruz Azul lost 2-0 to Puerto Rico in the first leg of last season’s semifinals in March, but won the second leg 3-1 in Mexico City and prevailed on penalties.
Cruz Azul hadn’t allowed a goal in three games – since a 6-2 victory over Herediano in the first leg of the Preliminary Round.