The Puerto Rico Islanders and C.D. Marathon got their chance to make the CONCACAF Champions League semifinals Wednesday night when the two teams met in San Pedro Sula, Honduras.
The home side had plenty of work to do having lost the first leg match 2-1 and the surprising Islanders needed only a draw.
Both teams made significant changes in the starting eleven. The most notable difference for Marathon was the decision to partner Milton Nunez up front with Jerry Palacios rather than the larger Saul Martinez.
Colin Clarke’s big move was the decision to start young Kendall Jagdeosingh as in the attack rather than bringing the first leg hero off of the bench.
The tactics of this match seemed rather clear from the early going with the visitors content to defend their series lead and wait for chances on the break.
The first chance for Puerto Rico would come just six minutes in when Joshua Hansen unleashed a right footed effort from twenty yards out that whistled just past the post.
Merely one minute later, the game would take another strange turn when Marathon defender Astor Henriquez was forced to leave the match with injury only to be replaced by the much more attack minded Mariano Acevedo.
A threaded ball through from the right side almost got Marathon on the board in the 18th minute. Palacios found a bit of space in the box, but the defending from Puerto Rico was too good and the shot was blocked well.
Marathon began to assert more control on the game as the half wore on, stringing together several good series of passes. But the home side could not turn the good play into many opportunities.
One decent chance fell to the Green Monsters in the 23rd when Palacios slipped a teammate in, but Islander ‘keeper Bill Gaudett was in good position and the game remained level.
Mario Berrios had a good crack at goal for Marathon in the 33rd minute, but the shot came from distance and Gaudett was able to save comfortably again.
The match opened up a bit in the dying minutes of the first half as Puerto Rico began to venture forward. Marathon found more space on the break with the visitors pushing numbers forward. Neither team could find a telling ball in the final third, however, and the match would go to the break on level terms.
Marathon came out on the front foot in the second half despite a curious decision to bring on Emil Martinez for Palacios at the half.
A bit of wizardry from Martinez almost explained the decision straight away as the winger broke through the Islander defense and played a decent ball across the frame of goal. The resulting open play found Acevedo in a bit of space and the first half sub rifled a shot that went wide of the post.
Noah Delgado had the first chance of the half for Puerto Rico when he found a bit a space inside the box, but could not curl his shot into the upper corner.
A defensive gaffe almost led to a breakthrough for the Islanders when a poor trap from a Marathon defender fell to Jagdeosingh. The Trinidadian’s effort was well struck and forced a brilliant save, but in the end did not find the net.
With Marathon controlling most of the run of play it seemed as though the better chances continually fell to Puerto Rico and in the 66th Nicolas Adderley forced another great save form Marathon ‘keeper Juan Obelar.
Puerto Rico did well to slow the pace and control more of the ball after Adderley’s chance, but was almost caught out in the 72nd when Saul Martinez got a touch on a cross in front of Gaudett, but could only push the ball over the post. Moments later another break from Marathon saw a ball threaded across the frame with no strikers in place to get the final touch.
Still, it was the visitors who put together a few long spells of possession, trying to kill off the match.
Marathon had a great chance in the 82nd when Saul Martinez ripped a shot from just outside the box. The right footed effort beat Gaudett only to bang off the woodwork and continue the frustration for the home side.
The game took a nasty turn late on when assistant coaches from both teams were sent off and involved in a minor scuffle on the way to the locker room after a hard foul was committed by one of the Islanders.
With the game coming to a close and the Islanders playing defense with ten men behind the ball, it would be the visitors who found a breakthrough. Nicolas Adderly was found with a through ball after Puerto Rico gained possession close to midfield. The Jamaican outpaced Marathon’s back line a slotted home the goal, clinching his team’s birth in the final four.
The final whistle sounded minutes later with the USL side 1-0 winners.