Wednesday, March 4, 2009
SAN PEDRO SULA, HONDURAS – Puerto Rico continued its defiance of expectations, advancing to the CONCACAF Champions League Semifinals by committing another first in the tournament. The Islanders handed Honduran champion Marathon its first shutout of the event, 1-0, to secure its berth in the Semifinals after a 2-1 victory the week before.
In a match that was much slower in pace than the first meeting in Bayamon, Puerto Rico played a much more defensive-oriented, methodical approach with USL-1 MVP Jonathan Steele sidelined for the match. Despite numerous opportunities throughout the match from Marathon, the most successful club in the group phase with a record of 4-1-1, the Islanders called upon the determination that had gotten them through several other matches ranging from the stunning late draw in their opening game at Costa Rican powerhouse Alajuelense in the Preliminary Round to last weeks two strikes in the final 17 minutes.
Knowing they had the away goals advantage from last week and needed just one goal to equalize and advance on the tiebreaker, Marathon continually began to increase its pressure as the minutes ticked away off the clock. But as it wound past the end of regulation and seconds into stoppage time, the Islanders once again found the dagger. Nicholas Addlery, who scored the equalizer six days prior, put away a breakaway to seal their advancement.
The task at hand was going to be tough for the Islanders with Marathon coming off an idle week in league play, where they have averaged two goals a game through eight matches and have only been shutout once – a scoreless draw in January. But just as Marathon’s options ran out in the end, so too did their options off the bench as they lost Astor Henriques to injury just seven minutes in as well as Oscar Bonilla, an offensive threat and set-up man for the goal in the first leg, in the 32nd. A third change at the break left the hosts with no available switches for the second half.
Marathon, however, forged on showing little concern and produced a few heart-racing moments in the Puerto Rico area. They would have their first good opportunity to level the series in the 19th minute when a corner delivered to the far side of the six by Mario Berrios found a rising Juan Carlos Garcia only to see it bounce back off the near post.
First-leg goal scorer Jerry Palacios turned on a shot in the 24th minute that forced Puerto Rico netminder Bill Guadette into a diving save to preserve the lead in what was many outstanding plays on the night and in the series by the league’s Goalkeeper of the Year. It was one of few opportunities Palacios had on a short night as he would be the halftime lineup change for Marathon.
In the 33rd minute, a rebound that fell out to Berrios allowed for a long-range 35-yard effort that made its way through to Gaudette.
A free kick chipped into the box a minute later at the other end by Sandy Gbandi found Josh Hansen near the corner of the six, but his flick across the front of the goal saw the hosts heads for clearance first.
On the hour mark a miscleared header popped up and found Kendall Jagdeosingh all alone behind the defense, but his turn and shot were not enough to get past the keeper on Puerto Rico’s best chance of the night to that point.
Seven minutes later, Addlery stunned Obelar and the Marathon defense when he turned and fired a shot from 33 yards that forced a diving save from the keeper.
The woodwork would again deny the hosts eight minutes from time when a shot from Saul Martinez just off the right corner of the area from 20 yards out slammed off the crossbar, marking the start of a frenzied finish as they hurried for the needed strike.
As Marathon moved forward yet again past midfield, recent substitution Osei Telesford made an excellent sliding tackle that stopped the progression, knocking the ball to Noah Delgado. Delgado slipped it off immediately to Josh Hansen, who looked up and sent the ball off the center line up the center of the field, finding a streaking Addlery going through the middle against a minimized backline as the hosts were desperately pressing for the important equalizer and series winner. Running shoulder-to-shoulder with the defender he let loose the shot on the edge of the area, slipping the ball to the lower left corner of the goal.
Advancing to face the Islanders in the other half of their Semifinal pairing later in the evening was Mexico giant Cruz Azul, who finished second to Marathon in Group A, but notched the second of a pair of 1-0 victories over Mexico City rival Pumas UNAM.