Tuesday, July 28, 2009
TAMPA, FL – The Puerto Rico Islanders return to CONCACAF Champions League action when they kick off their second campaign in the second edition of the tournament Wednesday in Toronto against the Major League Soccer club. The match can be seen on Fox Soccer Channel with the second leg in Bayamon next Tuesday, also on FSC.
The USL First Division’s Islanders were a major part of the CONCACAF Champions League’s success in its inaugural running, capturing a worldwide audience with their amazing run against the odds and nearly advancing to the final only to see the dream end in a semifinal round penalty kick tiebreaker.
Puerto Rico began their defiance of expectations with a Preliminary Round series win over CONCACAF Champions Cup tournament veteran Alajuelense, playing to a 1-1 draw on the road in Costa Rica and winning 2-1 at home to advance to the Group Stage, where they registered an upset win over Mexico’s Santos Laguna and drew CSD Municipal 2-2 on the road, helping them finish second to move onto the Quarterfinals. In the knockout rounds, they stunned CD Marathon with a 2-1 win at home and a 1-0 victory on the road, and then shocked Cruz Azul 2-0 at home in the first leg of the Semifinals. The Mexican giants would rally in the second leg to tie the series 2-2 to force overtime, where they each scored again. In the end, Cruz Azul would move on with a 4-2 decision in the tiebreaker April 7, less than two weeks before the start of the season.
It has been an unusual month for the Islanders leading up to this marquee series. After giving up the league’s fewest goals last year, the Islanders were allowing a higher number of goals in the first third of the season, but returned to outstanding defensive form in July, nearly going the entire month without allowing a goal. After a 2-1 win in Carolina closed out June, Puerto Rico posted five consecutive shutouts, all on the road, with the run ending in a 4-2 loss at Vancouver this past Saturday with three regular defensive starters and goalkeeper Bill Guadette riding the bench in preparation for Wednesday’s match.
While the defense has peaked, the offense has gone eerily silent, scoring just once in that same time frame, a penalty kick from Cristian Arrieta, before Hansen got two late strikes in Vancouver, one on a penalty.
Puerto Rico enters the series in a three-way tie for the league lead in USL-1 with a record of 9-5-8 while Toronto sits fourth in the Eastern Conference at 7-7-5 and are ninth overall in MLS.
Toronto comes into the match with just one league win in their last four outings (1-2-1) and are 3-4-1 over the last eight. Their record at home for 2009 is 5-3-3 with 13 goals for and 11 allowed. The Canadians will be affected by injury. Defender Nana Attakor is out while defender Adrian Serioux is questionable along with star midfielder Amado Guevara, who scored twice in their 6-1 win over Montreal in the Nutrilite Canadian Championship finale.
Toronto advanced to the CONCACAF Champions League on the goal differential tiebreaker after finishing tied with USL-1’s Vancouver Whitecaps with a record of 3-0-1. They opened the four-game series with a 1-0 victory at home against the defending USL-1 champions and then posted an identical 1-0 win at home against Montreal. They then fell 2-0 at Vancouver, who swept their two-game set with Montreal, to force a difficult task for the Ontario club heading to Quebec for the final contest. Needing to win by four, Toronto stunned Montreal with six unanswered after giving up the opener.
Puerto Rico advanced to the tournament needing just one win in their Caribbean Football Union tournament appearance. An automatic entrant to the semifinals, the Islanders downed Tempete of Haiti 2-0 in Trinidad to advance to the CFU Final and qualify for their second straight CONCACAF appearance. Facing a two-game series against Portland the following weekend, coach Colin Clarke controversially rested key players in the Final and would finish runners-up, 2-1, to Trinidad & Tobago’s W Connection.