It’s almost as if the Puerto Rico Islanders should change their nickname to «giant killers» and adopt some dragon-slaying knight as their logo.
The Islanders have earned a reputation for achieving upsets in the first two years of the CONCACAF Champions League, and are back for more in Group D.
Puerto Rico is one of just seven teams to qualify for all three editions of the CONCACAF Champions League. It already has claimed another upset victim, stunning the Major League Soccer-leading Los Angeles Galaxy in the Preliminary Round.
Coached by Northern Irishman Colin Clarke, the Islanders pounded the Galaxy in the opening leg at the Home Depot Center 4-1, with Nicholas Addlery scoring twice. David Foley scored in both legs, albeit the second from the penalty spot in a 2-1 loss, enough to advance to the Group Stage.
The Galaxy was just the latest in a string of Preliminary Round surprises for Puerto Rico. The first year it was Alajuelense; last year it was Toronto FC. But their Group Stage victims in the last two years have included Cruz Azul, Santos and Marathon.
In 2008, Puerto Rico reached the semifinals, eventually losing to Cruz Azul on penalties. Advancement to the knockout stage, though, is no guarantee in Group D with stiff competition surely coming from Mexican squad Toluca, Olimpia from Honduras and El Salvador’s FAS.
With Mexican squads dominating the competition since the inception, Toluca should be considered the favorite in Group D. The Diablo Rojos reached the semifinals a year ago, losing to eventual champion Pachuca 2-1 on aggregate.
The 2010 Bicentenario champion again will rely on the striking ability of Hector Mancilla – who has scored 50 goals over the past two years, the work rate of Argentine Martín Romagnoli – who has played 85 games in the past two years, a defense anchored by Edgar Dueñas and a midfield controlled by Antonio «Zinha» Naelson.
Toluca, though, are winless so far in the Mexican Apertura (0-3-1), scoring only four goals in as many games.
As 2010 Honduran Clausura champion, its 23rd league title, Olimpia earned an automatic bid to the Group Stage in its third straight CONCACAF Champions League appearance. A year ago, Olimpia was eliminated by Arabe Unido in the Preliminary Round on away goals.
If Olimpia is to advance to the knockout stage this year, it will depend on six players – goalkeepers: Noel Valladares and Donis Escobar, defender Johnny Palacios and midfielders Ramon Nunez and Danilo Turcios – who were part of the first Honduras team to play in the World Cup since 1982.
Rounding out Group D is CD FAS, which has the most Salvadoran titles in league history and is making its first CONCACAF Champions League appearance after capturing the 2009 Apertura crown. The team made numerous changes this past summer, and the side has yet to find its way, drawing its league opener and losing its last two to sit last in the El Salvadoran Apertura.
Ten players transferred in, including Salvadoran internationals Manuel Salazar, who arrived from Firpo, Oscar Ulloa from Metapan and Colombian Rodolfo Cordoba from Chorrillo FC in Panama, while Alfredo Pacheco (Aguila), Marvin Gonzalez (Aguila) and Ramon Flores (Once Municipal) are among eight that left.