2/23/2009 – By Peter Mallett/ CONCACAF.com
Puerto Rico Islanders may have off-season rust; Honduran champion Marathon has more serious concerns heading into the first leg of Thursday’s CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal in San Juan.
The Monstruo Verde (Green Monster) from San Pedro Sula won the Apertura title in December to earn a berth in next year’s Champions League, but have been beset by injuries so far in the Honduras Clausura while still holding on to first place after Sunday’s 1-0 win at Motagua.
“Marathon is without their backbone and while we are expecting some of our players to recover [soon] – we still have many key components of this team injured and on the mend,” coach Manuel Keosseian said.
Defender Erick Norales (thigh), goalkeeper Victor Coello (right leg) and midfielder Maynor Suazo (knee) are still on the mend while others like midfielder Carlos Oliva (herniated disc) and defender Mario Beata (calf tear) aren’t expected to play either.
There is some good news for Keosseian. Highly touted attacking midfielder Marvin Chavez returned from a bruised leg for Sunday’s victory in Tegucigalpa.
Chavez scored the winner in a 2-0 victory over Saprissa on November 5 to earn Marathon the Group A title.
Midfielder Emil Martinez also returned to the lineup on Sunday while forward Milton ‘Tyson’ Nunez (thigh) is reported to be anxious to join strike partner Jerry Palacios, who scored the lone goal in Sunday’s game.
Coach Colin Clarke’s “Orange Troop” haven’t played a competitive match since their last Group Stage fixture on October 30 against Tauro FC, but the former Northern Ireland international remains upbeat after three friendlies against Major League Soccer opposition in Bradenton, Florida.
The Islanders fell 1-0 to the Chicago Fire on February 7; two nights later drew with the New York Red Bulls 0-0 and concluded with a 2-0 win over the reigning MLS champion Columbus Crew on February 12.
The Islanders finished second to Mexico’s Santos Laguna in a much weaker Group D, so Clarke is aware of the challenge.
“Marathon are a great team, are good going forward and qualified in a much more difficult group,” Clarke said. “Getting a result in the first game will be crucial for us because after the first leg, we will be headed to their stadium and a hostile environment for the return match.”
The Islanders are led by Bill Gaudette, the top goalkeeper in the United Soccer Leagues’ First Division – the second tier of North American soccer; USL defender of the year Christian Arrieta and Puerto Rico’s team player of the year, midfielder Jonathan Steele who led the league with 11 assists last season.
The off-season departure of striker Taiwo Atieno to the Charleston Battery and Fabrice Noel, who is still negotiating a trade, will weaken the Islanders.
Clarke recently bolstered his roster though with the addition of Jamaican international forwards Nicholas Addlery from the Vancouver Whitecaps and Sean Fraser from Miami FC, while the team has also added target man Martin Nunez from the Carolina Railhawks.