Tuesday, September 15, 2009
BAYAMON, PR – In a CONCACAF Champions League thriller, the rematch of this spring’s tournament semifinals determined via penalties did not disappoint as the USL First Division Puerto Rico Islanders played Mexican Primera side Cruz Azul to a 3-3 draw.
The match was packed with exciting action with shots off the woodwork in first and last minutes of the contest with six goals in between.
Puerto Rico’s Cristian Arrieta, Fabrice Noel and Nicholas Addlery gave Puerto Rico a 3-1 lead at halftime with Pablo Zeballos scoring in each half for Cruz Azul along with Alejandro’s equalizer.
The resulted ended a four-game winning streak for Cruz Azul in Champions League and league action and snapped a three-game Champions League shutout streak. It also left Mexican sides still winless in Puerto Rico, where the Islanders defeated Santos Laguna in group play 3-1 last year and blanked Cruz Azul in the first leg of their semifinal series 2-0 in March.
The Islanders started the match in a frenzy with numerous early chances. Just one minute into the match, Puerto Rico nearly scored a stunning opener when Jonathan Steele sent a shot off the left post. In the fourth minute, a corner sent to the far side of the area was headed back in the middle, creating a scramble that the Islanders were unable to put away. A long ball from John Krause out of the back was headed poorly by a defender in the fifth minute, creating an opportunity for Addlery, but the keeper charged out to the edge of the area and narrowly beat the striker to the ball. Arrieta launched a long shot in the ninth minute that was a few yards over the bar.
Cruz Azul’s first good opportunity came on a free kick in the 15th minute from the left flank that created a chance in the box, but the visitors were unable to connect for a shot on goal. A header on goal in the 22nd minute was then easily gathered by Bill Gaudette.
The opener came in the 24th minute as the follow-up on a free kick. Defender Cristian Arrieta was still in the box from the set piece when the ball came out to Scott Jones, who played it back into the box, where it deflected off a Cruz Azul player and Krause at the edge of the box and popped back down in the center of the area to a wide open Arrieta, who slotted it home. The free kick was set up by Noel moments earlier when he took the ball down the left flank and at the edge of the box beat a defender, who reached out and fouled him as he drove to the end line.
A near breakaway for Cruz Azul in the 29th minute was closed down by an Islander defender, who knocked the ball away.
Cruz Azul, however, leveled on a fantastic strike in the 34th minute. A sequence that saw the visitors drive down the flank before dropping the ball back to the top of the area ended with it coming forward to Zeballos inside the box. Zeballos turned away from goal to create some space before spinning and firing a lazer into the far upper corner.
A throw-in in the 39th minute put Puerto Rico back in front courtesy of Noel. Arrieta threw it in along the right touch line to Addlery, who flicked it on the volley with a back-heel toward the box, where Noel touched it past a defender then beat keeper Yosgart Gutierrez to the ball to slip it inside the far post.
A minute later, Cruz Azul nearly tied it right back up with a strike from distance that forced a good save from Gaudette.
In the 43rd minute a long ball into the box created another chance for Noel, but the keeper was able to snare the ball out of the air before the striker could nod it in.
Arrieta nearly got a second in the 44th when a Steele free kick from 40 yards found him with a little space in the area, but his header flew just over the goal.
A third strike came moments later from Addlery though. Arrieta sent a ball into the box from the right flank. Noel got a touch on the ball, deflecting it to Addlery, who used the small space he had to put it past the keeper for a stunning 3-1 scoreline heading into the break.
In addition to Steele’s opening shot off the post, further missed opportunities proved costly in the second half.
A turnover just after a corner gave the Islanders a three-man breakaway four minutes into the second half, but they were unable to finish the play as they entered the box. Ten minutes into the half Steele blasted a bouncing ball from 30 yards that rattled the woodwork as it clanged off the crossbar.
Cruz Azul was beginning to gain control of the match and served a warning shot in the 66th minute when Zeballos sent a shot from 22 yards out just past the outstretched hands of Gaudette that rolled just wide of the far post.
Two minutes later, a quick connection of passes saw the ball go up the left flank and crossed to the top of the box from Jamie Lozano to Zeballos, who collected the ball out of the air, turned and fired inside the left post in the 68th minute.
In the 86th minute a quick play up the right flank via Alejandro Castro netted the equalizer when the ball was slipped into the right hand side of the box to Javier Orozco, who centered to Vela for the easy tap-in from four yards.
Arrieta nearly had his second goal of the night in the second minute of stoppage time, but his 27 yard free kicked was the third Islanders shot to hit the pipes, kissing off the crossbar.
For full CONCACAF Champions League Coverage including video highlights – Official Site [+]