By STEVEN SANDOR, SUN MEDIA
Last Updated: 28th July 2009, 2:43am
Even though they got to the semifinals of the 2008-09 CONCACAF Champions League, the Puerto Rico Islanders don’t think their experience gives them an edge going into the 2009-10 edition of the tournament.
In fact, coach Colin Clarke used the word «underdog» so much, it was as if his chat with the media during his team’s workout at BMO Field was brought to you by the letter U, Sesame Street style.
Toronto FC faces the Islanders in the first leg of their CONCACAF Champions League qualifier tomorrow night.
«We’re the underdogs,» Clarke said. «Their budget is about seven times as big as ours.»
Yes, the Islanders have limited resources. They play in the United Soccer Leagues, which supposedly is the second-tier league of North America.
But Puerto Rico advanced further in the Champions League than any MLS team.
If they are to repeat the success, Clarke believes the road will be a lot more difficult.
«We were underdogs last year, but it was a new tournament, and we were a bit of an unknown to people. People didn’t know what to expect. Now, the secret’s out. There are no surprises.»
The Islanders, finalists in the USL last season and in third place in the league table this season, will try to keep things tight tomorrow and then use home advantage in the second leg.
The Islanders have lost just one league game at home this season, and were tough at Juan Ramon Loubriel Stadium in last year’s Champions League.
Cristian Arrieta, the Islanders’ top scorer with seven goals in 21 USL games this season, was not a starter in this past weekend’s 4-2 loss to Vancouver, suggesting that he might have been held back so he’d be fresh for Toronto. But Clarke, who is second in career-leading goals scored for Northern Ireland — and represented his flag at the 1986 World Cup — wasn’t willing to talk tactics.
But, a goal from Arrieta, or Nick Addlery, the former Whitecap who is second on the Islanders scoring list with four, would be a bonus. Clarke is more concerned with shutting Toronto out.
«I’d take 0-0 right now if I could,» he said. «They’ll be playing in front of big support and right now they are playing as well as they have ever been. They were very unlucky not to win at Columbus over the weekend.»