3/16/2009 – By Dylan Butler
His team is the feel-good story of the CONCACAF Champions League, the minnow from a second-tier North American league in a pool with three sharks from the Mexican Primera Division.
And while Puerto Rico Islanders goalkeeper Bill Gaudette appreciates his team’s magical run to the semifinals, now is not the time to rest.
“We’ve got this far and we don’t want to be happy with that,” he said. “We’ve got a great opportunity to advance, but we have a big club in our way in Cruz Azul. We know it’s going to be a tremendously hard game, both here and in Mexico City, but we’re here to get a result.”
While Cruz Azul is one of the most decorated clubs in Mexico, Puerto Rico has confidence ahead of Tuesday’s first leg in Bayamon.
“We’re one of four teams that have a chance,” Puerto Rico coach Colin Clarke said. “We respect Cruz Azul. They’re a great team and I’ve watched them a number of times. It’s going to be a very difficult game, but we believe we can beat anyone in our own stadium. That first game is going to be very important for us.”
A positive result at home is important in any international club competition, but when the second leg is played at altitude in Mexico City, those points are absolutely vital.
“They’re the best team we’ve played so far, but we feel having got through CD Marathon, our fitness is getting there, and we’re getting sharper every day,” said Clarke, whose team won’t open its United Soccer Leagues season until April 18. “We hope to give a good account of ourselves. And then from there, if we get the positive result, who know what happens in three weeks time after that?”
Puerto Rico will face a Cruz Azul team that lost 3-1 at home to America on Saturday in Estadio Azul. America, which extended its unbeaten streak against Cruz Azul to 14 games dating back to 2003, scored three first-half goals to sink La Maquina at halftime.
Cruz Azul, which dropped to 12th in the overall Clausura table, played better in the second half and took the game to America, but could only muster a 79th-minute penalty kick by Pablo Zeballos.
“Unfortunately we haven’t been strong on the attack and we have given up lots of goals,” Cruz Azul manager Benjamin Galindo said. “We need to keep moving forward. We can’t disappoint ourselves. It’s a painful game, but we can’t hang our heads because we have a game coming up on Tuesday.”