4/6/2009– By Dylan Butler/ Concacaf.com
An all-Mexican final seemed likely, especially with three teams from the Primera Division reaching the final four in the CONCACAF Champions League.
Many thought the Puerto Rico Islanders of the United Soccer Leagues’ First Division, the second tier of North American soccer, would be a mere annoyance to Cruz Azul.
The Islanders are the first Caribbean team in 14 years to reach the final four of CONCACAF’s premier club competition and is trying to become the first to win the title since Trinidad’s Defense Force in 1985.
Puerto Rico, which arrived in Mexico City on Sunday morning ahead of Tuesday night’s second leg, has a two-goal cushion after Sandy Gbandi and Nicholas Addlery struck for first half goals in the opening leg played at Juan Ramon Loubriel Stadium in Bayamon on March 17.
The hero of that match was Islanders goalkeeper Bill Gaudette, who made 11 saves to keep Cruz Azul goalless.
“The game in Bayamon was good for us, but its over,” Gaudette said. “We’re coming here knowing this is a totally different match. We have to be ready for an all-out war.”
Puerto Rico isn’t about to think a two-goal advantage automatically books its ticket to the final, especially playing in the altitude and smog of Mexico City.
And if Colin Clarke’s club needs a reminder of how quickly the tide can turn, they need to just watch a replay of the Montreal Impact’s second-leg quarterfinal against Santos, which scored three goals in the final 16 minutes, including two in injury time by Carlos Quintero, to win, 5-4 on aggregate.
“We can’t go in thinking it’s going to be easy,” Gaudette said. “This is one of the most notorious places to try to get a result. They’re going to give us 90 minutes of the best soccer they can give.”
Santos leads Atlante, 2-1, in the other semifinal. The second leg will be played at Estadio Quintana Roo in Cancun on Wednesday.
Playing in the friendly confines of Estadio Azul is about the only thing going right for Cruz Azul right now. The Cementeros are winless in their last five matches in the Mexican Clausura and have lost three straight, including a 3-2 defeat to Pumas UNAM Saturday night at Estadio Azul.
The Cruz Azul defense has been exposed during the campaign, conceding 11 goals in its last four league matches and the club is at the bottom of Group 2 with 11 points in 12 matches.
“Mistakes keep costing us but I’m left with a good impression from the second half,” Cruz Azul manager Benjamin Galindo said after Saturday’s game. “We knew the match would get complicated if we gave Pumas the space we gave them, but the team never quit fighting and looking for scoring opportunities so I’m left with a good impression.”