Honduran Side Presents Stern Group Stage Test for Islanders

USL Feature

Monday, August 16, 2010

On Tuesday night Los Mata-gigantes will take to the pitch in CONCACAF Champions League action once more against Olimpia (Honduras) at 8 p.m. ET at the Juan Ramón Loubriel Stadium in Bayamón, Puerto Rico. For those not fluent in Spanish, Los Mata-gigantes is one of the nicknames the Puerto Rico Islanders have earned, which translates into the Giant Killers.

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Image courtesy of www.radioamerica.hnThe Islanders lived up to that nickname in the play-in round, downing the L.A. Galaxy, 5-3, on aggregate. That win included a 4-1 drubbing of the Galaxy in Los Angeles.

The Islanders will now look to build on their Champions League success. Puerto Rico has found its way into the CONCACAF Champions League Group Stage for a third consecutive season and hopes to move past the group stage for the second time in three seasons.

Puerto Rico must first play home and away with the three teams in Group D: Olimpia, Toluca (Mexico), and FAS (El Salvador). First up for the Islanders is Honduran powerhouse Olimpia. The top two teams in the group advance to the knock-out round.

Olimpia is the most successful club in the Honduran league. The Lions have 23 domestic titles to their name and have won the CONCACAF Champion’s Cup (previous incarnation of CONCACAF Champions League) twice. They are oozing with Champions League experience, as the club has made four appearances in the final and has participated in the tournament in six of the past 10 seasons.

The Honduran league is broken into Apertura and Clausura seasons, like many leagues in Latin America, and the champion of each league earns a birth into the CCL. Olimpia earned its ticket to the dance by winning the 2009-10 Clausura. The Clausura campaign which resulted in qualification ended on May 8, and Olimpia currently have earned a win and a draw in the 2010-11 Apertura.

The danger man for Olimpia is 20-year-old standout Roger Rojas, a Honduran youth international who finished third in the race for the Honduran league scoring title in the 2009-10 Clausura. In 2009, Olimpia sold Rojas to Wigan Athletic of the English Premier League and he was immediately loaned back to Olimpia to continue gaining experience.

Olimpia has produced a good amount of top level talent during the past decade with Maynor Figueroa of Wigan Athletic, David Suazo of Inter Milan and Wilson Palacios of Tottenham all developing their games with the club.

The Islanders will have to be wary of Olimpia’s mix of young and veteran talent as they host the Lions on Tuesday night. This current group of Islanders has the Champions League experience to match Olimpia and they will look to take three points to jump out in front in Group D. If Puerto Rico can grab early points in group play they may be looking at another run deep into the knockout round.