The Los Angeles Galaxy rolled out midfielder Landon Donovan — the face of the U.S. soccer team at this summer’s World Cup.
They lined up striker Edson Buddle, another U.S. World Cup team member who leads the MLS in goals.
Meanwhile, across the field, a lesser known team with lesser known players — the Puerto Rico Islanders — stared down the stars.
And in the middle of the Puerto Rico players stood Highland’s Rich Martinez.
Martinez, a defender, never backed down on that steamy July 27 night in Los Angeles. Neither did the Islanders, pulling off a 4-1 win over the favored Galaxy in a CONCACAF Champions League preliminary round game.
«It was probably the most fulfilling experience I’ve had as a soccer player,» Martinez said. «Landon Donovan is the player everyone in the U.S. knows and looks up to.»
Martinez’s big win in the CONCACAF Champions League earned him even more international seasoning over the next two months. The Islanders, who play in the United Soccer Leagues-1, a level below the MLS, will play three group stage home-and-home series against Olimpia of Honduras, Mexico’s Toluca and CD FAS of Honduras during their league schedule.
Puerto Rico will host Olimpia on Tuesday to start things off.
After the Islanders beat the Galaxy, they lost to L.A. 2-1 a week later in San Juan. However, the Islanders advanced to the Champions League group stage on aggregate goals scored (5-3).
In the first meeting with the Galaxy, Martinez, on the right side, battled much of the game against Donovan. Martinez exchanged jerseys with Buddle after the second game.
«I think, all in all, I held my own against Donovan,» said Martinez, a 22-year-old rookie who starred at Hofstra and has played for the Puerto Rican national team. «What really stood out to me is that he’s a great leader on the field. He’s very dangerous with the ball, his first step is very, very quick. Going against a marquee name like that, fresh off the World Cup, it doesn’t get any better than that.»
Added Puerto Rico coach Colin Clarke, who coached Dallas in the MLS from 2003-06: «Going up against Landon Donovan, it doesn’t get any bigger than that. You can give Landon any space and we did a great job containing him. Rich was a big part of that. Rich is a young kid, he’s developing, but he’s doing real well.»