9/22/2008 – The Puerto Rico Islanders won’t have too long to celebrate their regular season title in United Soccer League’s First Division. Club Santos Laguna comes into town Tuesday to give the young club its biggest test yet in the second round of matches in Group D of the CONCACAF Champions League™.
«They are a very tough opponent, but it’s great for football here in Puerto Rico to have such an internationally renowned opponent to play host to,» Islanders coach Colin Clarke said. «We know it will be difficult challenge, but we will be ready.»
A 0:0 draw with fellow Champions League™ qualifier Montreal in Canada on Sunday was enough to finish the Islanders just ahead of the Vancouver Whitecaps for the crown and the top playoff seed in the USL, the second division of North American soccer. Next up is Santos, which needed late a goal to win its Group D Champions League™ opener against CSD Municipal 3:2 last week, and again on Sunday to draw 1:1 with Cruz Azul in the Mexican league.
Santos has been living on the edge and is looking to regain confidence.
«We know we cannot give up points in confederation tournaments or we will come up on the short end of the stick,» Santos Laguna midfielder Walter Jaminez said. «These are difficult games so we will need to be confident in order to come up with points both at home and on the road.»
In its opening game, Santos squandered a two-goal lead against visiting CSD Municipal of Guatemala on Wednesday, then won with a 90th-minute header from Matias Vuoso, a recent call up to Mexico’s national squad.
On Sunday, Santos needed an 89th-minute equalizer from Vuoso against Cruz Azul to stay within three points of Group 1 leader Atlante, which won 2:1 at America.
Suspensions may be a factor for Santos. Edgar Castillo, Johnnie Garcia, Francisco Torres and Gregorio Torres were awarded yellow cards by Panamanian referee Roberto Moreno in their opening game and a second booking will see them miss their next Champions League match.
Group D’s other game this week features Tauro FC of Panama at home against CSD Municipal on Thursday.
Tauro FC’s Uruguayan coach Miguel Mansilla acknowledged the club will need to improve its backline from last week’s 2:1 opening loss to Puerto Rico for Thursday’s match at Giancarlo Gronchi Stadium in Panama City. Mansilla admitted that numerous defensive mistakes led to Puerto Rico’s goals.
«It was the first time I have seen us commit so many errors, and with poor marking we gave up two goals. But I was impressed how our team improved in the second half and thought we were unlucky not to find an equalizer,» Mansilla said.
Tauro again will rely on striker Edwin Aguillar, whose acrobatic 58th-minute header gave hope against the Islanders.
Tauro is coming off a 4-1 loss to Chepo FC in the Panamanian league, but at least remain second in the domestic table.
Municipal drew 1:1 against Suchitepequez on Sunday with a goal from defender Edwin Pablo Villatoro, and remained in a three-way tie for second place.