– The Puerto Rico Islanders may be enjoying their best run in franchise history, including an upset of 24-time Costa Rican champion LD Alajuelense. That theoretically was the easy part.
Known to locals as the «Orange Troop», the Islanders enter their first CONCACAF Champions League™ Group Stage match on Tuesday at Juan Ramon Loubriel Stadium in Bayamon, Puerto Rico, when they face Panama’s most successful club team Tauro FC in Group D.
«The enthusiasm among all the people of the organization is enormous, and we are convinced that we are going to fight to the end,» Islanders vice President Jorge Pierluisi said.
Despite a flooded and water-logged pitch from tropical storm Hannah and a late-game deficit against Alajuela, Puerto Rico rallied for a 2:1 home victory and a 3:2 aggregate win in the Preliminary Round.
The upset has been part of a form that has led the Islanders to the top of the United Soccer Leagues First Division, essentially the second level of North American professional soccer, with 15 victories, seven draws and six losses entering the final stretch of the domestic season.
Puerto Rico is hoping to ride that momentum against Tauro, Guatemalan powerhouse CSD Municipal and Santos Laguna of the Mexican Primera Division.
It beat the Rochester Raging Rhinos 2:0 on Friday, and even before the match head coach Colin Clarke said the team had benefited from nearly a full week’s rest from league and cup competition.
«We have enjoyed the rest and physically we need to recover from some minor injuries,» Clarke said. «The boys are eager and ready to get back on the pitch and back into action.
» The Islanders will rely on Trinidad and Tobago international Kendall Jandeosingh, English born striker Taiwo Atieno and veteren striker Noah Delgado while T&T international Nigel Henry anchors the defense.
Tauro FC is in second place in the young Panamanian Clasura season with an unbeaten record of five wins in eight matches, one point behind Arabe Unido.
Brunett Hay has provided the bulk of the scoring so far this season for Tauro with six goals in its eight games.
Panamanian national team striker Edwin Aguilar, the team’s leading scorer last season with nine goals, has scored three times, and had both goals in Tauro’s 2:0 first-leg Preliminary Round victory over Chivas USA that propelled into the Group Stage.
Group D’s other game this week pits Club Santos Laguna of Mexico against CSD Municipal at Crown Stadium in Torreaon, Coahuila, on Wednesday.
Municipal enters the tournament with 26 Guatemalan titles behind it and the knowledge that it is the only team from Guatemala to have claimed CONCACAF’s top club title (1974).
This year’s edition of Municipal features Panamanian international goalkeeper Jaime Panedo, who is best remembered for anchoring his national team’s remarkable run to the final game of the 2005 Gold Cup.
Five members of Municipal play for Guatemala’s national team, including midfielder Freddy Garcia, and Mario “El Coyote” Acevedo, who scored twice in Sunday’s 4:0 league win over Zacapa.
The victory moved Municipal into second spot in the national Apertura standings as they prepare to face a Santos side who occupy second place in Group 1 in the Mexican Premiera Apetura campaign.
Santos recently celebrated its 25th anniversary as a club and are coming off a 1:1 home draw with Necaxa, taking the lead on Vincente Matais Vuoso’s goal before allowing an equalizer in the 56th minute.
Argentina-born Vuoso recently was called up to Sven Goran Eriksson national squad, joining goalkeeper Oswaldo Sanchez, American born fullback Edgar Castillo, striker and midfielder Fernando Arce on El Tri.
Santos enters Wednesday’s match with recent experience against Guatemalan club competition, having won 2:1 in a friendly on 4 September despite a number of international absentees.