Tuesday Night’s CONCACAF Champions League semifinal match was easy on the eye especially if you have the luxury of watching in HD as I did on Telefutura for much of the match. Bill Gaudette had another spectacular match in goal for the Islanders making several point blank saves and organizing his defense exceptionally well on set pieces. Puerto Rico takes a 2-0 aggregate lead to Mexico City against Cruz Azul.
The Islanders got an early goal by Sandi Gbandi after great service by Josh Hansen. Hansen whose play was stellar playing right between the midfield trio of Gbandi, Johnny Steele, and James Marcelin and the forward Nicholas Addlery provided some of the key play for much of the night. Stelle was his usual steady self while Addlery proved elusive for the Cruz Azul defense. Addlery scored a spectacular goal on a free kick in minute thirty four, and continued to physically torment the defenders.
While the Islanders allowed the Mexican side many chances in the second half, the USL-1 team kept their shape well and generally closed down space until very late. Tired legs did play a role towards the end of the match which is not surprising when you consider that Puerto Rico is still a month away from beginning the USL-1 Regular Season.
The Islanders proved wasteful at times themselves and never scored the vital and perhaps decisive third goal. Cristian Arrieta uncharacteristically hit a poor header off a corner kick which should have been easily put on the frame. Then minutes later Noah Delgado appeared to be taken down in the box by the Cruz Azul keeper, but no penalty was called.
Also potentially significant late for the Islanders was the debut of the tall Kyle Veris as a defender. Veris, has CONCACAF experience having played for the Galaxy in the 2006 CONCACAF Champions Cup, and also is a veteran of the Norweigen second division. (Veris played a role in getting his side promoted to the top flight of Norweigen football but was released after promotion.) It is possible Manager Colin Clarke will feature Veris and possibly sit Scott Jones in the second leg.
Another disappointment for Puerto Rico was the inability to spring Kendall Jagdeosingh free on counter attacking goal scoring opportunity. The Islanders seemed too tired and too committed to defending to take chances going forward. The failure of the Islanders to score a third goal could be fatal when the semifinal round concludes April 7th in Mexico.
Did Puerto Rico do enough tonight to buffer themselves for the return leg? Or will the Islanders suffer the same heartbreaking disappointment that fellow USL side Montreal and countless MLS sides have all suffered in Mexico? While the Islanders will still need a herculean effort to advance, they have put themselves in a good position, which is all you could ask of this first leg.