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CONCACAF Champions League

CONCACAF Champions League Semifinals: Keys for the Islanders


Well the big day has finally arrived. After three weeks of waiting, the Puerto Rico Islanders of USL-1 face off against Mexican giants Cruz Azul in Mexico City in the second leg of the CONCACAF Champions League Semifinals. The Islanders hold a 2-0 aggregate lead with the winner of the tie advancing to the Confederation finals with an opportunity to play in the FIFA World Club Championship.

The Islanders had two real good chances in addition to a penalty shout to extend the first leg margin to three goals, but failed to extend beyond the same two goal lead going to Mexico which was not enough for Houston in 2007 or Montreal in the previous round of this competition. Thus it is imperative the Islanders do not give up an early goal tonight.

Cruz Azul has been struggling in the Mexican Clausura, most recently blowing a two goal lead against rival Pumas on Saturday in a 3-2 loss. But the Mexico City based club still has several recognizable names: Carlos Bonet, Gerrardo Torrado, Jaime Lozano, and longtime Chivas attacker Alejandro Vela.

Manager Colin Clarke has typically gotten his tactics right in this competition. This match, like previous away fixtures provides a stern test for the Islanders, and their coaches. With three weeks to prepare and some time to get used to the altitude in Mexico City we can only hope the Islanders have used that time wisely.

From the Puerto Rico perspective several keys to this match are outlined below.

Score an early away goal

The altitude is bound to get to the Islanders at some point. It’s probably smart if you are Colin Clarke to start Kendall Jagdeosingh who is a lethal counter attacking threat since Cruz Azul is likely to be pushing up early to try and get a quick goal. The other option is for Clarke to start Josh Hansen right behind Nicholas Addlery in a 4-4-1-1 look where Hansen can hold up play and hit Addlery quickly on the break to stimulate counter attacking opportunities.

Bill Gaudette

With question marks surrounding the keepers behind Brad Guzan in the US player pool, Gaudette may very well be auditioning for Bob Bradley tonight. The last USL-1 player to be called into the national team was then Richmond Kicker Clyde Simms in early 2005.

Gaudette’s play beginning with his penalty kick save in dying moments of the opening qualifying round match in Costa Rica against LD Alajuelense has been brilliant throughout the tournament.

It’s not just the great saves Gaudette has made in this tournament that have been impressive. It’s the vocal leadership he’s displayed on set pieces and the organization of the back that has also stood out.

But Gaudette in his years of NCAA, MLS and USL football has likely never been in the sort of pressure cooker he will be in tonight. Keeping his cool and organizing his defense is a key.

Jonny Steele and Christian Arrieta: European experience to keep the Islanders cool in a tough atmosphere.

The two best field players for the Islanders grew up steeped in European football culture. The Italian-American, Arrieta was USL-1’s defender of the year last season, and has extensive Serie B and Serie C experience in addition to a trial at Inter.

Tough atmospheres typify the lower leagues in Italy and Arrieta will need to help keep his team mates, particularly those who’ve never played outside MLS or USL cool. They’ve probably never seen an atmosphere like Estadio Azul except on Television.

Jonny Steele, the Northern Irishman must not only keep his side together on the pitch but control the tempo in midfield teaming with Sandy Gbandi and Noah Delgado in creating counter attacking opportunities.

Set Pieces

The Islanders have been brilliant at creating set piece goal in this tournament. The size advantage for example that Nicholas Addlery has over any Cruz Azul defender must be exploited on the rare goal scoring opportunities Puerto Rico will get on the road.

The officials in matches of this importance in Mexico tend to fall victim to the crowd and atmosphere themselves.  For evidence of this just check the Dynamo’s 2007 loss to Pachuca and the Montreal Impact’s loss last month to Santos Laguna in similar second leg ties. This makes defending on set pieces critical for the Islanders.

Cruz Azul’s players are sure to become chippy and unsporting as they did in the first leg if they are frustrated early in the match. If they act out, that can be taken as a good sign that the Islanders have done well to that point in the match.

Gametime is tonight at 10pm ET/9pm CT on Fox Soccer Channel and Telefutura.

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  1. Jeff

    April 8, 2009 at 10:41 am

    Couldn’t have been better. Cruz Azul showed the nerve and fortitude that has given Mexican soccer its mark over time. Although lacking in El Tri’s performances lately, any person knowledgable of Mexican soccer knows that what exemplifies their style is one word: grit.
    To read the comments posted above demonstrates that people believe that the national team’s current run reflects Mexico’s style; and this is not so. Los Manitos, as the Mexican team is known in South America, are hailed for having grit even when talent and style aren’t on their side. Now that we have talent, we have lost our hunger to win each ball like it was the last. Cruz Azul demonstrated the hunger that must pervade every Mexican outfit, regardless of the competition, as did Santos in their win against Montreal.
    And for those who warned against the referee being a factor in yesterday’s game, clearly his performance shows that Cruz Azul were negatively affected on numerous occassions by Ward’s defficient officiating. The red card should have been a yellow; Orozco was on-side and clear for goal when a bogus offside was called; Torrado was given a yellow after his first foul in the opening of the first half, putting the Cruz Azul captain under caution for the remaining 70 minutes. Ward pro Mexican? Not according to the facts last night.
    All Mexican final. Priceless.

  2. Lars

    April 7, 2009 at 10:38 pm

    CA just totally screwed up. Red card, guy sent off in the 33rd minute after he attempted to tackled the GK.

  3. Lars

    April 7, 2009 at 5:52 pm

    Anywhere online I’ll be able to watch this for free?

  4. Jeff

    April 7, 2009 at 1:43 pm

    I’d expect to see Addlery run at Cruz Azul early. Also the set pieces will be key. The Islanders have to use their size and height advantage to great benefit.

    Look for a big early goal for the Islanders to make things interesting. Still it will be tough to hang on down there.

  5. SMKF

    April 7, 2009 at 1:08 pm

    Puerto Rico gets two away goals tonight and wins, 4-4 on aggregate. my pick.

  6. Quakeland

    April 7, 2009 at 11:31 am

    Paul Ward is the official?

    Oh boy, Cruz Azul are probably through already.

    How does he get to constantly ref Mexican matches? Isn’t he Canadian?

  7. J

    April 7, 2009 at 11:01 am

    QL is right and Pauld Ward the assigned referee already showed inexperience.

    He was the referee between Mexico and Honduras and gave a imaginary PK to Mexico so they could save face and loose 3-1 instead of a outstanding 3-0.

    Some Mexican teams are know for dirty plays when loosing and frustration sets in. Ward and his crew let a lot of dangerous plays continue.
    I know the Islanders will go on to the finals (I won’t say today’s score)… My only concern are the injuries.

  8. Quakeland

    April 7, 2009 at 10:41 am

    If their is a sniff of the Islanders winning this match expect the refs to take over.

    You don’t know how it is in Mexico. I went to the Dynamo-Pachuca game two years ago where Houston would have won had it not been for some creative and clever officiating.

    How about Montreal of USL this year? They lose on a goal where the Santos guy was three yards offsides in the fifth minute of stoppage time.

    Puerto Rico will get the same rough treatment. They already got jipped out of a PK in the first leg, a PK which would have made the score 3-0, and easier for Clarke to bunker down.

    I have to confess as a Quakes/Dynamo fan I am loving seeing Colin Clarke reach new heights AFTER the idiots in Dallas fired him. Way to go Hoops!

  9. J

    April 7, 2009 at 10:14 am

    Kendall Jagdeosingh score would be a good thing psychologically if he scores early but he is most effective in the last 15-20 minutes when the defenders are tired. Clarke usually release the “Road Runner” at that time and the poor defenders can’t do anything.

    There are two other speedsters in the roster so those can be played at first to keep the defenders on their toes.

    At least the General (Clarke) said yesterday “we can’t be totally defensive”

    And remember… WE ARE NOT Montreal. 😉

  10. Dunch

    April 7, 2009 at 9:32 am

    big game 2nite to say the least.

    going to be tough for the boys to pull through.

    cruz azul has the experience, and the home field.

    the islanders run regardless of what happens tonight should be applauded by all.

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