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Puerto Rico Islanders Set for ReMatch with LA Galaxy in CONCACAF Champions League

The Puerto Rico Islanders, who won the first leg of their CONCACAF Champions League contest in LA against the Galaxy last week by a 4-1 margin, will host the Galaxy in the return leg of the preliminary round of CONCACAF Champions League qualifiers on Wednesday night in Bayamon, Puerto Rico.  On Tuesday, Toronto FC take a 1-0 aggregate lead to Honduras in their rematch with CD Montagua, Cruz Azul host the San Francisco club of Panama and the Seattle Sounders travel to El Salvador for their second leg contest with Metapan.  Cruz Azul have a 3-2 aggregate lead over San Francisco, while Seattle has a 1-0 lead over Metapan. 

 Other Wednesday CONCACAF Champions League action includes Mexican club Santos Laguna hosting San Juan Jabloteh from Trinidad and Tobago, while Marathon of Honduras host Tauro of Panama.   Santos Laguna hold a 1-0 aggregate lead over Jaboteh, while Marathan boast a 3-0 aggregate lead over Tauro.  On Thursday, the Joe Public team from Trinidad and Tobago play host to Costa Rican squad Brujas, while Xelaju and Salvadoran club CD FAS do battle in Guatemala.  Joe Public and Brujas are square on aggregate after a 2-2 draw, as are Xelaju and CD FAS by virtue of their 1-1 result.

The Islanders are not only playing for the pride of Puerto Rico Wednesday, but also are the sole representative of USSF D2 soccer in the tournament.  It would really strike a blow for USSF D2 honor to see the Islanders eliminate the Galaxy from Champions League competition.  The Galaxy face a steep challenge, being down 4-1, but if any North American team has the talent to reverse that score and move on, it is probably Bruce Arena’s team, with so many talented veterans led by Landon Donovan, Edson Buddle, Eddie Lewis, Chris Birchall along with the last two MLS Rookies of the Year, Sean Franklin and Omar Gonzalez and star international goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts from Jamaica.  The Puerto Rico Islanders, however, are a team that has proven that they are capable of performing well and getting results in cup play, and with attacking options like Nicolas Addlery, David Foley and Josh Hansen, and the solid goaltending of Bill Gaudette, I have a hunch that Colin Clarke’s Islanders will move on to the group stages of the tournament.  The Galaxy suffered their first home loss of the season this weekend, falling to the Chicago Fire 3-2, and have been leaking goals after an unbelievable defensive streak in which they had only allowed four goals in their first fourteen MLS games of 2010.

Likewise, Toronto FC is the sole representative of Canada in this year’s CONCACAF Champions League, and the eyes of Canadian soccer fans will be focused on the club’s showdown with CD Motagua.  Toronto FC took the first leg on a Chad Barrett goal, and Coach Preki will be expecting bigtime peformances from Canadian veterans Dwayne DeRosario and Julian de Guzman, and a big game in goal from young Swiss keeper Stefan Frei.  Toronto FC left Kansas City Monday morning after their 1-0 loss to the Wizards, flying to San Pedro Sula before embarking on a five-hour bus trip to Tegucigalpa.  Toronto FC added academy defender Donell Henry to their roster.  CD Motagua will be without Honduran international Georgie Welcome, who is currently on trial with Glasgow Rangers, but still have four players on the club that competed for Honduras in this year’s World Cup.

One would assume that Cruz Azul and Santos Laguna will prevail in their second leg matches.  Both clubs have been outstanding in the first two weeks of Mexican Primera Division play, going undefeated with Cruz Azul outscoring opponents 5-0 and Santos Laguna pulverizing their first two opponents by scoring a whopping total of eight goals, while only allowing one.  Both Mexican clubs play their second leg Champions League matches at home, each holding a one goal lead on aggregate, courtesy of Emmanuel Villa for Cruz Azul and Pony Ruiz for Santos Laguna.  Those leads are thin, however, and their respective opponents, San Francisco and San Juan Jaboleteh, have the potential to upset the Mexican clubs, but will have to come up with outstanding performances to do so.

The Seattle Sounders were fortunate to gain a victory in Seattle over Metapan, as Freddy Montero’s second half strike was mishandled by the Metapan keeper for the only goal of the game.  The Sounders, so successful in their initial season of 2009, have slid backwards a bit this season, and recently traded unhappy Designated Player Freddie Ljunberg to the Chicago Fire.  Edwin Portillo’s Metapan club have a very good chance of eliminating the Sounders in El Salvador.  With Marathon playing at home against Tauro and holding a three goal lead, expectations would be for the Hondurans to triumph. 

It’s difficult to handicap the match between Joe Public and Costa Rican team Brujas.  Brujas is a very new team, founded in 2004, and this is their first CCL appearance, whereas the Joe Public squad humiliated the New England Revolution two years ago before foundering in group play.  (By the way, the Joe Public team is named in honor of a Trinidad and Tobogo U-20 player who was paralyzed in a contest against the United States, and died later of illnesses).  CD FAS and Xelaju are both making their first CONCACAF Champions League appearances, although CD FAS holds more Salvadoran titles than any other team.

The matches featuring Toronto FC, Seattle and the LA Galaxy will be televised on Fox Soccer Channel, while the Cruz Azul and Santos Laguna matches, along with those of Seattle and the Galaxy, will be televised on Galavision, on Tuesday and Wednesday nights.  Although the CONCACAF Champions League doesn’t have the glamor of the UEFA Champions League or the Copa Libertadores tournament, this is an important tournament for growing the quality of the sport in North America, the Caribbean and Central America, and many of the players will be involved in World Cup qualifying for their national teams leading up to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

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