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Puerto Rico Islanders, Santos Laguna and Marathon Enter CONCACAF Champions League Group Stage

The Puerto Rico Islanders and Marathon of Hondorus both lost their battles Wednesday night, but won the war, as each team lost 2-1 but were able to gain entrance into the CONCACAF Champions League group stages.  Santos Laguna demolished San Juan Jabloteh from Trinidad and Tobago, 5-0 to also move into the group stages.

An enthusiastic crowd greeted the Puerto Rico Islanders at Juan Ramon Loubriel Stadium in Bayamon, Puerto Rico for their contest with the LA Galaxy.  After lost the first leg 4-1, the Galaxy were up against it, having to score at least three goals in regulation time and shut out the Islanders to have a chance of advancing.  Bruce Arena put out a strong lineup, including regular goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts, who was rested in the first leg contest.  The Islanders, however, drew first blood in the 32nd minute.  The Islanders were awarded a penalty kick after Edson Buddle was draped all over Islanders’ Marco Velez as they battled for possession of a high free kick in the Galaxy box.  David Foley converted the penalty kick as Ricketts guessed wrong and dove to his left instead of his right, where the shot was placed.  The stadium erupted, as the fans realized that the Galaxy had only an hour to score four goals, and chances were excellent for the Islanders to advance.

The Galaxy equalized five minutes later, as the clearnace of a Landon Donovan shot hit Velez in the leg and ricocheted into the Islanders’ goal.  The Galaxy were able to add another goal by Sean Franklin in the 84th minute, but it was too little too late as Islanders’ goalkeeper Bill Gaudette denied Donovan on several occasions.  Congratulations to the Islanders players and Coach Colin Clarke and his staff, as their advance not only puts Puerto Rico in the spotlight, but gives USSF D2 a presence in the tournament.  Although I’m a big fan of what Bruce Arena has done to return the Galaxy to an elite MLS team, the Islanders fairly took this matchup, winning 5-3 on aggregate. The Islanders will play in Group D with Toluca, Olimpia and the winner of the CD FAS-Xelaju match.

Marathon suffered only its second home loss in ten consecutive CCL contests, but were still able to oust Tauro FC from group stage competition.  The Honduran squad, having a 3-0 aggregate lead, were able to open the scoring in the 24th minute on a Claudio Labarinas header from a Randy Diamond cross.   Panamanian squad Tauro FC fought back, and knotted the score five minutes later on a Luis Renteria header.  Renteria added a second goal near the end of the first half, but Coach Juan Carlos Cubilla’s team could not find any more and the seven time Panamanian champions were denied a spot in the group stage.  Marathon will play in a a tough Group C, along with the Seattle Sounders, Monterrey and Saprissa.  Marathon hosts the Sounders in their first group game on August 17.

Santos Laguna left little doubt about their quality, as they easily handled San Juan Jabloteh, defeating the club from Trinidad and Tobago 5-0 Wednesday after downing Jabloteh 1-0 last week.  Los Guerreros outshot Jabloteh 21-7 Wednesday night, and Santos Laguna goalkeeper Miguel Becerra was only forced to make two saves to earn his clean sheet.  Santos Laguna took an early lead, as Rodolfo Reyes scored the first of his two goals in the third minute of the match, beating Jabloteh goalkeeper Cleon John.  Jabloteh stayed in the game, holding Santos Laguna to a one goal lead, with John denying a penalty kick attempt by Oribe Peralta just past the half hour mark.  Jabloteh went into the locker room at half down only 1-0, and only two goals down on aggregate.

Santos Laguna’s quality came quickly to the fore, though.  as Rodolfo Salinas scored in the first minute following intermission, and the Laguna tidal wave eventually swamped Jabloteh, as Columbian sub Carlos Darwin Quintero, Reyes and sub Arnulfo Gonzalez added to Jabloteh’s misery.  For me, it appeared that Santos Laguna could almost score at will towards the end of the contest.  The team is off to a flying start, with a 2-0 record in the Mexican Primera League along with its two clean sheet wins over Jabloteh.  Santos Laguna will compete in Group B of the CCL, along with the Columbus Crew, Municipal and the winner of Thursday night’s Joe Public-Brujas contest.  I would think, based on their season so far, that Los Guerreros will be quite difficult to eliminate in the next round. 

Besides the afore-mentioned Joe Public-Brujas match, Thursday night’s final preliminary CCL games will include CD FAS against Xelaju.  All four teams drew in the first leg, so the action will be heated to gain entrance to the group stage.

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