This week is perhaps the most important in Puerto Rico Islanders’ history. On Wednesday night at 10:00 pm ET they face Olimpia of Honduras in CONCACAF Champions League in the final group play match, while on Sunday they begin the two leg series against the Carolina RailHawks for the USSF D2 playoff championship at 6:05 pm in Bayamon.
Coach Colin Clarke’s Islanders have eight points in Group D of CONCACAF Champions League, and are currently two points behind Olimpia and one point ahead of Toluca. If Toluca and Puerto Rico end up tied in points, Toluca will continue on and Puerto Rico will be eliminated. It would appear likely that Toluca will defeat CD FAS of El Salvador at home, as the Salvadoran squad seem a bit overmatched in CCL play. If Toluca win, Puerto Rico will need a victory over Olimpia in CCL to move on. The top two teams in each group advance into the CONCACAF quarterfinals after this week’s games.
Olimpia are 3-1-1 in group play this year in CCL and had a six game winning streak before dropping this weekend’s match against Victoria in Honduras’ Liga Nacional. The Islanders haven’t won on the road in the 2010 CONCACAF competition since they beat the LA Galaxy at the Home Depot Center in the preliminary round. The question is “Can the Islanders pull off the victory Wednesday?”
I am learning to never count the Islanders out. The Islanders won the Caribbean Football Union title in the spring and eliminated the Galaxy from CONCACAF competition this summer. Although they were the eighth and final seed in the 2010 USSF D2 playoffs as a result of their mediocore 9-11-10 regular season mark, they knocked off regular season points champion Rochester and the MLS-bound Vancouver Whitecaps to advance to the championship finals. La Tropa Naranja scored a famous comeback victory over Toluca on September 29, leveling from a two goal deficit and winning in stoppage on a David Horst goal. Nothing seems impossible for this team.
Coach Clarke also has forward Nicholas Addlery back. Addlery, the Jamaican international who scored both overtime goals in Puerto Rico’s win over Vancouver as a substitute, missed several games over the last month due to injury. He’s scored four goals in limited CONCACAF Champions League duty in 2010, and is a difference maker. The Islanders have plenty of offensive firepower, with Addlery, David Foley, Josh Hansen and Kendall Jagdeosingh. Captained by Noah Delgado, the team can leak goals on occasion but seem to rise to the importance of the match. In their four playoff games thus far, goalkeeper Bill Gaudette and the Islanders’ backline have only allowed one goal.
Personally, I’ll be rooting for the Islanders. I love the way they rise to the occasion and represent Puerto Rico and D2 soccer so well. Both Olimpia and the Carolina RailHawks will be very tough opponents, but ya gotta like the Islanders’ chances.