[CONCACAF CHAMPIONS LEAGUE]Even in defeat, Puerto Rico put its mark on the Concacaf Champions League competition.
The USL-1 Islanders succumbed to Cruz Azul Tuesday night on penalty kicks, 4-2, after taking Los Cementeros to extra time in the second leg.
Despite going down to 10 men when Christian Riveros slid wildly into Puerto Rico goalie Bill Gaudette in the 35th minute and was sent off by referee Paul Ward, Cruz Azul had forced extra time by winning 2-0 in regulation with goals by Pablo Zeballos in the 44th minute and Javier Orozco's equalizer in the 85th to tie the aggregate, 2-2.
Early in the first extra session, Sandy Gbandi -- who has scored Puerto Rico's first goal in the first leg -- belted home a long-range blast to restore a one-goal aggregate edge (3-2) to the Islanders, who soon conceded an equalizer when Cesar Villaluz controlled a bouncing cross and nodded the ball over Gaudette from a tight angle.
Under rules adopted by Concacaf for the competition, away goals scored in extra time do not apply as tiebreakers, unlike those scored in regulation, of which each team plays the same amount of time -- 90 minutes-- at home and away.
Gaudette, who finished 120 minutes of play with 16 saves, held off Cruz Azul in the second overtime despite taking a heavy hit when Edgar Andrade slid hard into him as the keeper charged out to smother the ball. Though he finished the match limping, Gaudette nearly saved several of Cruz Azul's penalties. He got his hands to the first shot by Zeballos but could only deflect it into the side netting.
Captain Noah Delgadohit the post with Puerto Rico's second kick to give the advantage to Cruz Azul. Edgar Lugo shot too high with the Mexican team leading, 3-2, but John Krause squandered a chance to tie it up when he skied his shot badly. Orozco drilled his shot over Gaudette's shoulder into the roof of the net to end the courageous Puerto Rico run that included a 3-1 win over Santos Laguna of Mexico in the group stage and a 3-1 aggregate triumph over CD Marathon of Honduras in the quarterfinals.
Cruz Azul advances to a two-leg Concacaf final that will be an all-Mexican showdown. Santos Laguna leads Atlante, 2-1, heading into the second leg of their semifinal series Wednesday in Cancun. The finals are scheduled to be played April 22 in Mexico City and April 29 in either Cancun or Torreon.
If Santos Laguna advances, the Concacaf Champions League finals will be a rematch of the Mexican League's Clausura 2008 finals last spring, in which Santos beat Cruz Azul, 3-2, on aggregate.
April 7 in Mexico City
Cruz Azul 3 Puerto Rico Islanders 1.Goals: Zeballos 44, Orozco 85, Villaluz 91; Gbandi 98.
Cruz Azul -- Blanco, Pinto, Dominguez, Beltran, Chavez (Andrade, 51), Torrado, Riveros, Lozano (Villaluz, 61), Lugo, Zeballos, Landin (Orozco, 66).
Puerto Rico --Gaudette, Jones, Henry, Arrieta, Marcelin (Mediate, 66), Delgado, Hansen (Jagdeosingh, 57), Veris, Gbandi, Krause, Addlery (Villegas, 74).