USL-1 has placed a team in the semifinals of the CONCACAF Champions League, just a day after the last MLS representative the Houston Dynamo were embarrassed in Cancun at the hands of Atlante. Yesterday we discussed tactics on this site: specifically how Colin Clarke, the second leading goal scorer in Northern Ireland National Team history manages his Islanders on the road.
That the Islanders did this without arguably their two most skilled players: Peter Villegas and Jonathan Steele also refutes the argument that somehow MLS clubs have gotten unlucky in the tournament because of injuries.
Once again on Wednesday night, the Islanders managed a late counter attacking goal, this time a critical away goal to ensure passage to the semifinals. Clarke’s men played a perfect tactical game. They packed the back, forcing Marathon to take a number of long range shots from outside the area or just inside the 18”. Bill Gaudette as usual was stellar in goal making a number of key saves but also milking critical time off the clock by over dramatizing the difficulty of certain saves and lying on the ground.
As we mentioned yesterday at times the Islanders have been unsporting in this tournament. But when you are an underdog playing in a hostile atmosphere, sometime being unsporting is smart football. Gaudette exploited the clock beginning early in the first half and effectively shortened the game.
The Islanders also used the counter effectively to force Marathon to keep one or two defenders back until very late in the match. With quick attacking players like Nicholas Addlery and Kendall Jagdeosingh giving the slower less athletic Honduran defenders fits, the Islanders were able to keep their shape at the back and not crack.
Marathon’s fans and coaches in typical Central American style exhibited a bitterness and anger that fueled what appeared to be a mini riot towards the end of the match. Let’s hope Clarke’s men got out of San Pedro Sula without any incidents.
I hope the victory by the Islanders leads Puerto Ricans to embrace Football even if just for a short while the way they embrace Baseball. Additionally, this should be a shout out to those in USL markets to buy tickets to support your local team. (South Florida this means you!). MLS may be the FIFA sanctioned first division in the US/Canada, but thanks to the salary cap and squad restrictions, USL is far superior to your average second division, when compared its nation’s first division.
We’ve already spent a great deal of time discussing why USL has been more successful than MLS in this tournament. While Don Garber is sure to be lamenting this result while Francisco Marcos celebrates it, lets remember that MLS and USL are both our leagues in the US & Canada and the Islanders victory is an win for the North American game.