The Puerto Rico Islanders, who play in the second tier of the United States professional leagues, have kept alive the dream of becoming club champions of CONCACAF, after booking their passage to the last four of the region's Champions League competition. They are joined by Mexican standard bearers Cruz Azul, Atlante and Santos Laguna after this week's quarter-final second legs separated the wheat from the chaff in the New World.
After beating six-time Honduran champions and Central American powers Marathon in the first leg, Islanders of Puerto Rico, an unincorporated territory of the US in the Caribbean known more for a devotion to baseball and basketball than football, came out in roaring form in the return leg in San Pedro Sula, beating the local favourites 1-0 on 4 March to add to the 2-1 victory they picked up a week ago. Again Jamaican poacher Nicholas Addlery was the hero, adding another to his goal to the one he scored in the first leg in Bayamon, as the Islanders made it through to the semi-finals for the first time in their history with an impressive 3-1 aggregate win.
The Puerto Ricans, who are coached by Northern Ireland international Colin Clarke and include standout goalkeeper Bill Gaudette in their ranks, will now meet Cruz Azul over two legs in the last four, the first coming later this month. The Mexican side became the second to reach the semi-finals when, on Wednesday, they earned a 1-0 win over Mexico City rivals Pumas UNAM, with Cristian Riveros scoring his second goal of the 2008 edition with only four minutes remaining to seal a 2-0 aggregate win for the Cementeros.
Fellow Mexicans Atlante became the first side to reach the last four when they beat Major League Soccer outfit Houston Dynamo 3-0 in Cancun to end the American top flight's presence in the competition. Teenage sensation Fernando Navarro and Rafael Marquez Lugo both scored in the first half, and Giancarlo Maldonado added another in the fading moments to see the side through with a comfortable 4-1 aggregate scoreline. The win ended a streak of seven matches without a win for the Mexican side, and marks the first game in which they scored more than one goal since January. The Dynamo, despite being powerhouses in MLS and boasting the likes of US international striker Brian Ching in their squad, are still in their close season and were never likely to get the better of their opposition, who are currently in the full swing of their 2009 domestic campaign.
Impact made, Montreal eliminated
Atlanta will now face compatriots Santos Laguna in their semi-final. The men from Torreon made the most of their home advantage, to see off underdogs Montreal Impact with last gasp 5-4 aggregate win.
After losing the first leg 2-0 in front of more than 50,000 screaming fans in Montreal last week, Santos needed a big win to undo the damage and pip the plucky Canadians - who play in the USA's second tier alongside the Islanders - into the last four. After falling behind 2-1 in the first half (4-1 on aggregate), the hosts were looking unlikely winners, but a late surge saved the day as they scored four goals in the second half and two in stoppage time. Carlos Quintero was the hero of the day, scoring both late goals to seal the paper-thin aggregate win.
The winners of the 2009 CONCACAF Champions League will send one participant from the region to the 2009 FIFA Club World Cup, which will be played in the United Arab Emirates later this year.