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Cruz Azul tops Puerto Rico to advance to final

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MEXICO CITY

Holding a 2-0 lead from the first leg, the Puerto Rico Islanders attempted to hold off the Mexican Primera Division's Cruz Azul in Mexico City Tuesday evening only to find themselves in overtime tied 2-2 on aggregate. An early Islanders goal in extra time gave the visitors the lead only to see the hosts level and eventually advance on penalties, 4-2, to the CONCACAF Champions League Final after a 3-3 series draw. Just over a minute into the overtime session Sandy Gbandi, who tallied a goal and assist in the opening leg, stunned the Estadio Azul crowd when he blasted a 30-yard rocket into the upper left corner of the net. But Cruz Azul found the equalizer in the 99th minute of action on the night, when a ball from the right went long to the far post and was taken off the chest by Cezar Villaluz, who managed to get his head on it to loop it over an on-charging Gaudette just outside the goal. Two minutes into the second half of overtime Javier Orozco nearly gave the home side the victory when he turned on the right side of the box and managed to get a shot off that angled across the box outside the reach of goalkeeper Bill Gaudette but slid wide of the far post. Minutes after suffering injury in a collision in the area, Gaudette made a brilliant close range save on a shot by Villaluz that came from 10 yards out that proved to be the final good chance of the match, sending the series to a penalty kick tiebreaker. Cruz Azul's first two shooters buried their chances from the spot, but captain Noah Delgado's clanged off the right post for Puerto Rico in the second round, giving the hosts the advantage the rest of the way. The third round attempts were converted by both kickers and Puerto Rico looked to be back in it when Gerardo Lugo missed high in the fourth. The same fate, however, befell John Krause on the following shot, giving the five-time CONCACAF champions a shot at their sixth title against one of their league rivals Atlante or Santos Laguna, who leads the series 2-1 heading into the second leg Wednesday on the road in Cancun. The Islanders opened the game and spent the majority of regulation time in a defensive posture, expecting the favored Mexican side to pressure before a hostile crowd in the smog and high altitude of Mexico City. The first of many chances that came Cruz Azul's way was in the 32nd minute. A free kick from the left flank found the head of an open Joaquin Beltran that banged off the right post of the goal. The woodwork would quickly be forgotten, however, as the hosts were stunned by a red card shown to midfielder Cristian Riveros moments later. Riveros was sent off for a dangerous tackle on goalkeeper Bill Gaudette as he was attempting to pick the ball up in the right corner of the box after a deflection off the post. As the first half was coming to a close, Cruz Azul found the back of the net for the first time in the series as the Islanders maintained its defensive posture with the man advantage. Pablo Zeballos found enough space just outside the box to turn and rifle a shot toward the upper right corner of the goal in the 44th minute to break the stalemate. A dangerous free kick in the 61st minute from just outside the box by Jaime Lozano nearly found its way under the bar to level the series, but Gaudette made an outstanding save to punch it away at the last second. Turning on a through ball to split two defenders at the top of the box, Orozco created a dangerous opportunity that would finish with a goal line clearance in the 78th. Krause did well to recover and shield Orozco from getting control of the ball, but the crafty attacker poked at the ball as Gaudette approached to pick it up, creating a scramble. The immediate deflection off Gaudette's legs fell sideways away from the momentum of the netminder and defender, allowing Orozco a second chance to poke it toward goal from his fallen position only to see Nigel Henry, the other defender he had beaten, charge the line and barely clear it before crossing as another Cruz Azul player attempted to finish the chance. Gaudette made an excellent point blank save in the 83rd when Villaluz chested down a ball on the left side of the box and got a fraction past Cristian Arrieta to get a shot on goal from near the end line from six yards out. Two minutes later, the equalizer sent the crowd into a frenzy. A cross from the right flank clipped Delgado and deflected to Orozco, who one-timed the shot past Gaudette into the back of the net. Guadette made a few more saves as the final minutes ticked away until the whistle sounded beckoning extra time.

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