The Puerto Rico Islanders began their quest to prove their successful semifinal run in the inaugural CONCACAF Champions League was no fluke with another stellar tournament performance, downing Toronto FC of Major League Soccer 1-0 on their home turf Wednesday evening to take an important advantage as they return home to the island for the second leg next Tuesday.
Toronto’s All-Star Dwayne DeRosario stayed home for the Champions League contest instead of heading to the MLS exhibition in Utah, but it was not enough on the night as the Islanders defense, in its ninth consecutive road match, stifled the home side’s attack for the majority of the game before striking for the lead in the 67th minute of play.
The lone goal of the contest came from a free kick at midfield that Jonathan Steele sent to the far right side of the penalty area. Defender Cristian Arrieta headed the ball in to Kendall Jagdeosingh at the edge of the six-yard box, drawing goalkeeper Stefan Frei out of goal. Jagdeosingh would win the 50-50 ball, turn and fire the sharp-angled shot over the prone keeper and into the empty net for an important away goal and lead heading home.
Jagdeosingh provided the first opportunity on goal for either side in the game. Steele slipped the ball out to the flank to the striker, who fired from a narrow angle early in the match blast into the side of the goal.
In the 25th minute former USL standout DeRosario headed a cross from the left flank a couple yards wide of the frame.
Two minutes into the second stanza, another former USL star Ali Gerba got just beyond the back line of the organized Puerto Rico back line, but an early shot from distance soared well high.
In the 54th, Bill Gaudette made his first big save of the game for Puerto Rico. A secondary opportunity on a corner saw the ball headed side-to-side across the box over the defenders to Gerba at the back post. He forced the ball downward, but Gaudette was able to make a quick reaction save at the post to knock it wide.
On the hour mark, Toronto’s Sam Cronin sliced a shot from just inside the top right side of the area between the defenders and just past the far post.
Seven minutes later, after a lengthy period of Toronto pressure, a mistake in defense cost the hosts as Jagdeosingh was able to give the Islanders the lead.
It was all Gaudette from that point as the Islanders held firm to defend against the pressing Toronto club.
Toronto had a dangerous chance to tie in the 75th on a quick run of play up the middle, but Gerba was a step offside on the play. Less than two minutes later a ball into the box created a chance for DeRosario, but Gaudette beat him to the 50-50 ball at the edge of the six.
As Toronto increased the pressure for an equalizer in the late stages, a rifled shot from distance by Marvell Wynne flashed wide of the left post in the 87th.
Gaudette then made a great save in the 88th minute on a hard shot by Jim Brennan from inside the box.
A diving header inside the box from Danny Dichio in the 90th forced an amazing diving save from Gaudette, who got his fingertips to the ball inches from the line in the center of the goal mouth to parry it wide, maintaining the shutout and securing the victory.