• Friday Oct 03, 2008

    CONCACAF minnows feast on giants as Champions League™ reaches midpoint

    Piranha are small fish too.

    The so-called minnows of CONCACAF took big bites out of their more heralded counterparts as the Champions League™ reached the midpoint of the Group Stage, with the Montreal Impact winning at CD Olimpia, Tauro FC of Panama shocking Santos Laguna and -- biggest of all - Joe Public FC of Trinidad & Tobago beating Atlante FC in Cancun, Mexico.

    Joe Public, which became the first Caribbean team to eliminate a USA side when it beat the New England Revolution in the Preliminary Round, earned the first victory by a Caribbean side in Mexico in 17 tries when it won 1:0 Thursday night. It also became the first team from the region to earn so much as a point in Mexico since SV Robin Hood of Suriname drew 0:0 with America in Mexico City to win the Champions Cup on 18 January 1977.

    Coming off its loss to W Connection six days earlier in the Trinidadian First Citizen's Cup final, Joe Public rode Roen Nelson's second-half goal for its first victory since beating New England and revived its hopes of reaching the quarterfinals.

    However, Joe Public will have to face Montreal next week without tournament scoring co-leader Gregory Richardson, who was ejected in the third minute of injury time for arguing with Guatemalan referee Carlos Batres.

    Atlante became the latest upset victim from Mexico, whose clubs began to use more of their first-team regulars but were struggling right along with their USA counterparts.

    Montreal remained unbeaten in the Champions League™, winning 2:1 in Tegucigalpa on Wednesday with two goals from Roberto Brown for its first victory away from home.

    "It is a huge," Montreal defender Nevio Pizzolitto said. "Nobody thought we could do this. It's unbelievable."

    The victory kept the sides from the United Soccer Leagues - the second division of North American soccer - undefeated in 10 games in the Champions League™, including the Preliminary Round, while teams from the USA's Major League Soccer have lost six of nine and yet to win, while Mexican clubs have won five of 12 matches since the qualifying round and lost four.

    The form of the USL teams has Montreal atop Group C with seven points, three ahead of Atlante and four better than Olimpia and Joe Public.

    The Puerto Rico Islanders also carried the USL banner high, earning a 2:2 draw against CSD Municipal in Guatemala City on Wednesday to climb alone Group D with seven points. It was the Islanders' 17th straight game without a loss, fifth in the Champions League™.

    Tauro's 2:0 victory over Santos - highlighted by Brunette Hay's over-the-shoulder flick in the 44th minute - enabled it to stay a point behind Puerto Rico, and relegate Santos to third with three points and Municipal to last with one.

    Santos - which needed a last-minute goal from Matias Vuoso to win its group opener -- lost on the road for the second straight game, having been beaten 3:1 in Puerto Rico a week earlier.

    Elsewhere, Pumas UNAM and the Houston Dynamo drew 4:4 in Mexico City in a game in which the MLS side took a 2:0 lead early; Pumas rallied to equalize; Houston regained the lead only for the Mexican club to score another pair to go ahead before halftime; and then Craig Waibel scored his second goal to tie it again.

    Houston became the first MLS team to earn a point on Mexican soil and the first USA side to do so in an official competition since New York Hungaria beat the now defunct CD Oro 3:2 in Guadalajara on 9 March 1963.

    Pumas remained atop Group B with five points, two better than CD Luis Angel Firpo and two ahead of Houston and San Francisco FC.

    Firpo recovered from its 3:0 defeat to Pumas with a 1:0 victory over San Francisco, beating the Panamanian club with a 89th-minute goal by Ramon Avila despite playing nearly the entire game with 10 men.

    Houston, which had its group opener with Firpo postponed due to Hurricane Ike and played its last two on the road, finally will get to home next week, hosting San Francisco on Tuesday.

    In other games, Deportivo Saprissa won at home, Cruz Azul won away on a fluke goal and D.C. United was all but eliminated.

    The results left Saprissa, Cruz Azul and CD Marathon all tied atop Group A with six points, while D.C. lost its third straight.

    Marathon, which hadn't allowed a goal in its previous two games, surrendered two in the final 21 minutes - to Celso Borges and Ajejandro Alpizar, and enabled Saprissa to rally for a 2:1 victory.

    Cruz Azul was the only team from Mexico to win in the third round of group play, and needed some good fortune to achieve that. Cesar Villaluz struck a shot that was going wide, but deflected off the back of Pablo Zeballos and past D.C. goalkeeper Zach Wells.

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