We kick-off the 2010 Islanders season with an article by a new contributor, Angel Marrero. Angel is a longtime Islanders fan and can often be found live tweeting Islanders matches here: @amarrero , today he writes about his observations from the Islanders’ series in CFU (Caribbean Football Union) competition vs Haiti’s Racing des Gonaives.
By Angel Marrero
Question: If the PR Islanders are off to a flying start and (practically) nobody is there to see it, does it make it exciting?
Answer: If you ask the 200-300 people at JRL, then yes!
This past week, the PR Islanders finally started their 2010 champions with a pair of victories over Racing des Gonaives of Haiti in the Second Round of the CFU Club Championship. The first game this past Friday was won 2-0 with goals from Sandy Gbandi and David Foley. The second game this past Sunday was won 3-0 with two goals from Joshua Hansen and another by Foley. And while the victories were great, it was the manner in which the won that was the most important part.
In a phrase: “Organization will set you free!” Well, it’s either that or Colin Clarke finally decided that the best defense was a good offense…
The Islanders were on the attack for most of the match even when they were down to 10 men due to a red card handed to Osei Telesford for a body check worthy of play-off hockey (probably in retaliation for Racing’s failure to stop play when an Islanders player was down with an injury). The midfield controlled most of the game with crisp passing, good spacing and overlapping plays and decent set plays. Foley, Hansen and Alexis Rivera were fairly rampant on the attack and Gbandi had a goal worthy of SportsCenter’s Top 10 Plays. The new arrivals Joe Salem, Junior Sandoval, Shaka Bangura are a welcome additions to a midfield that was lacking both creativity and control of possession. The Islanders were much more reliant on passing into space to create shoot opportunities and less on the long-ball tactics of previous years.
And on defense, the Islanders were much more disciplined than on previous years. Gone was the over-chasing that was characteristic that that prevalent last season. Instead, the Islanders were able to pressure Racing’s players without losing their shape or leaving gaps that they could exploit. The back line, especially Marco Velez, were able to clear out practically all of Racing’s attacks, forcing them to shoot from outside the box. And when the back line did make mistakes (only a couple in both games), Gaudette was his old impenetrable self, preventing two clear goal-scoring opportunities.
Not everything was good. The Islanders are still a bit suspect on set plays, both attacking and defending, as well as passes over the top. Both problems have been an Achilles’ heel in previous seasons. Additionally, while they did score 5 goals in total, the Islanders missed some clear opportunities that should have found the back of the net. Also, the Islanders are still too dependent on their forwards for goals. Almost never did you find a second line of players coming forward on the attack. And while Rivera proved, in my opinion, that he should be in the starting XI, his attacking play can leave some spaces susceptible to a counter. Since Racing wasn’t able to exploit this, we’ll have to see how the midfield protect that area.
Finally, it remains to be seen who will be taking the free kicks and the penalty shots given the departures of Jonathan Steele and Cristian Arrieta, respectively. There weren’t many opportunities in the previous game, so it will be interesting to see which players will handle those situations.
Overall, I liked what I saw from the Islanders this past week. Good attacking, good passing, good defense. I’d like to see this form continue against better competition coming in the USSF D2 and CFU Club semifinals. If they continue this type of play, the Islanders should be a formidable opponent this season.
On a side note, the lack of publicity around the Islanders games continues to be a recurring problem. Some of the regulars that I talked to only found out about the game at the last minute. Additionally, there were no announcements in the local papers about the CFU games. While “Las Justas” (a VERY popular sports competition between the universities here in Puerto Rico) were being held on the same weekend, the lack of publicity really is a shame. I still have no information on how to obtain tickets for the Islanders’ USSF D2 kick-off this coming Wednesday nor has their website been updated with such information. While the Islanders’ front office is making inroads with Twitter and Facebook, social media should only be one part of the equation that includes print, radio and television marketing.
I was there for that semifinal game against Cruz Azul in the 2008 CONCACAF Champions League semifinal, along with 12,000 other fans. The stadium was packed to the brim, people were watching from the train station overlooking JRL and the atmosphere was like nothing I had ever experienced before in a live sports event. I don’t expect this to be the case at every game. However, without a clear marketing strategy, the Islanders are only going to attract the hardcore fans. That’s fine and good, but they need to start bringing in more people if they truly plan to grow the interest in the team and the game here in Puerto Rico.