Tue | Mar 31, 2020

Portmore face Mexican test

Published:Tuesday | February 18, 2020 | 12:22 AMDaniel Wheeler/Gleaner Writer
Portmore United coach Ricardo Gardner (centre) walks across the field at half time during a Red Stripe Premier League match against Dunbeholden at the Spanish Town Prison Oval earlier this season.
Portmore United coach Ricardo Gardner (centre) walks across the field at half time during a Red Stripe Premier League match against Dunbeholden at the Spanish Town Prison Oval earlier this season.

Reigning Red Stripe Premier League (RSPL) champions Portmore United will look to cause a major upset when they face Mexican club Cruz Azul in the first leg of their Concacaf Champions League Round of 16 tie tonight at the National Stadium, starting at 8.

The Ricardo Gardner-coached team is making their first appearance in the modern version of the tournament and will be the first Jamaican club to compete in the continental showpiece in five years. The St Catherine-based team had competed in the now-defunct Concacaf Champions Cup in 2006.

Montego Bay United were the last local club to compete in the Champions League in the 2015/2016 season, failing to qualify from the group stage.

Gardner, while acknowledging that his team will enter the contest as underdogs, is adamant that they will approach the contest with confidence and without fear of their much vaunted Liga MX opponents.

“The thing we have to do is believe in what we are doing as a group and as a unit. We have to continue to improve and learn from each occasion. What we know also is that they will be taking the field with 11 players just as ourselves,” Gardner told The Gleaner yesterday. “What we will not do is take that field with any fear.”

Gardner is hoping for a better showing from the team after they were eliminated from the Flow Caribbean Club Championship without having won a single game in their group.

He says that despite their disappointment of being dethroned as Caribbean champions, the experience has better prepared them for the challenges that they will face in their Champions League knockout assignment.

“We have learnt from our mistakes. We know that we have to be a lot more focused than we were in those games because I think we gave up some soft goals. I think it’s a perfect opportunity for us to do so [today] against a very tough opposition where they are the favourites,” he said. “So there is no pressure on us to go and execute our game plan to the best of our ability.”

Gardner is wary of the challenge that the six-time regional champions present.

Cruz Azul are currently in sixth place in the Liga Mx Clausura standings and are coming off the back of two straight wins again Pachuca and Chivas Guadalajara, respectively.

Knowing that they will have a tough task when the series heads to Mexico for the second leg on February 25 at the Estadio Azteca, Gardner underlined the importance of getting a positive result at home in order to give themselves the best chance of progression.

“Mexico is a very difficult place to go and play because of the altitude. So it’s very important that we go out there tomorrow (today) and get a result in our favour to give ourselves a chance for the next game,” Gardner said.

The winner of the two-legged tie will advance to the quarter-finals to face either Mexican club Leon or Los Angeles FC of the United States.