Portmore embrace Cruz Azul challenge as SCCL draw pits them with Mexican giants

Portmore embrace Cruz Azul challenge as SCCL draw pits them with Mexican giants

Deputy Sport Editor

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

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Portmore United Football Club have been drawn to face Mexican giants Cruz Azul in the Round of 16 of the Scotiabank Concacaf Champions League (SCCL), a challenge the Jamaican champions have embraced.

Speaking shortly after the red-carpet draw event on Monday night at the historic University of the Cloister of Sor Juana, in Mexico City, Portmore Head Coach Ricardo “Bibi” Gardner did not appear intimidated by the opponent, but rather sought to focus on the broader picture.

“We have a tough draw, but I see it as a great opportunity to showcase ourselves to a wide audience... This is the kind of challenge that should motivate our group,” he told the Jamaica Observer.

Gardner, who distinguished himself as a professional for Bolton Wanderers of England, said “preparation will be key” in pursuit of getting the team ready to actualise in its representation of Jamaica and the wider Caribbean.

“We will leave no stone unturned in how we holistically prepare for this assignment,” he said.

So far, Portmore have had a bumpy ride in the Red Stripe Premier League (RSPL), thus making a hard toil in the defence of their back-to-back titles.

Gardner admits that the team “is a work in progress, as we're going through a rebuilding phase”.

“Indeed, we're starting to see positive signs and we will continue day by day, week in week out, and match by match to fine-tune and get our chemistry right,” said the former Reggae Boy.

Gardner shied away from committing to SCCL goals, but was philosophical in turning focus on urgent matters at hand.

“We will take it (SCCL) game by game... yes, our focus is always our next game. Therefore, while we prepare for these assignments off the pitch, our players should not look beyond what's their immediate assignment. For us right now is the Premier League, and we will shift gear when we need to,” he said.

Going into today's and tomorrow's RSPL fixtures, Portmore were seventh in the 12-team standing on 21 points. The St Catherine-based outfit were due to play Cavalier FC at Spanish Town Prison Oval tomorrow in a slate of five midweek games.

Portmore administrator Rohn Rainford, who accompanied Gardner to Mexico City, said his club is proud to be “representing, not only Jamaica, but the Caribbean region as the Caribbean champion of 2019”.

He said, going into Monday night's draw, he knew there was never going to be an easy opponent.

“We knew that no matter the result, we would be matched up against a quality opponent, and as such we relish the challenge. Having been selected to face Cruz Azul, it's now down to our technical team and support staff to prepare the players for the challenge ahead and to give the organisation the best opportunity to advance to the next round.

“We will give maximum effort to represent our principals, sponsors, fans, and supporters with great distinction at any level and there's no greater level than the elite club competition in the region,” Rainford said.

Meanwhile, Concacaf General Secretary Philippe Moggio said the SCCL “has consistently delivered exciting and competitive football” and captured the imagination of fans across the region.

“After the intriguing match-ups delivered at today's draw, the 2020 edition is sure to do the same and we can all now enjoy watching the drama unfold on the pitch from February onwards,” he stated.

Country head of Scotiabank Mexico Adrian Otero, said: “We are proud of being Concacaf's first official partner and to deepen our support of a sport that inspires the young people... we know there are endless possibilities for inspired young people who have the guidance, confidence and tools to achieve their dreams.”

In the other Round of 16 draw results, Atlanta United FC (USA) will face FC Motagua (Honduras), Club America (Mexico) take on Comunicaciones FC (Guatemala), Los Angeles FC (USA) tackle Club Leon (Mexico), Tigres UANL (MEX) and Alianza FC (El Salvador) will do battle, New York City FC (USA) and AD San Carlos (Costa Rica) will clash, Seattle Sounders FC (USA) go up against CD Olimpia (Honduras), and Montreal Impact (Canada) and Deportivo Saprissa (Costa Rica) will cross swords.

The 2020 Scotiabank Concacaf Champions League will continue to be played on a home-and-away direct elimination format with Round of 16 matches scheduled February 18-20 and February 25-27.

Quarter-final round matches are set for March 10-12 (first leg) and March 17-19 (second leg), while the semi-finals are set for April 7-9 (first leg) and April 14-16 (second leg).

The first leg of the final will played between April 28 and 30 and the decisive leg between May 5 and 7.

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