By BOB MACKIN, 24 HOURS
The Puerto Rico Islanders have been filling up their passports this month.
Sunday's USL First Division championship meeting with the Whitecaps marks the Islanders' fifth game of October and fourth in a country outside Puerto Rico.
Puerto Rico started the month in Guatemala and they'll end it in Panama. After winning last weekend's home-and-home semifinal with the Rochester Rhinos, the Islanders were 3-0 losers to Santos Laguna on Wednesday at Torreon, Mexico in CONCACAF Champions League play.
"It's just another game we have to play," said Islanders' head coach Colin Clarke. "It's been pretty tough, but we've got a strong squad of players, we go all the way down to the 20th man."
The squad includes most valuable player nominee Jonny Steele, defender of the year candidate Cristian Arrieta and already declared goalkeeper of the year Bill Gaudette. Newry, Northern Ireland-native Clarke is nominated for coach of the year in tomorrow's awards luncheon.
The Islanders gave Clarke three losses in their first four matches of 2008, but recovered and lost only three of the remaining 26 for a 15-6-9 record. They beat the Whitecaps 1-0 with Noah Delgado's 89th minute goal on Sept. 5 in Puerto Rico after tying Vancouver twice.
"I expect another tight game, a little unusual you get the number one and number two seeds in the final," Clarke said. "Both deserve to be in the final."
The Islanders joined the A-League in 2004 and finished last. They compiled a trio of 10-win USL seasons before finishing at the top of the 2008 table a point ahead of the Whitecaps.
Oddly, the Islanders finished the 2007 season in sixth place just a point ahead of seventh place Vancouver, but lost the semifinal series by a goal to the eventual champion Seattle Sounders.