CCL Quarterfinals: Not Historic, But Still Quite Good
Our man Austin Fido is back to give you the lowdown on this week’s quarterfinal results and looks ahead to the CCL semis…
For the first time since CONCACAF turned its Best Cup into its Best League, MLS has two teams in the intra-continental tournament’s semifinal stage. If you are a sponsor of Major League Soccer you can ignore the phone – it’s only Don Garber calling, and he’ll be ringing you all day. Prepare for the conversation by reading a review of MLS clubs’ progress in the CCL quarterfinals that doesn’t reference 2022 and only uses the word “historic” once.
Seattle Sounders FC vs UANL Tigres
1st Leg: UANL 1 – 0 Seattle; 2nd Leg: Seattle 3 – 1 UANL
*Seattle wins 3-2 on aggregate
An MLS club beating a Liga MX side in a CCL knock-out round isn’t “historic.” That only holds if you believe history started in 2008. It hasn’t happened very often, but MLS teams have knocked out Mexican opponents in this competition in the past – DC United even managed to do so twice in 1998. The format of the competition may have a changed, but the rules of association football were essentially the same 15 years ago. So calm yourself, MLS. Act like you’ve been here before. Because you have.
Neither should anyone be wasting too much energy fretting over whether Tigres’s coach Ricardo Ferretti was “disrespecting” the competition and/or Seattle by bringing a team of reserves to play the second leg. UANL is sitting on a one point lead in the Clausura and facing a particularly crowded fixture list. And allowing Lucas Lobo to tussle with Osvaldo Alonso on artificial turf would be like Jurgen Klinsmann letting Landon Donovan play barefoot pick-up games in Cambodia during the Hex.
Oh. Bad example.
Ferretti’s gamble nearly paid off. He saw his first-team tear Seattle apart at Estadio Universitario. The fact his players could only score one goal was entirely down to their own witless finishing. His second-string is still a decent mix of former, current, and emerging international-class players such as Jonathan Bornstein, Elias Hernandez, and Jonathan Espericueta. They had a shot. And a 1-0 lead at half-time in the second leg should have been enough to see them through.
But Manuel Viniegra was a little too transparent in his attempt to buy time for a late first-half substitution and got himself a second yellow card for kicking the ball away. Against ten men who don’t often play together and were a long way from home, the Sounders finally looked the better team. Even then, it took an unlikely and spectacular event to break Tigres’s resistance: Djimi Traore scored a goal.
Club Santos Laguna vs Houston Dynamo
1st Leg: Houston 1 – 0 CSL; 2nd Leg: CSL 3 – 0 Houston
*CSL wins 3-1 on aggregate
One of these teams scored a tribute to flowing, fast-thinking, quick-passing soccer. The other bounced a penalty kick off the crossbar and two players before it found the net, got a second goal because a striker won a race against a defender for a long ball, and a third by lobbing the ball over the defense after a poorly cleared corner.
Yes, CSL looked more assured in possession. Yes, the Liga MX squad delivered a superior technical and tactical performance. The default Santos Laguna style is quick, incisive passing to forwards who move intelligently to stretch the defense, creating space and uncertainty.
But Houston handled it, just about, in both games. What the Dynamo didn’t handle were set pieces and the ball over the top. By contrast, CSL’s defenders were pretty happy when Houston tried lumping the ball into the box or thumping long passes down the flanks for the wingers to chase. What troubled the Albiverdes was Corey Ashe running with the ball at his feet, Will Bruin tracking forward and pulling defenders with him, and Brad Davis running into the space created to collect the pass and smoothly shoot pass the ‘keeper.
Each team beat the other at its own game. Unfortunately for Dominic Kinnear’s men, they are not quite as good playing like Santos Laguna as CSL is playing like the Dynamo.
LA Galaxy vs Herediano
1st Leg: Herediano 0 – 0 LA; 2nd Leg: LA 4 – 1 Herediano
*LA wins 4-1 on aggregate
It would be fruitless to try to extract anything new from this matchup. LA was better at defending, better at finishing, better at everything.
Herediano created at least three quality chances that a better side would have finished. And they missed a penalty in front of their home crowd. But the better team won in the end. The Galaxy will have to improve to win this tournament though.
Keep an eye on Jose Villareal. He scored the goal of the game, if not the entire quarterfinal round. Sandwiched between two defenders as he dribbled toward goal, he stopped, pivoted, and wrong-footed both men with sublime movement. Then he planted himself and curved the ball into the far side of the goal from outside the area. He told mlssoccer.com he did it because he was “tired” and couldn’t run anymore. When he learns to think as quickly when he’s fresh as he does when he’s exhausted, he’ll be terrifying.
Club Santos Laguna vs Seattle Sounders FC
This looks the lesser of the two semifinals. The Sounders could not deal with UANL. Why would they be able to handle Santos Laguna? The perfect storm of fixture congestion, a soft red card, and Djimi Traore’s left foot, is unlikely to strike twice. CSL will play a full strength side in both legs, create plenty of chances, and convert at least five. Herculez Gomez, Oribe Peralta, and Darwin Quintero will remind everyone why Djimi Traore was available for the Sounders to sign in the first place.
Seattle could be a different team by the time these fixtures roll around in early April. Obafemi Martins might be in the squad. Adam Johansson could be fit. And it’s possible Sigi Schmid will have figured out a role for Shalrie Joseph.
The Sounders team that played against UANL Tigres was fortunate to progress. They’ll get handled if they play the same way against CSL. But I don’t think Seattle will be the same team next month. That still doesn’t make the Sounders favorites, but they’ll be a stronger side in April.
CF Monterrey vs LA Galaxy
This is the big one: the winner of the last two CCL tournaments versus the winner of the last two MLS Cups. Basanta, De Nigris, and Suazo, mano a mano contra Gonzalez, Keane, and Magee.
You want young guns? Try a possible renewal of the rivalry between Jesus Manuel Corona and Jose Villareal, two players recently acquainted in the CONCACAF U-20 Championship final. You want legends of the game? Humberto Suazo is to Monterrey what Landon Donovan is to the Galaxy. (No, not MIA – I mean Donovan the player, not Donovan the millionaire backpacker.)
On paper, Monterrey looks the better team. They’re more polished and experienced. They’re in the competition for the third year running because the team has been very good for three years; CCL doesn’t give its defending champion an automatic place in the tournament. The Rayados won the 2009 Apertura, the 2010 Apertura, and were runners-up in the 2012 Clausura. But they are struggling so far this year. Their road form, generally poor in Liga MX for the past few years, has been abysmal in 2013 (one point from five games). LA has scored eight goals in two home games this season.
Out of respect for their achievements in CCL and the overall quality in their squad, consider Monterrey favorites. But, as the lower seed, LA has a chance to set the tone for the tie by hosting the first leg. Whichever team is least bad on the road will win – and Monterrey is currently very bad on the road.
OTF contributing writer Austin Fido is a friend of the game and enemy of the passive offside. Follow him @canetop