CCL: Group Stage, Round 2 Roundup
Houston Dynamo heeded OTF contributor Robert Suarez’s call for a return to jerseys uncluttered by sponsors’ logos, and Austin Fido brings you everything else you should know about the second round of CONCACAF Champions League group play…
If you are not familiar with Robert Suarez’s writing, please do acquaint yourself here. And his views on the plague of sponsors’ logos afflicting the jerseys of modern soccer can be found in the comments section of this piece.
The CCL round-up continues below.
We’re not even halfway through the group stage yet, but already all four Liga MX teams look certain of quarterfinal places. América, Cruz Azul and Toluca appear a cut above their group rivals, and Tijuana emerged from two tricky road trips unbeaten. Based on the quality of their play, or the points they have already accumulated, it seems futile to expect any major problems from the remaining matches for the favorites in groups 3, 4, 6, or 7.
However, the MLS clubs in CCL still have some work to do. The second round of group stage matches saw L’Impact lose, Houston draw, and LA make a 2-0 home win look like hard work. It’s baseless scaremongering to suggest either the Galaxy or Sporting Kansas City are in any great jeopardy after just one game apiece in the groups, but the latest round of CCL did present evidence to suggest Houston, Montreal (and San Jose — no longer presumptive also-rans) need to tread carefully.
GROUP 1: W Connection 0 – 0 Houston Dynamo
The Dynamo dodged a bullet in Trinidad. The stats describe a near-even possession split between two sides who mustered one shot on target between them, but the Savonetta Boys could and should have won this match.
Joevin Jones and Hachim Arcia caught the eye in the early exchanges, yet neither of them were on the pitch when Neil Benjamin missed a tap-in to an empty net. Houston created chances, but W Connection made — and missed — the best opportunities.
Dominic Kinnear will be relieved to see his reserves get out of Trinidad with a point. Fortunate or not, a draw on the road is all a team with quarterfinal expectations needs at this stage of the competition.
Next Match: 8/27 – Houston Dynamo vs. Árabe Unido
The Dynamo have to win this match by multiple goals to establish a clear advantage over their only realistic challenger for quarterfinal qualification. Anything less, and the advantage swings to the Panamanians, who know they will receive a Houston side likely to be distracted by MLS playoff plans on October 24th.
GROUP 2: Real Estelí 0 – 1 Olimpia
Olimpia did not send a full strength side to Nicaragua, and nearly paid dearly for their complacency. As it was, Bayron Mendez — the man signed to fill the gap in the squad left by Alexander Lopez’s departure for MLS — nicked three points for the Hondurans.
This result effectively eliminates Real Estelí from the competition. They have just two road games remaining, and even winning both might not be sufficient to qualify.
Next Match: 8/27 – Olimpia vs. Sporting Kansas Ciy
Home advantage and stronger opposition will presumably inspire Olimpia to produce a better performance than that delivered against Real Estelí. They’ll need it: a draw suits KC, who hold a narrow goal difference advantage over Los Leones; a win would put the MLS club in pole position for a high seed in the quarterfinal pairings.
GROUP 3: Cruz Azul 3 – 0 Herediano
From this match we learned La Maquina Cementeria is likely to breeze through to the quarterfinals without much difficulty. Cruz Azul put out a strong, experienced team to face Herediano, and those players tallied three goals before half-time.
This result (which effectively means Herediano would need to win the return fixture by four goals) allows Cruz Azul to rest easy about qualifying from the CCL group stages. We may not see the best of La Maquina again until the knockout rounds.
Next Match: 8/28 – Valencia vs. Cruz Azul
If Valencia even get close to a draw, it will be one of the biggest upsets in CCL history. The Haitians were not capable of containing Herediano, and are unlikely to be any more successful against Cruz Azul. Yes, we can expect to see the Liga MX side send reserves to Haiti, but even the second-string should be too strong for Valencia.
GROUP 4: Sporting San Miguelito 1 – 0 Alajuelense
During the first half of this game, Sporting San Miguelito’s official Twitter account tweeted “Uuuuuuyyyhyh”.
It was the perfect appraisal of a match in which the home team tortured its fans with sloppy finishing and generous turnovers.
Still, the Panamanians got three points, which is a fair reflection of their status as one of the better teams in the competition. Unfortunately, they are in one of CCL’s stronger groups, and these points might be all they get out of this year’s tournament.
Next Match: 8/29 – Alajuelense vs. América
The problem for Alajuelense is not just the need to beat América to maintain hope of progressing to the knockout rounds, but also the requirement for a convincing win. A team incapable of scoring against Sporting San Miguelito in Panama is probably going to have trouble finding the net at Azteca. So the Costa Ricans need a multi-goal victory at home if they are to put a brake on América’s seemingly unstoppable march to the quarterfinals. Unfortunately, such an outcome seems unlikely.
GROUP 5: Heredia 1 – 0 Montreal Impact
Heredia celebrated their inaugural CCL match with a victory over opposition most presumed superior. On the night, L’Impact sent out a team of reserves, preferring to protect their few remaining fit first-teamers — and should have fallen behind to a first-half penalty.
A harsh red card for Adrián “Piscu” Lopez confirmed Montreal as underdogs in this match. Los Jaguares don’t look a great team but they were the better side on the night. Despite that fact, Montreal will probably be more frustrated to have wasted two very good chances to score themselves, than they will be to have conceded the winner in the dying minutes of the match.
The group is wide open. Heredia don’t look capable of finishing this stage unbeaten, which means the winner of Group 5 will be the team that manages to lose just one of its four matches.
Next Match: 8/28 – Heredia vs. San Jose Earthquakes
Long presumed to be a two-horse race, we now know any of the three clubs in Group 5 could get to the quarterfinals. Heredia’s win over Montreal has raised the possibility of neither MLS club progressing from this group. However, the ‘Quakes will fancy their chances against a team which struggled to keep the ball even when L’Impact were short-handed. Reliably vulnerable on the counter-attack, and unlikely to receive quite the same charity from the referee for a second consecutive match, Los Jaguares may struggle to contain San Jose’s bruisers.
GROUP 6: Comunicaciones 1 – 2 Toluca
Toluca’s reserves have been the class act of CCL to date: consistently outplaying their opponents, and justly becoming the first team in this year’s tournament to take maximum points from two games. (Yes, I do realize only eight teams have played twice to date, but even faint praise is still praise.)
This match was not as close as the score suggests. Both teams had chances, but that had much to with Toluca’s admirable determination to get forward as often as possible. Los Diablos Rojos did not dwell on their possession, thereby contributing to a game that was more entertaining than it might otherwise have been.
The win should send Toluca to the quarterfinals. The first tie-breaker in the CCL group stages is “points earned in matches between the teams concerned”, which means the only way Caledonia or Comunicaciones can progress is by beating Toluca. From what we’ve seen so far, that is implausible.
Next Match: 8/29 – Caledonia AIA vs. Comunicaciones
This match looks set to be a battle of the big men: Caledonia’s Jamal Gay and Comunicaciones’ Minor Lopez. Both players are internationals, 6′ 4″, and pretty much their team’s best candidate to lead any serious bid for the quarterfinals. This is a game neither team can afford to lose, so it is hoped each will try to win.
Group 7: Victoria 2 – 3 Tijuana
Job done for Los Xolos: the win gives them four points from their road games in the group. Victoria twice fought back to cut a two goal deficit in half, but the points went to the better team. Credit Tijuana for weathering a literal storm: lightning, heavy rain and a power outage delayed kick-off for more than two hours.
The result bodes well for the young American players in Los Xolos’ squad: Paul Arriola scored his second goal as a professional, less than a week after his first; there were also starts for Greg Garza and Bruno Piceno. All three should expect more playing time in CCL now Tijuana is playing for little more than a high seed in the quarterfinals.
Next Match: 8/28 – Tijuana vs. Luis Ángel Firpo
The Salvadoran match-fixing scandal may have prematurely curtailed Firpo’s hopes of surprising Tijuana in Mexico. Four of Los Pamperos’ players have been suspended pending further investigation into corruption allegations centered on games played by El Salvador’s national in 2010 and 2011.
Beating, or even tying, Los Xolos in Tijuana was always a long-shot for Firpo; without captain Dennis Alas and first-choice ‘keeper Dagoberto Portillo, it seems almost impossible.
Group 8: LA Galaxy 2 – 0 Cartaginés
The score line doesn’t tell the whole story of this match: the Galaxy did dominate possession and look the likeliest winner, but they had a hard time breaking down Los Brumosos. So hard, that Bruce Arena was forced to throw Landon Donovan on for the last 30 minutes.
Donovan’s passing proved the difference between the sides on the night: he set up both Robbie Keane’s goals. But Cartaginés will be encouraged by their performance. They will need a little bit of luck to beat LA in Costa Rica, but that’s all they need. However, Los Brumosos must win their next match if they are to maintain their status as a credible challenger to the Galaxy’s presumed dominance of Group 8.
Next Match: 8/27 – Cartaginés vs. Isidro Metapán
The previous match between these two sides finished 4-2 to the visitors (Cartaginés) and was perhaps the most entertaining of the first round of group stage games. Since a draw does neither team any favors, it is to be hoped they batter at each other with the same enthusiasm they brought to their previous fixture.
Isidro Metapán will be without Eliseo Quintanilla and Alfredo Pacheco, who are caught up in El Salvador’s match-fixing investigation. Their absence compounds the traditional visiting team’s disadvantage, which suggests this could be the last time Los Caleros start a game with a shot at making the quarterfinals of this year’s CCL.
The third round of group stage matches will be played from August 27th to 29th.
OTF’s Austin Fido will probably never muster the wit to tweet “Uuuuuuyyyhyh” @canetop.