CONCACAF Champions League 2013-14: Team of the Tournament
Austin Fido brings you his picks for the best players of the 2013-14 CONCACAF Champions League….
CCL is over and CONCACAF has started handing out awards to the best players of the tournament. OTF Soccer has its contribution: a CCL best 11 comprising players who may not, strictly speaking, have been the best throughout the tournament, but at least provided some of the more lasting memories of this year’s competition.
We’re lining these guys up in a 4-4-2, though they’d probably play more like a 4-1-5.
Let us know your favorite players or moments from this year’s CCL in the comments.
GK – Alfredo Talavera (Toluca): He’s CONCACAF’s choice for ‘keeper of the tournament, and you’ll find no argument here. Talavera played nine out of Toluca’s 10 CCL games – only missing out on the first leg of the semifinals because his country needed him.
He might not be the best goalkeeper in Mexico (though he is in the conversation to be a Brazil bench warmer for El Tri), but he was the steadiest part of the only undefeated team in CCL 2013-14.
LB – Porfirio Lopez (Alajuelense): Defense was the reason Alajuelense got to this year’s semifinals.
Los Manudos conceded a goal in the 28th minute of their very first group stage match, and didn’t allow another one until the 71st minute of the first leg of their semifinal against Toluca. In so doing, Alajuelense set a new CCL record: 574 minutes without conceding a goal.
Lopez was on the field for every minute of his team’s superlative demonstration of the art of the shutout – a streak which included neutralizing Club America twice.
CB – Stretcher (Arabe Unido): Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of Arabe Unido. The Panamanian side lost a bundle of senior players in the break between this year’s group stage and knockout rounds and turned up for the quarterfinals as a virtual youth team. The kids from Colon are currently top of the league in Panama and gunning for another shot at CCL. I hope they make it.
But in the group stage, they ruthlessly fed the stereotype MLS fans nurture of other CONCACAF teams. In two games against Houston Dynamo, writhing around and waiting for the stretcher was Arabe Unido’s preferred defensive tactic. And it worked.
CB – Javier Gandolfi (Tijuana): He missed just one game for Xolos in CCL – the 6-0 mauling of Victoria after qualification for the knockout rounds was assured. The presence of the club captain in the starting lineup for three out of Tijuana’s four group games underscored the team’s commitment to the competition.
And his parting gift to the tournament was instigating the fight which almost cost Jesus Corona the chance to participate in the final.
RB – Kevin Ellis (Sporting Kansas City): Peter Vermes has picked apart the team that failed to beat Cruz Azul faster than Mariano Pavone filleted KC’s inexperienced defense. Ellis is currently playing for Oklahoma City Energy. But he scored the goal which sent Sporting Kansas City to Estadio Azul with a narrow advantage over La Maquina.
The advantage didn’t last long, but the memory of the day the best in team in Mexico got beat by a right back no one outside Kansas City had ever heard of will linger for some time.
LM – Marco Fabian (Cruz Azul): I’m not sure there’s a player in the region who can make a checked-stride, one-touch, half-volleyed cross to the far post look so easy.
CM – Achille Emana (Cruz Azul): He was almost completely absent from the knockout rounds, but Emana was La Maquina‘s key man in the group stage. He bagged a hat-trick in the 3-0 win over Valencia, and had a hand in both the goals which saw Cruz Azul past Herediano (2-1 in Costa Rica) and into the latter stages of the tournament as second seeds.
La Maquina did not miss him during the knockout rounds, but the tournament certainly did.
CM – Gerardo Torrado (Cruz Azul): Someone has to represent the work of the defensive midfielder in this tournament, and Torrado may no longer be at his very best, but he’s the guy with a CCL winner’s medal.
He played in seven of La Maquina‘s 10 CCL matches – basically, the most important ones: both group games against Herediano; the must-win quarterfinal second leg against Sporting Kansas City; each of the semfinal and final games.
His contribution also illustrates a significant point for MLS teams to heed: the most successful teams in CCL use key players more often than not.
RM – Shea Salinas (San Jose Earthquakes): He only made four appearances in CCL, but he made them count. Salinas was a late-game substitute in San Jose’s first must-win group stage game, against Montreal. He scored. In the ‘Quakes second win-or-go-home group stage fixture, against Heredia, he set up the match-winner. And in the quarterfinals, he delivered the crosses which led to both San Jose’s goals against Toluca.
His missed penalty eliminated San Jose from the tournament, but the ‘Quakes would never have got so close to the semifinals without him.
FWD – Nico Munoz (Isidro Metapan): If he sticks with his current club, Munoz will be back in CCL next year – Isidro Metapan is already qualified for the 2014-15 edition. This would be a good thing for the tournament: CCL seems to bring out the best in Munoz.
He won the Golden Boot in 2012-13, and this year he was joint second in the scoring charts – five goals matched Mariano Pavone’s tally. Of course, Pavone scored goals in pressure situations against quality opposition – like Toluca in the final.
But all any player can do is try to best the opponents who turn up on the day. Scoring four goals in one game against a makeweight team in the group stage may not sound too impressive, but Munoz can’t help it if LA Galaxy insist on clogging up the tournament with their reserves.
FWD – Raul Nava (Toluca): Can the competition’s top scorer be left out of its best 11? No.
His major contribution to the final was Fox Soccer’s ambitious attempt to shoehorn his seven-goal highlight reel into a break in play during the final minutes of the first leg. Nonetheless, his wonder-goal in San Jose was one of this year’s best, and a crucial factor in helping Toluca squeak past the ‘Quakes.
Coach – Jean Laurent (Valencia): Every a game is a decision – play to win, play not to lose; try to stifle your opponent, or let the opposition worry about stopping you. There are not limitless ways to approach a game of soccer, but there a certainly many more than can be listed here.
Valencia could have – some might say should have – opted for a conservative approach in a CCL group comprising Cruz Azul and Herediano. But coach Jean Laurent sent his players out to win every game. Valencia played some of the most positive, relentlessly forward-looking football of this tournament.
This was not naivete. The team would have been well aware of its status relative to that of the Costa Rican and Mexican heavyweights in its group. It was a decision taken with eyes open – and it was marvelous.
Valencia was never in any great danger of actually winning a game. The team was three goals down before it scored its first of the tournament. But it refused to be cowed by its opponents’ reputations, and got in a few punches of its own: Cruz Azul’s visit to Haiti very nearly cost La Maquina points – only a late goal secured the win for the Mexican side, and Valencia out shot their illustrious opponents by an almost 2:1 ratio that night.
An argument with its league’s administrators cost Valencia its place in this year’s Caribbean Football Union championship, which means no berth for the Haitian team in next year’s CCL.
But the next over-matched, under-resourced team to enter the regional tournament will do well to follow the example set by Laurent: play the game your way, and never fear the outcome.
Review OTF Soccer’s full coverage of CCL 2013-14 here. See you in August for CCL 2014-15!
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OTF Soccer’s USMNT and CONCACAF editor, Austin Fido, will be biding his time until CCL 2014-15 @canetop.