CCL 2014-15: Group Stage, Round 5 Round-Up

Martin Zuniga: still CCL's top scorer after five rounds of the group stage (mediotiempo.com)

Martin Zuniga: still CCL’s top scorer after five rounds of the group stage (mediotiempo.com)

Upset ahoy! CCL lost its first favorite in round five of 2014-15’s group stage. Austin Fido brings the round-up…

It is the traditional time of the tournament to talk about whether this might be “the year of MLS”.

It’s not entirely hype. First, with two clubs already qualified and two topping their groups heading into the final round of the group stage, this could be the first time ever four MLS teams have made the quarterfinals. If fifty percent of the clubs in the knockout rounds are from one league, the balance of probability is in its favor regarding whether one of them will be the last one standing.

Second, the Mexican teams – the traditional dream-wreckers when it comes to MLS’s CCL ambitions – are struggling. León was knocked out in this round. Cruz Azul has a tough game in Costa Rica to win if it is to qualify for the next stage; América should make it through but has not yet clinched – and neither of those clubs will have 12 points (and a top seed) if they qualify.

Pachuca is the only Liga MX club on track for maximum points and (most likely) a top seed. Three teams (DC, Montreal and Portland) from MLS are still on course for 12 points.

And that brings the third point home: several MLS clubs could be looking at home advantage in the quarterfinals, if not beyond. In the last two years, only two teams have won a CCL knockout round playing the second leg away from home – and one of them was Cruz Azul, who “beat” Toluca 1-1 in last year’s final to win on away goals.

Still defending champs til at least October 21 (soccerbyives.net)

Still defending champs til at least October 21 (soccerbyives.net)

There is cause for optimism for MLS teams and their fans. Though this might be a good time to remember that last year also saw the league’s clubs swing into the final round of games with a strong chance of qualifying four out of five representatives and at least one snagging a high seed. Houston crashed out and LA fumbled its shot at a second or third seed, winding up ranked sixth out of eight teams in the knockout rounds.

So a lot can happen in the next set of games. And don’t forget that this might actually be Costa Rica’s year. Herediano, the club that wasn’t even supposed to be in the tournament, has already won its group. Alajuelense and Saprissa will decide their respective fates with home games.

Still, the final effort to predict this year’s quarterfinalists reflects the suspicion that the region’s bigger clubs will find a way through.

Very real contenders for CCL 2014-15's top seed in the "Championship stage"(facebook.com)

Very real contenders for CCL 2014-15’s top seed in the “Championship stage”(facebook.com)

1. Pachuca: Los Tuzos have won all three of their games to date by three or more goals. One more result in that ballpark does not seem an unreasonable expectation, and ought to be sufficient for the top seed by virtue of superior goal difference. Predicted Points Total: 12

2. Montreal Impact: L’Impact qualified for the quarterfinals without having to kick a ball in anger, simply sitting back and watching RBNY stumble to a draw in El Salvador. Now Montreal has the chance to not just get maximum points, but also a high seed – and this is a team in need of that sort of lift. Look for L’Impact to make an unexpected appearance in the top half of the seedings for the knockout rounds. Predicted Points Total: 12

3. DC United: DCU should be considered favorite for the second seed in the knockout rounds. The team is clearly better than Tauro, and should be able to get three points in Panama, even with a second-string. Just call it a hunch that DC gets pipped to second place by a hard-charging Montreal thrashing a lackluster Red Bulls reserve team in the last round. Predicted Points Total: 12

4. América: Best of the rest has been bumped down to fourth by the assumption there will be three teams on maximum points at the end of the group stage. But Las Águilas‘ goal difference won’t be caught by any other club on 10 points, so they’ll slide in just behind the front runners. Predicted Points Total: 10

5. Portland Timbers: If Portland sends a full strength team to Honduras and beats Olimpia by two or three goals, it has a good shot at the top seed overall (it has a better goal difference than Pachuca at the moment). Indeed, the Timbers are pretty much a lock for the second seed if they get three points from their last match. But Caleb Porter doesn’t seem to want CCL glory quite as much as he wants to be in the MLS playoffs, and that seems like it will end up costing Portland the win and the points required from their last game to be one of the higher seeded teams. Predicted Points Total: 10

6. Herediano: The club that wasn’t even supposed to be in the competition is officially in the knockout rounds, and – if these predictions hold (spoiler: they won’t) – a potential opponent for DC United in next year’s quarterfinals. Points Total: 10 (already secured)

7. Sporting Kansas City: It is testament to the cruel nature of sport that KC has been the only MLS club in the group stage to consistently respect the tournament and play strong lineups, and could very easily be eliminated regardless. Such is the consequence of the improving competitiveness of football in the region, currently illustrated by the growing strength of the Costa Rican teams. KC has to get the right result out of a trip to play Saprissa in order to progress. But Sporting can even get to the quarterfinals with the right kind of loss in Costa Rica, and that seems sufficient margin of error to make the team favorite to advance from Group 2. Predicted Points Total: 8

8. Cruz Azul: Only a road win over Alajuelense will do to see the defending CCL champions through the next round. That is a very tough task indeed, but it is hard to bet against the reigning Concachamps. Predicted Points Total: 7

Obligatory reminder Pachuca has won the CONCACAF club championship the last three times it qualified (pasionxolos.com.mx)

Obligatory reminder Pachuca has won the CONCACAF club championship the last three times it has qualified (pasionxolos.com.mx)

If those predictions hold up (which they won’t), one starts to see how this might shake out as a good year in CCL for MLS. Consider these quarterfinal pairings:

(1) Pachuca vs. (8) Cruz Azul

(2) Montreal Impact vs. (7) Sporting Kansas City

(3) DC United vs. (6) Herediano

(4) América vs. (5) Portland Timbers

Note that this draw clusters all the Liga MX clubs in one half: the winner of Pachuca/Cruz Azul would play the winner of América/Portland for a place in the final.

Three of the four teams chasing the other spot in the final would be MLS clubs. And two of them (the two and three seeds) would have home advantage in that series over any opponent other than Pachuca.

MLS teams are not yet at the same level as those of Liga MX. It will take a little bit of luck in the near term for a team from MLS to win CCL. A knockout-round draw like the one above would represent a little bit of luck.

But the MLS teams went into the final round of last year’s tournament with similarly high hopes, and managed to stumble. So let’s wait until we have the final breakdown of group winners and seedings before getting too excited.

In the meantime, here’s what happened in round five…

Top seed in the best dressed CCL coach knockout rounds (concacaf.com)

Top seed in the best dressed CCL coach knockout rounds (concacaf.com)

Pachuca_Tuzos_logo.svgCSD_Municipal.svgGROUP 1

Pachuca 4 – 1 Municipal

Los Tuzos confirmed their place in next year’s quarterfinal round with a dominant home win over Municipal, the only team in the group that might have caught them.

Santiago Morandi, Los Rojos‘ ‘keeper, was the reason the score remained just about on the right side of respectable: he made 11 saves.

Municipal's first-choice 'keeper before Morandi was a guy called Jaime Penedo. Just sayin'... (concacaf.com)

Municipal’s first-choice ‘keeper before Morandi was a guy called Jaime Penedo. Just sayin’… (concacaf.com)

For Pachuca, the fact not a single player who had started the team’s preceding match (a 2-1 loss on the road to América in Liga MX) kicked off this game was a fair indication of Enrique Meza’s assessment of the opposition. After all, he had watched his team beat Municipal 7-3 in Guatemala.

However, Meza did not send out a weak team. Ariel Nahuelpán came off the bench to score for Pachuca against América; Diego Buonanotte only joined the squad at the end of August and is still settling in; Jürgen Damm is just coming back from injury; Abraham Carreño had a hat-trick the last time Los Tuzos played Municipal.

In case that wasn’t sufficient firepower, Meza put Matías Alustiza and Hirving Lozano – joint leading scorers for Pachuca in Liga MX at time of this match – on his bench.

The result was a comfortable win that would have been more so but for Morandi. Buonanotte won a soft penalty to get the scoring started, and scored Pachuca’s third of the evening; Damm got the fourth.

Running into someone wins a penalty these days? (concacaf.com)

Running into someone wins a penalty these days? (concacaf.com)

Nahuelpán’s goal – the team’s second – was the best of the bunch:

Made that look easier than it was (concacaf.com)

Emphatic (concacaf.com)

Municipal’s consolation goal capped the scoring. Los Rojos can hold their heads high. They have been consistently positive and (albeit mostly on the wrong side of the results) have been part of some of the more entertaining games of the group stage. Unfortunately, coach Aníbal Ruiz does not appear to have enjoyed the experience – he resigned his position shortly after the team’s return to Guatemala.

Next Match: 10/22 – Real España vs. Pachuca (9:00 pm, Chicago time; UDN)

La Realeza could be top of the Honduran league by the time this game rolls around: the team will play four of its next six matches at home, and was only two points off the top of the table after seven games played.

Whether a good run of results will be enough to help Real España trouble Pachuca and spoil the Group 1 leader’s seemingly inevitable march to 12 points remains to be seen.

As has been all too evident to date, Los Tuzos‘ reserves are plenty good enough to win games in this group, by very comfortable margins. Still, a trip to Honduras – San Pedro Sula no less – is no joke.

If Pachuca really wants 12 points and the top seed, it is there for the club’s taking. It should be able to put the necessary class and experience on the field to handle Real España. And it will have the advantage of playing the day after the only team in the tournament that can realistically get maximum points and challenge Los Tuzos‘ +10 goal difference: Portland Timbers.

Enrique Meza will know exactly what he needs to do to be assured of the top seeding for the knockout rounds when this game kicks off.

Qualification scenarios

Municipal and Real España are eliminated.

Pachuca is guaranteed a quarterfinal berth, and is one of only four teams (DC United, Montreal Impact and Portland Timbers are the other three) mathematically capable of taking 12 points from the group stage.

sporting kc logoRealEsteliFCGROUP 2

Sporting Kansas City 3 – 0 Real Estelí

Credit again to Peter Vermes, who made comments prior to this game that sounded a lot like excuses for fielding a weak lineup, but sent out a team lacking only Dom Dwyer (who was on the bench) and Aurelien Collin (injured) from what might be perceived to be KC’s strongest eleven.

The selection did their manager proud. Graham Zusi had a particularly good night, setting up the first goal, then setting up what should have been the second – but Claudio Bieler simply couldn’t bring himself to score.

Um...there's no one behind you, Claudio (concacaf.com)

Um…there’s no one behind you, Claudio (concacaf.com)

El Tren del Norte was not without threat: Elvis Figueroa could have made the game more interesting if he had done as well with his shot as he did to bamboozle Igor Julião when the score was still 0-0.

Tough angle, to be fair (concacaf.com)

Tough angle, to be fair (concacaf.com)

But KC looked the stronger team on paper, and proved it on the field.

There was some complaint about the refereeing, as there often is from MLS teams in CCL. But the simple truth is KC plays a high-energy, high-contact game – and that doesn’t always get indulged by referees. MLS refs are (we have been told) often acting under instruction to let “simple” fouls go uncalled. Absent such instructions, KC is at risk of getting called for a lot of fouls, which is what happened in this match.

Vermes suggested Graham Zusi (who received one of five yellow cards issued to KC players on the night) was not given appropriate “protection” by the referee, but that is a tough argument to make stick when you deliberately cultivate one of the most physical styles of play permissible by the rules of the game. If you are going to dish it out, you have to learn to take it. (In fairness, complaining about refereeing in the hope of getting a more lenient approach for the next game is also an essential part of the hit-em-hard game plan.)

The referee did completely miss what looked like a clear penalty for KC – it is very hard to understand how a defender with his back to the ball carrier can be said to have made a fair challenge – but made up for it by deciding a Bieler dive was worthy of a spot kick.

Feel the contact, hit the deck  (concacaf.com)

Feel the contact, hit the deck (concacaf.com)

In the end, however, the 3-0 loss was flattering to Estelí, who didn’t get much of the ball and didn’t do enough with it when they had it. Vermes picked a team to win this game comfortably, and got exactly what he wanted.

Next Match: 10/23 – Saprissa vs. Sporting Kansas City (9:00 pm, Chicago time; UDN)

This should be a fun game to watch, even if it doesn’t take place on Saprissa’s home ground (there is reason to believe it could be staged at Costa Rica’s Estadio Nacional in San José; Saprissa’s first CCL home game was moved due to the lingering effects of a monster truck show on the club’s pitch).

Saprissa has to win by two or more goals to advance – except in the case of a 3-1 win. That result would mirror KC’s win over La S in the first game between these teams. Since they each beat Real Estelí 3-0 at home and drew 1-1 with El Tren on the road, their results would be identical, and the group winner would be determined by the drawing of lots, per CONCACAF regulations.

MLS fans know a thing or two about letting games of chance settle important decisions, but one imagines both teams would prefer to settle the outcome of the group with football rather than the flip of a coin.

Expect a tense match, for both sides – though KC will only get really anxious if it drops behind by two goals.

Group 2 Qualification scenarios

Saprissa will advance with a 2-0 win or any win by three or more goals

Sporting Kansas City will advance with a win, a draw, or any loss by two goals or less – except 1-3 or 0-2.

If Saprissa wins 3-1, all tiebreakers between La S and KC will be equal. The group winner will be decided by “the drawing of lots”, i.e. a coin flip.

Real Estelí is eliminated.

CD_FAS.svgNew York Red BullsGROUP 3

CD FAS 0 – 0 New York Red Bulls

It doesn’t take a particularly deep knowledge of CCL history to know that sending a less than full-strength team to Central America to get a win is asking to get slapped out of the tournament.

Last year, Houston Dynamo put the reserves out in Panama to get a draw – and lost. And with specific regard to El Salvador, Tijuana (who sent a decent team) and LA Galaxy (who did not) couldn’t get positive results from their road trips to the country in CCL 2013-14.

The New York Red Bulls ignored such advice, put a merely half-strength side on the field against CD FAS, and got what they deserved.

RBNY dominated the game, but had only packed one true forward in the squad – Saër Sène, who is recovering still from two career-threatening injuries – and persisted with a lone forward set-up even when there were no longer any actual forwards on the pitch (Sène was substituted for midfielder Ruben Bover in the 72nd minute).

Lightweight up front, the Red Bulls couldn’t get the ball in the net – even from the penalty spot.

Not like that (concacaf.com)

Not like that (concacaf.com)

After the match, RBNY players and staff were apparently bewildered by CD FAS’s determination to not lose. Los Tigres take the quiet satisfaction of having bounced the 2013 MLS Supporters’ Shield winners from CCL.

The Red Bulls needed a win, didn’t get it, and are eliminated from the tournament.

Next Match: 10/22 – New York Red Bulls vs. Montreal Impact (7:00 pm, Chicago time; Fox 2)

Given RBNY’s reluctance to field a strong lineup for a game they absolutely had to win, assume this match – which offers nothing of substance to the Red Bulls – will be contested by a youth team.

Actually, the Red Bulls’ NPSL squad just won its national championship, so those players are probably too good to be risked for a meaningless fixture. It’ll be the RBNY second and third string instead.

Montreal ought to play its very best eleven and look not just to win, but win big. Maximum points from the group and a +5 or +6 goal difference could put L’Impact as high as the second seed for the knockout rounds, if other results go their way. And 12 points will definitely be good for no lower than the fourth seed, which is still home advantage for a quarterfinal at least.

There is a lot more at stake here for Montreal than RBNY, and the final score should reflect the vast disparity in motivation between the two teams.

Qualification scenarios

CD FAS and New York Red Bulls are eliminated.

Montreal Impact is guaranteed a quarterfinal berth, and is one of four teams (DC United, Pachuca and Portland Timbers are the other three) mathematically capable of taking 12 points from the group stage.

DCUnitedTauro_FCGROUP 4

DC United 2 – 0 Tauro FC

As RBNY demonstrated, playing the reserves in CCL isn’t the smartest way for MLS teams to do well in the tournament: traditionally, it leads to early exits or sub-optimal seeding in the knockout rounds.

Ben Olsen is determined to flout convention this year. This was the second time the DC United head coach has sent out a second-string to handle CCL matters, and the second time he’s been rewarded with three points.

Unlike the last time Olsen tested his reserves against CCL opposition – when Waterhouse really should have got at least a point, but for their own determination to only try to score goals from 30 yards out – this match was an easy run.

Had Tauro’s 17-year-old front man, Ismael Díaz, hit the net instead the crossbar in the first half when DC’s players were still failing to find the target at the other end, it might have been different.

Would've been special (concacaf.com)

Would’ve been special (concacaf.com)

But Tauro didn’t score, and Olsen refocused his players at half-time. Within three minutes of the restart, two of the more experienced guys in the lineup, Chris Pontius (recovering from injury) and Samuel Inkoom (just joined the team), combined for the go-ahead goal.

Just the way they drew it up in the locker room (concacaf.com)

Just the way they drew it up in the locker room (concacaf.com)

Olsen promptly withdrew Pontius for Eddie Johnson (also on the way back from injury) – and Johnson knocked in the second.

DC’s CCL campaign is now one win away from a perfect record in the group stage and guaranteed home advantage for the quarterfinals.

Next Match: 10/21 – Tauro FC vs. DC United (7:00 pm, Chicago time; Fox Soccer Plus)

It’s not quite giving Ben Olsen enough credit to say he’s just thrown the reserves out into CCL and hoped for the best. The DC head coach has managed his playing resources astutely, putting just enough on the field in key positions to get the results required.

Notably, on the road in Jamaica for the second of his team’s two encounters with Waterhouse, Olsen started key players in key positions: Bill Hamid in goal, Perry Kitchen in midfield, Fabián Espíndola up front.

It will be interesting to see how he treats this excursion to Panama. The first game against Tauro was nowhere near as close as DC’s first game against Waterhouse. His second-string might well be able to handle the assignment.

Or Olsen may notice that Tauro is slowly improving: the team had put together a four-game unbeaten run in league play prior to losing in DC.

Having got this close to 12 points, DCU ought to put the players on the field to try to assure maximum reward for its work to date. But much will depend on how firm DC’s grip is on the Eastern Conference title in MLS (itself a guarantee of entry to CCL 2015-16), and how confident Olsen feels about his fringe players’ chances in Panama having watched them cruise past Tauro at home.

Qualification scenarios

DC United is guaranteed a quarterfinal berth, and is one of four teams (Montreal Impact, Pachuca and Portland Timbers are the other three) mathematically capable of taking 12 points from the group stage.

Waterhouse FC and Tauro FC are eliminated.

Portland TimbersAlpha_United.svgGROUP 5

Portland Timbers 6 – 0 Alpha United

This wasn’t just a big win in the conventional sense, or in the sense that it matched Olimpia’s thrashing of the same opponent and gave Portland another tiebreaker advantage in Group 5 – this was a big win in the sense that it pushed the Timber’s goal difference above that of Pachuca.

If the Timbers win their next game in CCL, they won’t just have maximum points from their group, they might have the top seed overall in the knockout rounds.

But that will be decided in October.

As the score suggests, Portland was a lot better than The Hammer. The progress of the match is perhaps best described not by the events on the field but by the mood of Alpha United’s coach, Wayne Dover, on the sideline.

He started out looking nervous:

You kinda knew what was coming, didn't you? (concacaf.com)

You kinda knew what was coming, didn’t you? (concacaf.com)

Then looked glum:

You weren't wrong (concacaf.com)

You weren’t wrong (concacaf.com)

But perked up tremendously at the final whistle:

It's over. Phew. (concacaf.com)

It’s over. Phew. (concacaf.com)

It has not been a good tournament for Alpha United, though their young Panamanian playmaker, Aldair Paredes, may be getting a few looks from bigger clubs after another creditable performance.

For Portland, Caleb Porter will know that beating up on one of the weakest teams in the tournament won’t be worth much if he can’t lead his club to the right result for their next game in Honduras.

Next Match: 10/21 – Olimpia vs. Portland Timbers (9:00 pm, Chicago time; Fox Soccer Plus)

Portland will stride into Honduras as favorites to win Group 5, holding both the points and tiebreaker advantage over Olimpia.

The only way for Los Leones to get out of the group is to win comfortably, either 2-0, 3-1, or by any margin of three goals or more. Any other result hands the group to Portland.

This game will be a test of the Timbers’ ambition in CCL more than their ability. Olimpia is not an easy opponent, but knowing even a loss (so long as the score stays close) won’t irreparably harm the chance of making the quarterfinals gives Portland a large comfort zone.

Caleb Porter has kept his foot on the brake throughout CCL to date, using the tournament to take a look at some reserve options and mixing in starters sparingly. He had his reasons: one was to keep his team’s MLS playoff hopes alive; another was the simple fact Alpha United was not very good; a third – each time you take a chance and win, you earn the right to take another chance. One cannot blame Porter for his strategy to date, nor argue with the results he has achieved.

The last game of the group stage is the opportunity to make those results count. A win over Olimpia will be sufficient to snag a high seed for the quarterfinals. A big win might be enough to get the top seed – even a small win might do it, since Portland’s goal difference (+11) is currently better than Pachuca’s (+10). Home advantage throughout the CCL knockout rounds is a major prize.

The Timbers might get the win with another mix of reserves and starters. The first match against Olimpia suggested the Honduran team is about as good at defending as Portland – i.e. not very good at all. So if the usual approach delivers the same outcome: fair play to Caleb Porter, who will have maximized the combination of a weak group and his own squad depth.

But if the Timbers trip up in Honduras – where Olimpia has scored 18 goals at home as part of a five-game winning streak in the league from 8/24 to 9/21 –  without having taken their best shot at a high seed in the next round, they will have only themselves to blame.

Qualification scenarios

Alpha United is eliminated.

Olimpia will advance with a 2-0 or 3-1 win, or any win by three or more goals.

Portland Timbers will advance with a win, a draw or any loss by two goals or less – except 0-2 or 1-3.

Chorrillo_FCAlajuelenseGROUP 6

Chorrillo FC 1 – 1 Alajuelense

Chorrillo once again ran Alajuelense pretty close, and once again came up against Patrick Pemberton in pretty good form.

The Alajuelense ‘keeper bailed his team out of a few tight spots, ensuring they came away with all that was required to take the upper hand in Group 6.

Pemberton keeps Chorrillo at bay (concacaf.com)

Pemberton keeps Chorrillo at bay (concacaf.com)

Had Chorrillo won, the Panamanian club would have been top of the group and into the quarterfinals if Alajuelense and Cruz Azul were to draw in their final match. But a draw was as good as a win for Los Manudos, who will be eliminated from the tournament should they lose to Cruz Azul regardless of the result achieved in Panama.

The tie does just fine, as it sends Alajuelense back to Costa Rica knowing any result other than a loss against La Máquina puts them into the knockout round of CCL for the second consecutive year.

Nor should one read too much into the fact Los Manudos struggled to contain Chorrillo. Remember Cruz Azul lost in Panama.

Group 6 boasts last year’s champion and one of last year’s semifinalists, so Chorrillo deserves great credit for taking four points from the group and staying undefeated at home.

Indeed, had the referee taken a different view of what looked like a decent shout for a penalty, Alajuelense might have lost this game.

Seen 'em given (concacaf.com)

Seen ’em given (concacaf.com)

As Chorrillo chased the win and left themselves vulnerable to the counter, the defense stepped up with some calm and inventive maneuvers as required.

When a pass back is really a pass forward (concacaf.com)

When a pass back is really a pass forward (concacaf.com)

Chorrillo’s relative success may be of greatest interest to fans of the Portland Timbers, as they consider their club’s prospects in the knockout rounds.

If Portland makes it through to the quarterfinals, consider how teams of the caliber of Cruz Azul and Alajuelense struggled to handle a visit to a small stadium, a plastic pitch, and a team that simply would not stop trying to score.

 Next Match: 10/21 – Alajuelense vs. Cruz Azul (9:00 pm, Chicago time; Galavision)

No disrespect to Saprissa and Sporting Kansas City, but of the games in the next round that will determine a group winner, this is the one to watch.

Cruz Azul has to win to get through. Alajuelense has started its league campaign with three wins and a draw in four home games to date (and La Máquina doesn’t have a road win in Liga MX in its first four attempts of the season).

Cruz Azul was a long shot to win CCL last year, but went to Toluca and got the result required. It is easier, however, to tie on the road than it is to win.

Alajuelense, conversely, got last year’s quarterfinals by knocking out América – and that included beating Las Águilas at Azteca in the final game of the group. So Los Manudos have stared down top tier Mexican opponents before.

Both clubs have the ability and the recent history in this competition to get the result they need, and both ought to be very well motivated to get it.

Qualification scenarios

Alajuelense will advance with a draw or a win.

Chorrillo FC is eliminated.

Cruz Azul will advance with a win.

CS_HeredianoLeon_FC_logoGroup 7

Herediano 2 – 1 León

Remember when the CCL groups were first selected and Group 7 was León, Isidro Metapán and Belmopan Bandits? Seemed quite likely that León was headed for one of the top seeds in the quarterfinals.

This seemed even more likely when León opened its campaign by sending a reserve team to play Metapán in El Salvador and bringing home all three points.

And then the Bandits were (disgracefully, but that isn’t Herediano’s fault) punted out of CCL because CONCACAF thought it was OK to wait until the competition had started before completing a pitch inspection.

Still, the feeling was that Belmopan’s replacement – the third best team from Costa Rica – might merely take the edge off León’s points total.

It was surprising when Herediano got a draw at Estadio León; not least because La Fiera needed a last-minute goal to salvage the point. But it still didn’t seem at all plausible that Liga MX’s Bicampeones were going to get dumped from CCL by the team currently tenth in Costa Rica’s 12-team Primera División.

That assumption proved as false as Herediano’s league position (it’s near-bottom because it has only played four games; most teams in the league have played eight or nine).

This match played out much like the first between these clubs, except Herediano got two goals before Leon finally found the net. As before, it was too little too late for La Fiera.

No one dressed this well should have to shout to be heard (concacaf.com)

No one dressed this well should have to shout to be heard (concacaf.com)

Gustavo Matosas was taking his opponents more seriously this time around: he only rested four of the players who had contested León’s prior match in Liga MX, and the replacements were Jonny Magallón, Miguel Sabah, José Cárdenas and Fernando Navarro – experienced pros, each of whom has been capped at least once by El Tri.

It was not León’s strongest possible team, but Matosas threw on Carlos Peña and Elías Hernández for the last 20 minutes when things got really desperate, at which point it was hard to argue that La Fiera wasn’t really doing all it could to win.

It wasn’t enough.

Herediano floored the Mexican heavyweight with a direct free kick from Gabriel Gómez in the 12th minute.

Aah, so THAT'S why he didn't work out at Philadelphia Union (concacaf.com)

Aah, so THAT’S why he didn’t work out at Philadelphia Union (concacaf.com)

The knockout blow was a simply a function of a defense transfixed by the man on the ball and not picking up the runner into the box.

Nothing quite so mesmerizing as a man with a bandaged head (concacaf.com)

Nothing quite so mesmerizing as a man with a bandaged head (concacaf.com)

Herediano conceded in the 88th minute, but had effectively won the battle and the war by that stage. León’s Arturo Ortíz was sent off in the 80th minute without even entering the game, as the visitors succumbed to their own frustration. Edwin Hernández kicked Yendrick Ruiz for no better reason than petulance in stoppage time, drawing José Sánchez into a scuffle. The game concluded with Hernández and Sánchez sent off for fighting.

Not the best way to stop an opponent from time wasting (concacaf.com)

Not the best way to stop an opponent from time wasting (concacaf.com)

Herediano won’t be too upset. The club wasn’t supposed to be in this year’s CCL, but it is in the quarterfinals at the expense of one of the pre-tournament favorites.

Next Match: 10/23 – León vs. Isidro Metapán (7:00 pm, Chicago time; UDN)

The only game of the final round with absolutely no bearing on either the winner of a group or the points and goal difference that might affect the seedings for the knockout rounds. Both teams are out of the tournament.

Unless you have a profound interest in León’s reserves or are a fan of Metapán’s Nico Muñoz (five goals in his first four league games this year), this is one to skip.

Qualification scenarios

Herediano is guaranteed a quarterfinal berth, and has 10 points and a +7 goal difference with no games remaining.

Isidro Metapán and León are eliminated.

Group 8

Bayamon_FCComunicacionesBayamón FC 0-2 Comunicaciones

Most of the entertainment in this game came from watching both teams cope with the playing conditions: one half of the pitch in Puerto Rico was a swamp, the other half seemed to be in good condition.

Perhaps there had been a remarkably localized rainstorm before kick-off.

Whatever the reason, the muddy pitch was effectively an extra defender for Bayamón in the first half. Comunicaciones dominated possession, but repeatedly (and literally) got stuck in the final third as the ball stubbornly refused to roll or bounce in any predictable manner.

No surprise therefore that Los Cremas‘ opening goal was from a direct free kick. José Contreras made the admirably simple and decisive breakthrough in the 19th minute.

Sometimes, the ball on the floor just isn't an effective option (concacaf.com)

Sometimes, keeping the ball on the ground just isn’t an effective option (concacaf.com)

No floodgates opened, however, even after Bayamón lost Alexis Rivera to a red card in first-half stoppage time. Comunicaciones responded by having Contreras sent off early in the second half.

Perhaps the mud wasn’t the problem, since Los Cremas weren’t a great deal more effective when attacking the dry end of the field. Their second goal was in the 86th minute: Paolo (brother of Luis) Suárez crossed, Bayamón’s Steven Estrada toe-poked an attempted block past his own ‘keeper.

They all count (concacaf.com)

They all count (concacaf.com)

Comunicaciones might have been worth a bigger win, but perhaps the team understood there wasn’t much point in winning by four or five goals. Unless it put 10 goals past Bayamón, there would be no goal difference advantage over América to take into the last match of the group.

Bayamón will be pleased to have finally avoided absolute humiliation, after conceding 21 goals in its first three games. It was never in control of this game, but the home team did have chances, and this was unquestionably as close to not losing as the club has come in this tournament.

This match is the end of this year’s CCL for Bayamón.

Next Match: 10/21 – América vs. Comunicaciones (7:00 pm, Chicago time; UDN)

The Group 8 decider sees Comunicaciones head to Azteca with a just-about-feasible task: get a high scoring draw.

Las Águilas hold the goal difference advantage, as well as the advantage of having scored an away goal against Los Cremas when these two sides met in Guatemala.

Neither team can afford to lose, either team progresses with a win. América is, of course, overwhelmingly the favorite to advance to the next round.

Qualification scenarios:

América will advance with a win, or draw by a score of 0-0 or 1-1.

Bayamón FC is eliminated.

Comunicaciones will advance with a win, or any draw in which it scores two or more goals (2-2, 3-3 etc.)

****

The next round of group stage matches runs from October 21st to October 23rd.

Follow @OTFSoccer for updates on our continuing CCL coverage.

****

OTF’s Austin Fido often enjoys CCL @canetop. Follow him.

3 thoughts on “CCL 2014-15: Group Stage, Round 5 Round-Up

  1. Well I must say that OTF is providing 1st class coverage of a tournament that perhaps does not merit it. Never-the-less Mr Fido has once again performed most admirably and is most deserving of a pat on the back, a fist bump and all the heart felt accolades one can muster up. Well done!

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