Wednesday, September 19, 2012

CONCACAF Champion's League Preview

Article by Anders Aarhus

As the UEFA Champions League gets underway in Europe, there’s still plenty of games on this side of the pond. With four MLS sides in action, here’s a look at what’s ahead this week in the CONCACAF Champions League.

*Home teams listed first
[Editor's note: Real Salt Lake defeated Tauro on a late penalty kick by Alvaro Saborio]
Tauro vs. Real Salt Lake

A win for RSL would leave them tied atop the group on six points and set up a group-deciding game against Herediano in October. However, victory won’t come easy for the Utah side. Despite beating Tauro in its previous group meeting, RSL will be without captain Kyle Beckerman who is serving a red card suspension. The match will be played in Panama and Tauro will be desperate to avoid elimination in front of their home fans. Jason Kreis has shown the willingness to grind out draws on the road in CONCACAF and although a draw means RSL still controls its own destiny, a win would take a lot of pressure off the side in the final group game. Real will look to Javier Morales and Alvaro Saborio to step up and lead the team to victory.

Xelaju vs. W Connection FC

[Editor's Note: Xelaju defeated W Connection in dramatic style]

The surprise team of the competition so far, Xelaju are atop the group after two rounds thanks to an upset win against Chivas and a draw against W Connection. Having secured a point on the road against the latter, Xelaju can take a stranglehold on the group with a win at home: three points and the Guatemalan side would only need a draw against Chivas to advance to the knockout rounds. For W Connection, they are still very much alive. A win would see the team take over the top spot while controlling its own destiny going forward. Last time the two teams met, the result was a thrilling 2-2 draw so it’s reasonable to expect more goals in this contest.

Real Esteli vs. Tigres

[Editor's Note: Tigres wins courtesy of a late goal]

Real Esteli has yet to score in Champions League play and chances of recording a first point against Tigres aren’t high. Although the Nicaraguans showed well in their last group game against Alajuelense, they were thrashed 4-0 in their previous match against Tigres. This match will be played in Nicaragua which could make it a tricky fixture, but it’s hard not to see Tigres coming away with at least a point, more likely three. A win by the Mexican side will put the pressure on group co-leaders Alajuelense to keep pace.

Puerto Rico Islanders vs. LA Galaxy

A win virtually guarantees LA’s entry into the knockout rounds; a loss for PRI means they are out of the competition. It will be hard for the Galaxy to improve on last game’s five-goal effort, but the team sheet looks even stronger this time around. Edson Buddle is reportedly close to full fitness and could get the start while star forward Landon Donovan also figures to see time as he continues his return from a hamstring issue. A reserve-heavy lineup was enough to defeat Puerto Rico the last time these teams met and with the big guns returning for LA, there’s no reason to expect any different this time around.
READ: LA Galaxy Insider with more on the clash

Aguila vs. Santos Laguna

Santos should face little resistance from Aguila which has allowed 10 goals in just two games, five of which came the last time these two met. A win means Santos only needs a draw in Mexico against an awful Toronto team to advance out of the group. Aguila are eliminated with a loss. Expect plenty of scoring by Los Guerreos while striker Carlos Quintero looks to build on his four-goal Champions League campaign.

Marathon vs. Seattle Sounders

Seattle can become the first team to officially punch its ticket to the knockout rounds with a win. That’s no easy task, however, as Marathon will be reluctant to drop points at home in a group it can still win. Thanks to a game in hand over Seattle, Marathon can advance with a draw and a win against the Sounders, provided the Hondurans can also win their game against Caledonia AIA. With the Supporters Shield now likely out of reach look for Sounders coach Sigi Schmid to field a largely first choice XI. Seattle reserve forward Sammy Ochoa has played extremely well in Champions League thus far; look for him to add to his two-goal tally.

Houston Dynamo vs. FAS

In the final game with an MLS representative, the Houston Dynamo will continue its campaign after securing a road point against Olimpia. With both road games out of the way Houston have a clear path to the knockout rounds, starting with a FAS team it beat 3-1 in the last meeting. Bolstered by a home environment the Dynamo should have no problem taking all three points to set up a final showdown with fellow group leader Olimpia next month. Recent signing Giles Barnes could make his first start for Houston after coming on as a substitute in the club’s last match.
READ: More info on Houston’s CCL run

Municipal vs. Chorrillo

The final match of the round sees Municipal taking on Chorrillo at home in a must-win game. Having already lost to defending champion and group leader Monterrey, Municipal can’t afford to drop any points in the quest for the knockout rounds. Chorrillo are winless and conceded five goals in their last road group game. They’ll be hard pressed to do much better against a Municipal team fighting for its life in front of the home fans.

MLS Outlook: All four sides in action have very winnable games. Although Seattle is the only team that can guarantee a spot in the knockout rounds, both the Galaxy and the Dynamo can put themselves in good positions to advance after the next round of games. RSL obviously has the most important game of the four due to its earlier loss. Winning in Panama without Kyle Beckerman is no easy task, but Kreis has the depth necessary and anything other than three points will be viewed as a disappointment. A loss deals a serious blow to RSL’s chances of making the knockout rounds. Toronto doesn’t play this week, but will watch and hope for help from Aguila. Realistically they can’t expect any assistance and, most likely facing a must-win game against Santos in Mexico, their dreadful season looks like it will continue.

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