Article By: Anders Aarhus
Oh CONCACAF. Just when we think we’ve seen it all you find another way to make us scratch our heads.
Tuesday night’s draw for the 2013-14 version of the CONCACAF Champions League was, for the lack of a better term, a mess. MLSsoccer.com did a nice job breaking it down:
“The initial draw — which was broadcast live on Univision Deportes — was immediately thrown out, and quickly redrawn in the span of an hour, owing to conflicts in the composition of two of the groups.
At heart in the confusion was the composition of Groups 7 and 8 in the draw. Despite keeping the Mexican and American clubs apart in the group stage during the 2012-13 CCL, Group 7 included Mexican team Club Tijuana and the Houston Dynamo, while Group 8 consisted of the LA Galaxy and Mexico's Cruz Azul. Since both groups had two Mexican teams and two American teams, they could not simply be redrawn with each other. This required four groups to be redrawn.”
You have to laugh. What else is there to do at this point?
Eventually the groups were drawn “correctly” and, after the dust settled, this is what they look like:
• Arabe Unido – Panama
• Houston Dynamo – USA
• W Connection FC – Trinidad & Tobago
• Olimpia – Honduras
• Sporting Kansas City – USA
• Real Esteli – Nicaragua
• Herediano – Costa Rica
• Cruz Azul – Mexico
• Valencia FC – Haiti
• Club America – Mexico
• LD Alajuelense – Costa Rica
• Sporting San Miguelito – Panama
• San Jose Earthquakes – USA
• Montreal Impact – Canada
• Guatemala 2 (TBD) – Guatemala*
• Comuicaciones – Guatemala
• Toluca – Mexico
• Caledonia AIA – Trinidad & Tobago
• Club Tijuana (Xolos) – Mexico
• CD Victoria – Honduras
• Luis Angel Firpo – El Salvador
• LA Galaxy - USA
• Isidro Metapan – El Salvador
• Cartagines – Costa Rica
* - This spot will be filled by the winner of the current Guatemalan Clasura
^ - Two American teams can’t be drawn into the same group, but Montreal enters as a Canadian team even though they play in the same league as San Jose.
Here’s the breakdown of each MLS team’s chances:
Houston made a decent CCL run last year, advancing from the group stage after two blowout wins over CD FAS and a pair of draws against Olimpia. In the knockout rounds the Orange ran into MLS-killer Santos Laguna. Although Houston managed a 1-0 win in the home leg, they got lit up in Torreon. This year the Dynamo should easily advance from group one for a second crack at the knockout rounds. Dom Kinnear has done a great job building quality depth, which is extremely important for CCL play. Jason Johnson and Alex Dixon are two youngsters who should see time as well as goalkeeper Tyler Deric – one of the group-stage standouts from last year. As is the case with all MLS teams, the knockout round draw will play a large part in determining how far this club will go.
Sporting Kansas City:Sporting seems to be the team everyone is most excited to see in this year’s CCL. Peter Vermes’ men have stumbled a bit in the league these last few weeks, but KC possesses some of the best talent in MLS (even if Kei Kamara leaves in the summer transfer window) and that high-pressure style will give any team in the region problems. Sporting does have a tough group though. Olimpia gave Houston issues both group games last year. Real Esteli managed only a point in the group stage last
year, but that was off Mexican Champions Tigres. The Nicaraguan side also played Alajuelense tough and traveling nearly 3,000 miles to Central America will be a real test for Kansas City. That said the MLS side is still the favorite to advance from this group provided they can take points from the road games.
San Jose Earthquakes:
It’s been a nightmare first half of the MLS season for the Earthquakes. The reigning Supporters Shield winners need a strong second half push to even make the playoffs so CCL may not be a primary focus. On the other hand, a different competition could provide a fresh start and a welcome break from the league a la Malaga in this year’s Champions League. Either way it won’t be easy going. Chris Wondolowski needs to find the form of the past three years and some of the underperforming bench players will have to step up. Montreal is far and away the class of this group and with only one team advancing from each group, San Jose looks to be heading for an
Montreal Impact:Attitude will be what determines Montreal’s CCL run. While the Impact has a few decent reserve players like Sanna Nyasi and Andrew Wenger, it lacks the true depth of a Houston or an LA. It’s easy to imagine Montreal winning the group without dropping any points, but that’s only if head coach Marco Schallibaum plays a strong lineup. With the Impact currently on the inside track for the Supporters Shield, it would be understandable if Schallibaum decides to focus on MLS. That would be disappointing, however, as a full-strength team would have a great chance to make a deep run. There’s a ton of experience and guys like Alessandro Nesta and Macro DiVaio aren’t going to be rattled by anything. I’d like Montreal’s chances in Mexico in a knockout round more than most MLS teams.
A CCL title continues to elude MLS’ most ambitious franchise. Last year LA blew a 1-0 lead in the final minutes of the semi-final first leg before getting shut out in Mexico. This year’s Galaxy team may better than last year with the maturation of Jack McBean and Jose Villarreal and the emergence of Gyasi Zardes. Bruce Arena also has the advantage of an extremely easy group. Even playing backups LA should record blowouts in all four group games and the top seed for the knockout rounds seems very possible. But everything hinges on what happens in the summer transfer window. Omar Gonzalez may be sold, and we have yet to see who fill LA’s third Designated Player spot. If Gonzalez stays and the Galaxy makes a significant addition in the summer, this could be the year an MLS team finally hoists the CCL trophy.