CONCACAF Champions League: Quarterfinal Round-Up
OTF’s Austin Fido recaps the CCL 2013-14 quarterfinals…
The quarterfinal second legs saw all three American clubs dumped out of CCL, making 2013-14 the first regional showpiece not to feature a MLS team in its semifinals since 2009-10.
There will be plenty of time to dwell on the implications of that statistic, but this is a humble summary of the second legs and quarterfinal results. The MLS vs. LigaMX narrative has been an extremely helpful mechanism for this tournament to draw attention to itself in the US, but it should not be allowed to obscure appreciation of some good football.
Yes, Cruz Azul flattened Sporting Kansas City. Sure, Alajuelense and Arabe Unido were an uninspiring duet. But LA and Tijuana combined for a lively pair of matches. And the Toluca-Quakes tie was a classic of the home-and-away knockout genre.
So while there may be many interesting things to say about the apparent decline, or stasis, of American teams in relation to their Mexican counterparts, I am here not to bury MLS but to praise CCL.
This was a very enjoyable conclusion to the quarterfinals, even if the results were disappointing for those from the north side of CONCACAF.
For discussion of the first leg fixtures, go here. For recaps of the second legs and overall ties, read on…
ALAJUELENSE 2-0 ARABE UNIDO
1st Leg: Alajuelense 0-0 Arabe Unido; 2nd Leg: Arabe Unido 0-2 Alajuelense
Los Manudos roll on to the semi-finals, extending their extraordinary defensive record in this tournament.
Alajuelense has now recorded five consecutive clean sheets in this edition of CCL, a stretch which includes two bouts with Mexican heavyweight, Club America, and this most recent trip to Panama.
Conversely, Arabe Unido had scored in every one of its group stage matches. But La Furia Colonense foundered on La Liga‘s staunch back line.
Both sides had chances in the second leg. The difference between them was Alajuelense got two of their opportunities on target, and past stand-in ‘keeper Alexander Andreve.
Arabe Unido’s first-choice #1, Miguel Lloyd, was suspended for the second leg. If you want to make excuses for the Panamanian team, they lie between the sticks: Andreve’s weak punch in the 6th minute saw the ball quickly returned to the box and slotted into the net; he was also unable to do more with Jonathan McDonald’s powerful, close-range header in the 58th minute than parry it into his goal.
Los Manudos march on to their first regional semi-final since 2006 – incidentally, the last year their next opponents, Toluca, made the final. Both Alajuelense and Toluca were vanquished by Club America in 2006. The Costa Rican club will draw some comfort from already having settled that score in the group stage.
TOLUCA 2-2 SAN JOSE EARTHQUAKES
Toluca advances after penalty shootout (5-4)
1st Leg: SJ Earthquakes 1-1 Toluca; 2nd Leg: Toluca 1-1 SJ Earthquakes (pens: TOL 5-4 SJ)
Toluca told anyone who would listen the Quakes weren’t worth scouting for the first leg, and very nearly got a (presumably surprising) mugging in San Jose for their (studied lack of) trouble.
The second leg kicked off with the Quakes having filed a complaint to CONCACAF alleging scandalous acts of videography on the part of Toluca, suggesting the Mexican club was perhaps overcompensating for its prior negligence.
It made little difference. The second-leg played out much like the first: an enthralling contest between very evenly matched teams. It has become fashionable to say, with regard to MLS clubs in CCL, “the time for moral victories is past”. This was no moral victory: it was a good and entertaining game of soccer, following a good and entertaining first leg.
Had the Quakes taken more of the chances they created at home, or been given the benefit of the considerable doubt surrounding Alan Gordon’s extra-time goal (called offside on the night), or simply managed not to permit Isaac Brizuela time and space to thwack a sensational volley past Jon Busch, they would have won this tie.
Instead, the quarterfinal went to penalties, and Toluca won on the bounce of a ball. Wilson Tiago’s spot kick ricocheted off the crossbar and in; Shea Salinas’s riposte bounced off the same and out.
The Quakes’ hurly-burly run in CCL is over. Los Diablos Rojos advance. We will be fortunate indeed if any of the remaining match-ups in the tournament give us the same drama as these two delivered in this quarterfinal.
TIJUANA 4-3 LA GALAXY
1st Leg: LA Galaxy 1-0 Tijuana; 2nd Leg: Tijuana 4-2 LA Galaxy
The second leg played out a lot like the first: home team dominant early, visitors gradually pull themselves back into the game, final whistle welcomed more by hosts than guests.
Ultimately, the difference between the two teams was Tijuana made home advantage count for a lot more than LA. Three goals in the first 30 minutes nearly killed off this quarterfinal by half-time of the second leg.
It should have killed off the quarterfinal at half-time. But, barely more than a minute into the second half, Landon Donovan bounced a free kick off Omar Gonzalez to Robbie Keane, who tapped in. The Galaxy pressed and harried, and generally had the better of the latter 45 minutes – and got the second goal required.
Keane collected a neatly threaded through-ball from Donovan and stroked it home in the 85th minute. Unfortunately, Xolos had added a goal to their tally just three minutes earlier: Richard Ruiz one-touched a bouncing ball beyond Jaime Penedo from just inside the box in the 82nd minute.
Two goals in 45 minutes on the road was within the Galaxy’s capability; two goals in eight minutes was not.
In the end, LA lost to its own inept defending in the opening 30 minutes of the second leg. Conceding three goals and watching two hit the bar in half-an-hour is no way to win a football match.
Over two legs, both teams had their moments, but Tijuana’s moments were better.
CRUZ AZUL 5-2 SPORTING KANSAS CITY
1st Leg: Sporting KC 1-0 Cruz Azul; 2nd Leg: Cruz Azul 5-1 Sporting KC
Cruz Azul completely outplayed Sporting Kansas City in the second leg.
Two goals in the opening 25 minutes gave the advantage in the tie to La Maquina. Benny Feilhaber’s 43rd minute strike, against the run of play, brought that advantage back to KC.
Yes, Sporting Kansas City, despite taking a relentless shellacking, was winning this quarterfinal as late as the 55th minute of the second leg. Not comfortable, not even really coping, but winning (on the away goals tiebreaker) nonetheless.
It would, however, have been a travesty had Cruz Azul not won this tie. La Maquina was demonstrably better in the second leg, worthy of an even heavier victory than was achieved. And the Mexican team only lost the first leg because of a dubious offside call and a charitable interpretation of where Feilhaber’s arm stops and shoulder begins.
The best team won. Three goals in a 15 minute spell of the second half elevated Cruz Azul conclusively out of reach of KC, avenged the frustrating memory of those blown calls in the first leg, and put what is currently the best team in LigaMX into the CCL semifinals.
CONCACAF editor Austin Fido chats CCL @canetop.