CCL 2014-15: Group 4 Preview – DC United, Tauro FC & Waterhouse FC
Austin Fido continues his hunt for CCL upsets with a preview of the 2014-15 edition’s Group 4…
But this post is about Group 4: the one featuring last year’s worst MLS team, DC United – now this year’s pre-tournament favorite to get the highest quarterfinal seed of any MLS club in CCL.
Let’s explore the method to the apparent madness of that statement…
Group 4: D.C. United, Tauro FC, Waterhouse FC
US Open Cup winner, DC United was the first team from MLS to qualify for this tournament – and the worst. But the memory of last year’s epic awfulness has faded as the club’s 2014 iteration has gradually asserted itself as one of the better sides in MLS this year.
It is not an astonishing reversal: MLS is structured to allow teams to bounce back in this way; DC was the third-best team in the league and a playoff contender as recently as 2012. Nonetheless, after just 16 points in 2013, few would have predicted the club would be back to third in MLS by the 20th game of its 2014 season.
The relative success poses a positive problem for Ben Olsen: does he chase an MLS Eastern Conference title (and another CCL berth) with full vigor, or hold something back for the CCL group stage?
Almost certainly, he’ll opt to play his reserves in CCL – MLS teams tend to find it all but impossible to resist the urge for league glory, and are rarely criticized too heavily for any slip-ups in the regional tournament that may result.
And Olsen will also have noted he’s been gifted arguably the easiest group in this year’s CCL. Tauro FC hasn’t been particularly good since it won the Panamanian Apertura in 2013 and qualified for this tournament.
Los Toros de Pedregal are regulars in CCL (this is their fifth appearance in seven editions of this format) but have never progressed beyond the group stage. They finished outside the playoff places in the 2014 Clausura, and have kicked off this season with one point and no goals from two games. (Their third game of the season is on 8/2, five days before they commence CCL action.)
The three Tauro players of greatest recent reputation – Panamanian internationals Carlos Rodríguez, Leonel Parris and Marcos Sánchez (himself a former DC United player) – are all long gone. There have been several new recruits acquired during the off season, but they are the likes of Cristian Lopez, a playmaker from the Colombian lower leagues, and Felix Gondola and Alejandro Velez, who were both part of Árabe Unido’s CCL squad last year.
In other words, there is no immediately apparent boost to the overall quality of the squad; an opinion supported by the team’s slow start to its domestic season.
Footballing rather than artistic merit, however, won it the Red Stripe Premier League regular season title last season, though it lost the playoff final to Montego Bay United.
Still, the team carried its league form to Haiti for the Caribbean Football Union Club Championship, winning all three of its group matches by a combined score of 10-1. Waterhouse advanced as one of the three group winners in the CFU tournament.
The problem for Waterhouse FC is similar to that faced by the Trinidadian representatives in last year’s CCL: a lack of competitive football. The Jamaican league wrapped up in May and isn’t expected to start again until September. So Waterhouse will have played most, if not all, of its CCL group games before it kicks off its domestic season.
The team features a few players who have appeared in recent Jamaica national team squads, most notably goalkeeper Richard McCallum, and midfielders Romario Campbell and Hughan Gray. But it is hard to rank a basically semi-pro team still in pre-season as anything other than makeweights in this group.
Group 4 Upset Outlook: LOW
On paper, this is the best chance any MLS team has to collect maximum points from the group stage and a high seed for the knockout rounds. DC is flying in MLS; Tauro is off to a slow start in Panama; Waterhouse hasn’t started at all in Jamaica.
The question is not so much whether DC United can advance but whether it can get 12 points, a decent goal difference, and home advantage for the quarterfinals (at least).
A glance at recent history, however, does offer a cautionary tale. Last year, Houston Dynamo was in a group with a middling Panamanian team and a Caribbean club that was coming into CCL cold (Trinidad’s W Connection). And the Dynamo tripped up.
Houston dropped points on its trip to Trinidad, and despite the early indication that its reserves might not be able to get it done, stuck with the second-string for the final group stage game in Panama. Árabe Unido won the match and the group.
So despite the advantages of mid-season form, a relatively settled squad, and a couple of under-cooked opponents, Ben Olsen might want to put a little more into CCL than Dominic Kinner did last year.
Like Kinnear, he will be able to scout his opponents, who play each other in the opening game of the group. But, also like the Dynamo, DC United must travel to Panama for its final match.
Group 4 looks set up to be a shoot-out between Tauro and DC United. Both teams will play their matches against Waterhouse first. Both teams should expect to win those games. And then they will play each other in what looks a lot like a two-legged playoff for the quarterfinal.
DC is the runaway favorite to win the group. But the lesson of last year’s CCL should be clear to this year’s MLS teams: just getting out of the groups is not sufficient; a high seed and home advantage for the quarterfinal ought to be the priority for a team hoping to challenge Liga MX’s domination of the latter stages of the tournament.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
DC United: Michael Seaton
He’s played more games and scored more goals for his country than for DC United in MLS, but Seaton was only signed last year and turned 18 in May of this year.
The young Jamaican’s recent appearance on DC United’s bench suggests he may not necessarily spend the entire season on loan to Richmond Kickers in USL Pro. DC’s CCL schedule includes a trip to Jamaica, and if Olsen is going to play his reserves in CCL, the least he can do is let one of the region’s emerging internationals have a run at the league champions of his home country.
Tauro FC: José Luis Garcés
Tauro’s slump in the second half of last season was attributable to a lack of goal scoring, and several of the club’s new signings are attacking players. The well-traveled Garcés hasn’t really been prolific for almost a decade, and he’s had some issues since returning to Panama in 2011 – the sort of issues that result in jail time.
But he’s an experienced forward, who has played for his country and for clubs in Uruguay, Bulgaria, Portugal and Saudia Arabia. Be it as mentor to Tauro’s young attacking players or as the man who scores the goals himself, he is the veteran presence up front the club is clearly hoping will get the team scoring again.
Waterhouse FC: Romario Campbell
His name would suggest his parents were, at the very least, football fans. The midfielder caught the eye of Winfried Schäfer last year, and the Reggae Boyz coach made special effort to improve the player’s fitness regimen. The national team manager has repeatedly criticized the standards of the domestic game for holding back player development.
Campbell is 24, featuring again in national team squads, and CCL should be an opportunity for him to advertise himself to bigger clubs than exist in Jamaica.
Group 4, Matchday 1: August 7 – Tauro vs. Waterhouse – 9:00 pm (Chicago time)
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OTF’s Austin Fido will get progressively more excited about CCL @canetop. Follow him.