CCL 2014-15: Group Stage, Round 1 Round-Up
One round of the CONCACAF Champions League 2014-15 group stage down, five to go. OTF’s Austin Fido brings the summary of the first set of matches in this year’s CCL…
There were three surprising results in the first round of group stage games, though it is perhaps overselling to suggest Alajuelense tying Cruz Azul in Mexico and Saprissa not beating Real Estelí in Nicaragua were upsets. Just upsetting if you are a fan of La Máquina or La S.
It seems fair to call Waterhouse’s victory over Tauro in Panama an upset, but the result may not have great impact on the tournament: both teams are firmly second favorite to DC United in Group 4.
The first round of the group stage does not lack for talking points. Let’s dig in…
Apparently keen to make a better start in CCL than has been the case in Liga MX (three points from its first three games of this season), Pachuca coach Enrique Meza put out a strong line up for his team’s first match of the group stage.
Los Tuzos started six players from the 11 who started their last league game – a 2-0 road loss to Querétaro. All three of the guys who came off the bench against Querétaro started against Real España, and the new faces were Daniel Arreola and Aquivaldo Mosquera – two of the more experienced defenders in the Mexican league.
The selection didn’t let Meza down. Pachuca scored all five goals in the match (Mosquera’s own goal allowed Real España a measure of consolation) and took full advantage of the opportunity to start its campaign with a big home win over opponents who have lost several of the players who got them into this tournament.
Real España may prove a trickier opponent when these teams meet again in Honduras in October, and we have yet to see what Municipal is bringing to this party, but the first impression of Pachuca is that this team is both willing and able to get 12 points from Group 1.
Next Match: 8/21 – Real España vs. Municipal
The good news for La Realeza is it now has a couple of weeks to work on forgetting its limp start to CCL, although it won’t get to play in front its home crowd until this 8/21 fixture against Municipal.
The bad news is Los Rojos have started their season pretty well: two wins and a draw from their first three matches, and Carlos Ruiz is off to a hot start (three goals for the season to date).
Saprissa didn’t send its best squad to Nicaragua – there was no Michael Umaña, Yeltsin Tejeda, Heiner Mora or Kendall Waston (now transferred to Vancouver Whitecaps) in the team that played Real Estelí.
If this is the team La S is hoping will see it through to the quarterfinals, Sporting Kansas City may breathe a little easier: this group might not be as tough as it looks.
Next Match: 8/19 – Real Estelí vs. Sporting Kansas City
The true context of Real Estelí’s unexpected point against Saprissa will be revealed in the next game.
The Nicaraguans host Sporting Kansas City, who now have an excellent chance to take points Saprissa failed to gather and perhaps render October’s trip to Costa Rica less important than seemed likely before the tournament began.
Or perhaps El Tren del Norte is better this year than in its prior appearances in this competition (the team still has never won a match in CCL). Sporting KC has been issued with a clear reminder of the potential consequences of not putting your best foot forward in CCL. The Nicaraguan club should be more confident of its ability to compete with the other teams in Group 2 – especially if those teams continue to try to get by without their best players.
By the slimmest possible margin, L’Impact navigated the first hurdle of its CCL group: three points at home to the team most regard as the weakest in Group 3 was an important step toward the knockout phase and exiting this season with something other than an abiding sense of disappointment.
But FAS will be encouraged by minimizing the scale of the loss, and the fact Montreal lost composure toward the end of the game, losing right back Hassoun Camara and coach Frank Klopas for the next round of the group stage after each picked up red cards in unrelated incidents.
FAS knows a thing or two about heading to an away game with a short-handed squad: visa issues meant the Salvadorans only carried 14 players to Montreal, including just one goalkeeper. Fortunately, the ‘keeper who made it through immigration was the team’s preferred starter, Luis Contreras, and he was largely responsible for fact FAS only conceded one goal.
Next Match: 8/20 – FAS vs. Montreal Impact
As Heredia demonstrated in last year’s CCL (in a group including Montreal, as it happens), it is possible to make a serious run at the quarterfinals without winning on the road. To do so, however, a club must win at home.
FAS needs three points from this fixture. L’Impact will be chasing the maximum too, if Patrice Bernier’s comments are reflective of the mood in the Montreal locker room.
It is unfortunate that for a MLS team to try its very best in this tournament it needs to be the very worst in the league, but perhaps Montreal’s enthusiasm will rub off on its fellow MLS clubs when they get their CCL campaigns under way over the next few weeks.
Caribbean teams haven’t been particularly competitive in CCL for a few years now, but Waterhouse combined a moment of individual brilliance (Romario Campbell’s free kick to open the scoring in the 2nd minute) with persistence (Vincent Earle’s 19th minute goal) and determination (some indefatigable defending and goalkeeping under fairly constant pressure from the home team) to bring home three points from Panama, despite playing the last 30 minutes or so of the game with 10 men.
The Jamaicans’ starting lineup was boosted by Jermaine “Tuffy” Anderson’s return from his adventures in El Salvador. The forward’s finishing wasn’t great, which could be the reason his services were no longer required by CD Águila, or could simply be a sign of a man still working his way into form.
Tauro will know it is capable of playing better than it did in this match, and it can count itself unfortunate not to have won.
But this also wasn’t Waterhouse’s best work. Although it is tempting to discount this result as little more than a skirmish between two teams equally incapable of troubling DC United, the match also stands as a reminder that the Jamaicans aren’t simply here to make up the numbers.
Next Match: 8/20 – DC United vs. Waterhouse FC
Waterhouse already has three more points than it might have been expected to get out the group stage. The win in Panama owed much to Tauro’s profligate finishing, but DC United would do well to note what can happen when almost an entire team is treating the tournament as a chance to attract the attention of bigger clubs, and bigger contracts.
Motivation isn’t sufficient to win a game of football, but if Waterhouse can get a point out of this game, it will be the unlikely Group 4 favorite to qualify for the quarterfinals.
It wasn’t the most convincing win for Olimpia, especially given the presumed disparity between the resources available to one of the biggest clubs in Honduras and a Guyanese team that has plenty of professionalism, but not all that many actual professionals.
Still, Olimpia will be relieved to have escaped Guyana with three points, and the chance to improve its form with a few weeks of league play (Los Leones won’t be back in CCL action until 8/28).
The Hammer was not outclassed, and did enough to suggest it can compete with the bigger teams in the region, at least on home soil.
Next Match: 8/19 – Alpha United vs. Portland Timbers
Alpha’s next-best chance to have a say in the outcome of Group 5 is to deprive Portland of the win it will be seeking to match (or better) Olimpia’s result.
The Timbers would doubtless prefer to have passage to the quarterfinals booked before their match in Honduras in October. As such, it would make a little sense to send a strong team to Guyana and try to bring back a multi-goal win (thereby picking up a goal difference advantage over Olimpia).
This probably won’t happen: Portland is in a pickle in MLS, and likely needs its best players to stay fit and focused for that fight.
Alpha United doesn’t seem to be a team good enough to beat even Portland’s reserves, but being able to outperform expectations is the only reason The Hammer is in the competition in the first place.
It can’t happen again, can it? Sure, Alajuelense beat América twice last year, but it can’t possibly take on another Mexico City-based giant of Liga MX and prevail? We’ll see.
Cruz Azul is off to a slow start to the season – still winless in the league, and now also opening its CCL defense with a stumble. Luis Fernando Tena rested several of the players who started on 8/2 against Veracruz, but he still managed to field a lineup comprising three of the four defenders he used in the second leg of last year’s CCL final in Toluca, as well the club’s starting ‘keeper (José Corona) and an attacking trio (Marco Fabián, Christian Giménez, and Joao Rojas) that probably wouldn’t have much difficulty starting for any team in the region.
Tena spoke respectfully of the threat posed by Alajuelense prior to this match, and sent out a team that did succeed in creating plenty of chances. But La Máquina only landed one in the net, and Los Manudos got their equalizer scarcely ten minutes later.
The point in Mexico City gives first blood to Alajuelense in what will hopefully be one of the more closely contested groups in this year’s CCL.
Next Match: 8/19 – Chorrillo FC vs. Cruz Azul
Attention in Group 6 now turns to Panama. Chorrillo FC will play in the next four games in this group, before Alajuelense and Cruz Azul meet again in Costa Rica for what is expected to be the match to decide which of them gets to the quarterfinals.
But the Panamanian club may yet have something to contribute to this group beyond boosting the goal difference of its opponents. Chorrillo has seven points from its first three games of league play, and if La Máquina cannot shake itself out its current funk before 8/19, a trip to Panama to face a confident team on its home turf is not the ideal solution to sluggish start to the new season.
La Fiera laid down its marker for 12 points and the top seed in the quarterfinals. Bringing four goals, three points and a +2 goal difference back from El Salvador counts as a very good start to the campaign.
Better still, this was León’s hardest game in the group on paper: if La Fiera is going to have any serious difficulty qualifying, it is most likely to come from Metapán. Or was: Los Caleros have been vanquished on their own soil, by a team that was mostly León’s second-string. Zero players who started in Liga MX against Morelia in the club’s prior match started in El Salvador – and it worked out just fine for Los Bicampeones.
It is important not to read too much into one result, but León started the group stage as a front-runner for the top seed in the latter stages of the competition – and it is still a front-runner after this game.
Next Match: 8/21 – Belmopan Bandits vs. Isidro Metapan
Anything less than three points from this fixture would be a disaster for Metapán, whose best hope of making the next round would appear to be scoring big wins over the Bandits and hoping to spring a surprise in León in the last round of the group.
Belmopan Bandits could have something more to offer CCL beyond a fun name and chance for a striker on an opposing team to make a serious run at the Golden Boot. And full credit to the Belizean side if it does defy expectations by finding its way to a point or three in this match.
But right now, this looks like Metapán’s chance to put a little pressure León with a big win – and maybe Héctor Ramos‘s opportunity to bag a few more goals and make a run at this year’s CCL scoring title.
Comunicaciones could hardly have got off to a better start in CCL: not just a big home win, but all the goals scored by players acquired during the offseason – Rolando Blackburn (who bagged three), Agustín Herrera, and Enrique Miranda.
Bayamón was never anything but second-best in this match, and will do well to avoid even more substantial losses against group favorite América.
Next Match: 8/19 – América vs. Puerto Rico Bayamón FC
CONCACAF’s schedule does Bayamón no favors: the club must travel to Mexico City and try to avoid even greater humiliation than that just suffered in Guatemala.
If the Puerto Rican team manages to lose by less than five goals, it will have done very well.
The next round of group stage matches runs from August 19th to August 21st. Follow @OTFSoccer for updates on our continuing CCL coverage.
OTF’s Austin Fido waxes exuberant about CCL @canetop.