CCL 2014-15: Group Stage, Round 2 Round-Up

Be cool, Marco: you're the joint top scorer in CCL 2014-15 after the 2nd round of the group stage. (mlssoccer.com)

Be cool, Marco: you’re the joint top scorer in CCL 2014-15 after the 2nd round of the group stage. (mlssoccer.com)

The second round of the CCL 2014-15 group stage brought the tournament’s first major upset. Austin Fido looks back at the week that was in CONCACAF…

It is a little too early to start with predictions for the quarterfinal seedings, although we do already have a major potential upset on the cards: defending champ, six-time regional tournament winner and three-time CCL finalist, Cruz Azul is no longer in control of its destiny in Group 6, after losing to Chorrillo FC in Panama.

For the rest of the field, it is still a little early to say whether we will see any challenge to the MLS or Liga MX favorites in the other groups. All the MLS clubs that have started the tournament (RBNY is still to kick off its campaign) are off to a good start – even Sporting Kansas City’s draw against Real Estelí is good result in the context of its group.

But perhaps the biggest news for this particular round of the CCL group stage is this writer finally figured out how to make GIFs…

Julio "Puchito" Medina: Chorillo FC's head coach, and a man who just made this year's CCL a lot more interesting (concacaf.com)

Julio “Puchito” Medina: Chorrillo FC’s head coach, and a man who just made this year’s CCL a lot more interesting (concacaf.com)

Real_CD_Espana.svgCSD_Municipal.svgGROUP 1

Real España 1 – 1 Municipal

This result did little to trouble the notion Pachuca is destined for 12 points in Group 1. 

Real España could have been two or three goals up during the first half, but for some heroic goalkeeping (and wayward finishing) from Municipal ‘keeper Santiago Morandi.

Instead, the home team had just a one goal lead – courtesy of a Brayan Rochez header – at half-time.

But Municipal grew into this game, and it was Kevin Hernandez, the Real España ‘keeper, who was the busier backstop by the end. A penalty brought Los Rojos their equalizer, and Carlos Ruiz his first goal of this tournament.

But the point does neither team any favors in the quest to challenge Pachuca’s presumptive dominance of the group. Nor will the Mexican club’s scouts have seen too much in the scrappy finishing to cause significant concern.

On this evidence, San Pedro Sula does not appear to be the fortress for Real España that it is for the Honduran national team, and Municipal struggled to convert chances into goals with a frequency that suggests it will have difficulty converting whatever opportunities it can create against Los Tuzos.

Next Match: 8/27 – Municipal vs. Pachuca

Pachuca has won just once in LigaMX since its opening-day win in Estadio Azul, and we now know that victory was more a predictor of La Máquina‘s subsequent early-season struggles than any great strength for Los Tuzos. One win over Chivas aside, Pachuca has spent the subsequent few rounds of LigaMX getting beat all over Mexico.

It will be interesting to see if Enrique Meza continues to treat CCL as a first-team affair, or starts using the tournament to see what his depth chart can do for him.

The Pachuca coach has conflicting evidence to work with: Municipal looks no better than Real Espana, and his best players beat the Honduran club handily in the last round, so maybe he takes his foot off the gas in CCL; Cruz Azul’s loss to Chorrillo, however, illustrates the ever-present danger of an upset, and La Máquina was not taking the challenge in Panama lightly.

RealEsteliFCSporting Kansas CityGROUP 2

Real Estelí 1 – 1 Sporting Kansas City

El Tren del Norte is still chasing that first-ever win in CCL, but can take some encouragement from having completed its home fixtures undefeated this time around.

As was the case against Saprissa in the opening round of matches, Real Estelí surprised their visitors with an early goal. In this instance, an own goal in the 6th minute: ‘keeper Jon Kempin blocked Daniel Da Silva’s shot, but the rebound clanged into Jorge Claros and into the net.

KC equalized quickly, in the 16th minute – off a remarkable free-kick from Toni Dovale that Estelí ‘keeper Justo Lorente could see but not touch.

Surprised us all, Peter (concacaf.com)

Surprised us all, Peter (concacaf.com)

The two sides then settled into the pattern that would define the match: Sporting had more possession, but didn’t do much with it; El Tren created more chances, but couldn’t get past Kempin.

CCL seems to bring the worst luck for Peter Vermes. He started this year with an injury crisis in the back line, which forced him to send a makeshift defense out for the quarterfinal against Cruz Azul in March. This time around, he’s been reduced to playing his third-choice ‘keeper, Kempin, because of injuries to starter Eric Kronberg and backup Andy Gruenebaum.

Kempin was KC’s man of the match, bailing his team out on the few occasions El Tren breached the defense (except the first occasion, of course).

Vermes would have preferred to win this game: he sent out a strong lineup, and subbed in Benny Feilhaber for Graham Zusi and Dom Dwyer for Soony Saad – keeping the lineup strong to the end. But the draw is no disaster.

KC won its group last year with two wins and two draws, which is generally regarded as the way to win a three-team CCL group. In 2013/14, KC’s draws were at home and the wins were on the road. The traditional approach is to win at home and draw away, so Sporting KC need not panic: it is just taking a more conventional route to the quarterfinals.

Perhaps. The result is identical to that Saprissa took home from its visit to Nicaragua. Group 2 still looks like a race between La S and KC, but both clubs will have realized Real Estelí may have a greater say in the outcome of the group than was previously imagined.

Next Match: 8/26 – Saprissa vs. Real Estelí

Saprissa has been busy offloading players since its last appearance in this tournament. Michael Umaña is now playing for Persepolis in Iran, and Yeltsin Tejeda is with Evian (yes, where the water comes from) of France’s Ligue 1. 

The loss of those players, and Kendall Waston, diminishes La S, though it is a club that rarely lacks for talent in the pipeline. 

The team is off to a winning start in Costa Rica’s Primera División: back-to-back home wins, with seven goals scored in those two matches spread evenly around the squad. It has also, however, conceded two goals in each of those games, suggesting the defense is still figuring out how to organize itself around the loss of key players. 

The home team is the heavy favorite, but that was also true when it played El Tren in Nicaragua. La S needs to play up to its reputation this time.

CD_FAS.svg530px-Montreal_Impact_(MLS)_logo.svgGROUP 3

FAS 2 – 3 Montreal Impact

Two penalties and a red card: CONCACA….stop it.

MLS teams are perfectly capable of losing in CCL without the aid of delusional conspiracy theories. And in this game, the referee’s particular interpretation of events was the reason Montreal won.

If you see a notable difference in the standard of refereeing in CCL matches as compared to MLS, you’re kidding yourself. And one can at least rely on CONCACAF to stay tactfully silent about any errors in judgement on the part of its officials. The awkward reality of a referee’s organisation publishing post-hoc rationalizations of dubious decisions is mercifully restricted to MLS. 

There is, however, often a detectable difference in refereeing style. Mark Geiger described MLS’s instructions to its refs in July:

(si.com)

(si.com)

CCL isn’t about promoting MLS’s “game-flow model”. So perhaps more fouls get called, and if those fouls get called in the box, they are penalties.This style of refereeing may be frustrating to MLS fans, but it is a style more closely supported by the rules of the game than the alternative allegedly being promoted by Don Garber. (And it isn’t as though MLS 2014 is holding back on penalty calls…)

In this match, there really wasn’t too much to complain about with the penalty decisions. The first went to FAS: Marcio Teruel dribbled into the area, cut between two defenders, and got clipped by Karl Ouimette.

You decide (concacaf.com)

You decide (concacaf.com)

The PK brought the scores level in the 51st minute, a surprising development given L’Impact had sliced through FAS’s defense to score two goals in two minutes before the game was 10 minutes old.

The rout never materialized, FAS got a fluke goal (off a deflected shot) in the first half and a penalty in the second, and looked threatening once the memory of Montreal’s effortless early dominance had been shaken off.

Barely 10 minutes after the equalizer, however, Montreal won a penalty of its own. The referee might have thought he saw a handball, or he might have thought he saw Xavier Garcia put an arm out to trip Piatti – or maybe he thought he saw both.

Handball? Obstruction? Both? (concacaf.com)

Handball? Obstruction? Both? (concacaf.com)

Marco Di Vaio converted for his second goal of the game, and L’Impact clung on despite Felipe Martins getting sent off in the 73rd minute. The red card was a little puzzling, partially because it appeared Carlos Aparicio’s reaction to having his heel kicked owed more to art than any actual force in the challenge, and partially because few had realized Martins had been yellow-carded 10 minutes earlier.

Indeed, at the time of writing: MLS and CONCACAF records Martins as having received two separate yellow cards, 10 minutes apart; but Soccerway is of the opinion he got two yellows inside a minute.

Whatever the reason, Martins was off for the sort of foul that often goes unnoticed in MLS, but was nonetheless a foul. A yellow card? Probably not for most referees, but his challenge was off the ball (Aparicio was waiting to receive a pass) and from behind.

Helluva tumble (concacaf.com)

Helluva tumble (concacaf.com)

None of which should distract from one simple observation: Montreal is all in for CCL. The team sent out a strong line up, and kept most of its heavy-hitters on the pitch throughout. Di Vaio only came off as a tactical necessity after the red card.

L’Impact has six points from two games and is clearly motivated to run at CCL at full strength.

Next Match: 8/26 – New York Red Bulls vs. FAS

It took RBNY 18 seasons to win a major title in MLS, so forgive the team for taking a while to get started in CCL: fashionably late is this team’s comfort zone.

The club’s defense of the Supporters’ Shield never really got going in MLS, and now it is scrambling to make the Eastern Conference playoffs (in fairness, most of the East is scrambling to make the playoffs): expect RBNY’s lineup to feature reserves and cast-offs. This game will likely be a shot at redemption for the likes of Richard Eckersley, Bobby Convey and all-action center back Armando. 

For the home team, it isn’t a must-win so much as a must-not-lose. RBNY needs a minimum of eight points to be sure of winning the group, and it can afford to draw at home with FAS. But the club will want the win, at the very least to justify the reserve-team approach it is almost certain to try to use to ease into the next round.

For FAS, much will depend on how many players it can get through US immigration. Canadian visa requirements were the team’s biggest problem in preparing to play in Montreal. If similar issues occur for this game, Los Tigres may be forced into fielding a lineup every bit as sub-optimal as the one RBNY is expected to send out.

The Salvadorans’ only hope of progressing is to thrash the Red Bulls home and away, and hope RBNY somehow gets it together to beat L’Impact in its other two games. This would seem unlikely, but they can take some encouragement from the likelihood they won’t be playing the very best team the Red Bulls can muster. And when RBNY has been bad this season, it has been dreadful.

DCUnitedWaterhouse_FCGROUP 4

DC United 1 – 0 Waterhouse FC 

In the final analysis, for a team juggling a shot at a domestic league title with CCL, it doesn’t so much matter how a game is won so long as it is won.

Ben Olsen cobbled together a lineup from his reserves, playing guys out of position rather than risk any tried-and-true starters. Do not be deceived by Eddie Johnson’s presence in the team: he is serving a suspension in MLS, so this outing was more about keeping him fit and ready than any great CCL ambitions on DC’s part.

But it worked. A long ball over the top in the 5th minute was enough. David Estrada and EJ sprinted past the Waterhouse back line and combined for the opening (and winning) goal.

There were other chances, but ultimately Waterhouse made just enough of an adjustment defensively to prevent DC from simply punting the ball long every time. And though DC’s reserves weren’t demonstrably superior to the visitors from Jamaica, they were at least playing to a coherent tactical plan.

Waterhouse, on the other hand, lost this game in part because the team appeared to lose all sense of how best to score a goal. It registered 21 shots on goal, of which six were on target, and perhaps two were of actual threat to the ‘keeper.

Despite ample evidence to suggest the team could compete in midfield and engineer frequent counter attacks, Waterhouse’s players treated a sight of goal as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity – and punted the ball in the general direction of Joe Willis whenever his face appeared between DC’s defenders.

Off target. Again. (concacaf.com)

Off target. Again. (concacaf.com)

Olsen got everything he wanted out of this match: three points from his reserves, no injuries, a goal for EJ to boost the striker’s confidence, and the strong suspicion that Waterhouse’s early success in the tournament may have entirely sapped the team’s collective understanding of how to win a soccer match.

Next Match: 8/28 – Waterhouse vs. Tauro FC

The Jamaicans will need to show they can play smarter than they did in DC. They were lucky to get a win in Panama, but three points is still three more points than anyone expected them to have by this stage of the competition.

If the stabilizing presence of home support soothes whatever nerves were responsible for the comical shooting spree in DC, Waterhouse should be able to challenge a fragile Tauro team which has managed to accumulate just two points and a -4 goal difference in its first five league games this season.

For Tauro, currently ninth out of ten in Liga Panameña de Fútbol and already five points adrift of eighth place, this will be another opportunity to get the new season back on track. 

One glimmer of hope: 17-year-old Ismael Díaz, who made his professional debut at 15, scored on his national team debut against Cuba this week. He has yet to make an appearance for Tauro this season, he was in an experimental Panama lineup of the sort that features hitherto uncapped teenagers, and his goal had a lot more to do with Darwin Pinzón than himself – but Díaz at least represents some slight cause for optimism within a club at a low ebb.

Alpha_United.svgPortland TimbersGROUP 5

Alpha United 1 – 4 Portland Timbers

Portland and DC apparently traded notes this week, because both MLS clubs took the same approach to CCL: send out the reserves against Caribbean opposition.

The two clubs shared the same idea with respect to the general spirit of the competition as well: DC reportedly allowed Waterhouse shirts to be sold in its club shop; Merrit Paulson gave a couple of fans a lift to Guyana on the team’s chartered plane. Credit to both clubs for embracing the tournament.

The Timbers had a harder task than DC – since they were on the road – but they also have a better set of reserves than DCU, and arguably were playing a weaker opponent (though Alpha United beat Jamaican opposition to get to this tournament).

Steve Zakuani, Maxi Urruti, Fanendo Adi, Khalif Alhassan, and Alvas Powell have all been first-teamers at various stages of this season – and they were the primary contributors to the scoring in this game.

Caleb Porter can take much the same encouragement from this game as Ben Olsen: he got his points, got his reserves a little time on the field, and got out of the first CCL game without any injuries or disciplinary issues to cause complication for the future.

Alpha United was outclassed by a team that didn’t see as much of the ball but was simply better at putting it in the net when the opportunity arose.

Still, the Guyanese team remains perhaps the most resourceful side in CCL. The lineup for this match featured three Brazilian players who had not been part of the squad for The Hammer’s opening match against Olimpia – and one of those guys, Barbosa Murillo, scored one of the goals of this tournament.

The Hammer strikes (concacaf.com)

The Hammer strikes (concacaf.com)

It was the lone highlight for The Hammer, who must now regroup quickly for a trip to Honduras.

Next Match: 8/28 – Olimpia vs. Alpha United

Since making hard work of beating Alpha United in Guyana, Olimpia has picked up two score-draws on the road in league play. Los Leones have two points after three matches in the league and a negative goal difference: they aren’t in great form.

Still, a lackluster effort was sufficient to squeak past Alpha United on the road, and Olimpia is certainly the favorite to win at home. It will want not just three points but several goals, since the Timbers have taken a goal difference advantage out of the first couple of rounds of the group.

For The Hammer, the biggest question will be whether the team has any more new players lined up. A point out of this group would be a unexpected triumph for the Caribbean club, especially since it only has two difficult road trips remaining.

Chorrillo_FCCruz-AzulGROUP 6

Chorrillo FC 1 – 0 Cruz Azul

If you only pay attention to one group in CCL, watch this one.

Since CONCACAF got the idea to start calling its regional tournament a Champions League, there has never been a final without either Monterrey or Cruz Azul.

Monterrey isn’t in CCL 2014-15, and Cruz Azul may shortly be exit the competition too.

The defending CCL champions went to Panama with a strong squad: the starting lineup saw just two changes from the team that started three days earlier in Monterrey. La Máquina lost that clash of CCL heavyweights, and it lost to Chorrillo as well.

The result was no fluke either. Chorrillo was not overawed by its illustrious guest and both ‘keepers were busy. In the end, it was a marginal error by Jesus Corona, who parried a shot into the path of two opponents, that gifted Los Chorrilleros an unexpected victory.

The mad scramble to collect the loose ball saw Rogelio Chávez impede Sergio Moreno, the referee called it a penalty, and Justin Arboleda converted.

When it all went wrong for Cruz Azul in Panama (concacaf.com)

When it all went wrong for Cruz Azul in Panama (concacaf.com)

The goal came in the 70th minute, giving the Panamanian team an opportunity to showcase its time-wasting skills.

All teams slow the game down to protect a lead, but Chorrillo showed signs of perhaps being able to match Árabe Unido, last year’s masters of gamesmanship in CCL and (maybe not coincidentally) also a team from Panama.

The highlight in this regard came late in the game: ‘keeper Junior Torres watched yet another Cruz Azul attempt on goal go wide, saw the ball bounce safely off the field, and then fell over.

He wasn’t close to any other player, he hadn’t been required to move at all since the shot was wide – he simply toppled over in his own goal. He is a tall man, perhaps he got dizzy watching the game from a height.

Despite Torres’s unfortunate struggles with vertigo, the home team held on for three points and a major upset of last year’s regional champion.

 Next Match: 8/28 – Alajuelense vs. Chorrillo FC

Count Los Manudos as favorites in Group 6: they were CCL semifinalists last year, and got out of a group just as tough as this one on paper. 

But Chorrillo’s win over Cruz Azul throws up the possibility that the Panamanian team might be more than just a makeweight in this group. This will be the game in which we find out whether this group is wide open, or Alajuelense’s to lose.

CS_HeredianoLogo_metapanGroup 7

Herediano 4 – 0 Isidro Metapán

Just because you’re late to a party doesn’t mean you can’t have some fun.

Herediano only found out it was in CCL after the tournament kicked off, but it is apparently well prepared for the (kinda, sorta) unexpected challenge. Los Rojiamarillos announced themselves in Group 7 with a dominating home win and the early lead in the group on goal difference.

Have some sympathy for Metapán, who until a few days ago were looking forward to a morale-boosting trip to Belize, but got handed a humiliation in Heredia instead.

Next Match: 8/27 – León vs. Herediano

Herediano is a huge upgrade in quality of opponent from Belmopan Bandits, so this will be the game where we find out whether León is rethinking the decision to coast (the reserves handled the opening game in El Salvador) through what had looked an easy group.

La Fiera‘s league form isn’t great – six points from five games so far – but having spent the last Liga MX season openly under-performing for the purpose of focusing on Copa Libertadores, this had appeared to be a campaign in which León was going to return its full attention to its domestic duties.

Los Bicampeones need a win in this match, to avoid having to go to Costa Rica and get a result. Or, perhaps worse, they’ll be pitched into a race with Herediano to see who can get the biggest wins over Metapán – a race the Costa Ricans are winning at the moment.

Club-America1Bayamon_FCGroup 8

América 6 – 1 Puerto Rico Bayamón FC

Bayamón lost its opening game in Guatemala 5-0, and arguably did extremely well to get out of Azteca without conceding twice as many goals.

The team from Puerto Rico is clearly some distance from being able to compete with either of its group mates, at least when it is away from home.

FC Dallas fans may be pleased to hear Nick Walker, on loan from the MLS club, scored for Bayamón – so his confidence won’t have been completely obliterated by this experience. But this team has more suffering ahead in CCL if it doesn’t find a way to limit attempts on goal. America matched Comunicaciones’ tally of 22 shots fired.

Nor should too much be read into Bayamon’s surprising ability to draw the second half (it was 5-0 down after the first 45 minutes). Senior attackers Michael Arroyo and Luis Rey were removed at half-time; Juan Valenzuela’s services as a defensive leader were no longer required after 70 minutes.

The kids from América (including Arizona’s own Ventura Alvarado) did most of the damage, as Turco Mohamed opted to rest the majority of the players who have led Las Águilas to a perfect start in Liga MX.

Next Match: 8/26 – Comunicaciones vs. América

Expect to see mostly reserves again for América in Guatemala. Comunicaciones played in Toluca’s group last year, and couldn’t avoid losses to a Liga MX second-team at home or away.

Still, if this group is to be anything more than a cake-walk for Las Águilas, this will be the match for us to find that out.

****

The next round of group stage matches runs from August 26th to August 28th.

Follow @OTFSoccer for updates on our continuing CCL coverage.

****

OTF’s Austin Fido is often found @canetop. 

4 thoughts on “CCL 2014-15: Group Stage, Round 2 Round-Up

    • And here I was thinking I was just doing it for fun. I’m no good with responsibility – but I’ll do my best.

  1. Pingback: CCL 2014-15: Group Stage, Round 5 Round-Up | OTF Soccer

  2. Pingback: Top 10 goals of the CONCACAF Champions League 2014-15 Group Stage | OTF Soccer

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