CCL 2014-15: Group Stage, Round 3 Round-Up
The third round of the CCL group stage brought a few more upsets, though no favorite is eliminated yet. Austin Fido brings the round-up…
Halfway through the group stage: it’s predictions time!
First, a word of caution. Last year, this column was full of praise and expectation for Sporting Kansas City to carry the top seed out of the group stage. Didn’t work out that way.
There are still many games to be played, and likely another upset or two ahead before this tournament separates its wheat from its chaff.
This round, CCL lost two challengers. CD FAS and Alpha United are officially just along for the ride now. But every other team still has a shot, more or less.
Here’s one opinion on how the top eight will look at the end of October…
1. Pachuca: Los Tuzos look to be halfway to maximum points and a CCL-leading goal difference. In the two years since CONCACAF switched to three-teams-per-group, no team has scored more than 15 goals in the group stage. Look for Pachuca to set the goals-scored bar a little higher before marching into the quarterfinals with the top seed.
2. DC United: Hear me out. DC looks like it might have the easiest run-in: Tauro’s current form is lamentable, and Waterhouse may have blown its best chance to take points off the MLS club. The DCU that turns up in Jamaica for a game that could eliminate it from the competition shouldn’t be as lightweight as the one Ben Olsen fielded for his CCL home-opener. If DC gets smart – or even just gets lucky – it has the wherewithal to get maximum points, though it will struggle to match Pachuca’s goal difference.
3. América: Dropped points in this round limits Las Águilas to a maximum of 10 points. Expect them to get those points, and plenty of goals, to land in the quarterfinals as the best of the teams that didn’t win all their games.
4. Portland Timbers: The Timbers could have a run at maximum points and lots of goals, perhaps even challenging Pachuca for the top seed. But Portland’s quixotic tilt at the MLS playoffs will likely take the edge off its CCL performances. It should be capable of getting out of its group with three wins and a draw, though. Should.
5. New York Red Bulls: RBNY might struggle to handle a full-strength L’Impact on the road, and therefore could very easily lose its next game in CCL. But the Red Bulls appear to be a lot better than CD FAS, and will have the luxury of playing Montreal at home in the final game of the group, knowing exactly what is required to progress.
6. León: La Fiera ought to be among the top seeds in the quarterfinals, but this team knows how to win a knockout tournament from a position of apparent disadvantage. Gustavo Matosas may not bother to really put his foot on the gas in CCL until his club rolls into the last game of the group, likely needing a big home win over Metapán to get past Herediano on goal difference.
7. Saprissa: The schedule favors La S, who will play Sporting Kansas City at home in October, knowing what is required to progress. Until or unless results go against that expectation, it is imprudent to bet against Saprissa winning at home in arguably its biggest game of the year.
8. Cruz Azul: La Máquina has a tough task to get out of its group, and a maximum of seven points probably won’t be enough for anything but the last seed. But this is the team that won last year’s CCL on the road in Toluca. It has the experience and ability to get out of its current predicament. Just.
Municipal 3 – 7 Pachuca
The scoreline reflects both teams’ admirable commitment to getting up the field quickly and not worrying too much about the consequences.
Municipal drew first blood, thanks to an extremely well-taken left-footed volley, banged in by Carlos Ruiz off a corner.
For a (very) brief moment, it seemed possible we’d see all four Liga MX clubs in CCL drop points in the group stage for the first time since the tournament reformatted to three-team groups.
It was not to be. In a contest that devolved into a this-way-now-that-way shootout, Pachuca had the better attack, abetted by some incompetent defending.
Abraham Darío Carreño was once considered quite an important player for Monterrey, back when Los Rayados were winning Liga MX and CCL titles for fun. He never quite kicked on to be exceptional, but he can be pretty good on his day – and this was one of his days.
Carreño took over after Ruiz’s early strike. Pachuca equalized through Avilés Hurtado in the 16th minute. Four minutes later, Carreño bagged the go-ahead goal. Next, he won a penalty (converted by Ariel Nahuelpán). Finally, he scored a goal to match that of Ruiz.
Pachuca went in at half-time with a 3-1 lead and never looked back. Municipal stuck to the game plan and got a couple of goals in the second half, but Pachuca got four more, including Carreño’s hat-trick strike in the 81st minute.
It was an ultimately comfortable win for a team that appeared to have taken a big risk. Enrique Meza deployed a strong lineup for Pachuca’s opening CCL match at home, but elected to start only six of the players who kicked off against Real España.
The reserves include some experienced pros like Carreño, but also guys like 19-year-old Simón Almeida – who made his Pachuca debut at 16, but is still a work in progress, yet to make his first Liga MX start.
Still, some of Pachuca’s best players are young, and Meza’s faith in his squad depth was fully vindicated. Los Tuzos are now clear favorites for the top seed in the quarterfinals.
Next Match: 9/17 – Municipal vs. Real España (9:00 pm, Chicago time; UDN)
Someone has to finish second in this group, and that appears to be about all there is at stake in this match.
Both sides have a bundle of league games to get through before mid-September, so Real España thumping Motagua 5-0, and Municipal’s desultory form (winless in four games after the loss to Pachuca), may not be entirely relevant by the time these teams meet.
Neither looks capable of beating Los Tuzos, but either has players who can advance their reputations with a good showing in CCL. An entertaining (if not ultimately significant to the outcome of the group) match is probably the best we can hope for.
Saprissa 3 – 0 Real Estelí
Ariel Rodríguez would appear to be a player whose window of opportunity at the international level has closed. He is 28, got a good look from his national team over the last couple of years, but didn’t make Los Ticos‘ World Cup squad, and hasn’t made the selection for the upcoming Copa Centroamericana.
A hat-trick on home soil against a Nicaraguan team considered some distance below Saprissa’s ability probably won’t help him too much, but he did put on quite a display of versatility – scoring first with power, then with guile, and finally with simple, effective placement.
The second one was perhaps the prettiest:
The score is a fair reflection of Saprissa’s complete control of this game. Nonetheless, La S had to work hard for its goals. Despite plenty of possession and opportunity, the ball wouldn’t go in the net for a long time after Rodríguez opened the scoring in the 18th minute.
And Real Estelí had one big opportunity to level the match. The chance was squandered, but it served as a reminder that it doesn’t take much to get a goal back.
The substitutes saved the day. Coach Ronald Gonzalez knew his team needed goals to create an advantage should the presumed two-horse race in this group between La S and Sporting Kansas City come down to tiebreakers.
He had all his subs on the field by the 72nd minute, and fresh legs did the trick: Rodríguez scored twice in the final 15 minutes.
The result effectively eliminates Real Estelí from the competition. El Tren is mathematically still alive, but dependent on an unlikely combination of results. The first tie-breaker between clubs in the groups is head-to-head record. Saprissa beats Estelí in that calculation, so any scenario allowing Estelí to advance requires it not be tied with La S. This doesn’t appear to be possible.
It also, of course, requires El Tren to steam into Sporting Park and flatten Sporting Knasas City. On this showing, it would appear an improbable dream.
Next Match: 9/18 – Sporting Kansas City vs. Saprissa (7:00 pm, Chicago time; UDN)
The first of two games expected to decide the group. No result will eliminate either team, but Saprissa will be less concerned about losing than KC.
For La S, it will be the first game since getting their Copa Centroamericana contingent (Kevin Briceño, Juan Bustos, Manfred Russell, David Guzmán, and David Ramírez) back from international duty.
For KC, it will be a test of the club’s commitment to CCL this year. Peter Vermes has his team in a two-way fight for the Eastern Conference title, and on the cusp of joining the Supporters’ Shield race in MLS.
A kind schedule means he should be able to balance the domestic and regional competitions, but if KC is still in position to challenge for a regular season trophy after playing three of its next four games on the road, it will be interesting to see whether Vermes keeps his eyes on the CCL prize.
New York Red Bulls 2 – 0 FAS
The Red Bulls finally showed up for a little CCL, with unexpected ambition. Australian World Cup hero, Tim Cahill, started and played almost the entire game. So too did a cluster of RBNY starters, supplemented by players who once were, or may yet be, part of the first team.
The true reserves didn’t hit the pitch until the game was won. RBNY dominated pretty much from start to finish, though scoring was a persistent and occasionally comical problem.
Lloyd Sam wrapped up an ultimately comfortable, clean-sheet win with a shot born of the frustration of spending more than hour firing in crosses for Cahill and Saer Sene to miss or miss-hit, and the Red Bulls roll on to the greater challenge in their group: Montreal Impact.
Next Match: 9/17 – Montreal Impact vs. New York Red Bulls (7:00 pm, Chicago time; Fox 2)
CD FAS was the first team officially eliminated from this year’s CCL, fulfilling the pre-tournament expectations for Group 3: it’s a straight fight between L’Impact and RBNY.
One of these MLS clubs will make the quarterfinals. Montreal has little else to play for this season, making the league games sandwiching this match something of an irrelevance.
The Red Bulls are battling a tight race for the playoffs and a tough schedule: four of their next five MLS games are against the top teams in the league standings.
Without explicit evidence to support it, there is the sense Mike Petke’s continued reign as RBNY head coach depends more on making the MLS post-season than qualifying for the CCL quarterfinals.
But that may change. RBNY could be out of the playoff race by the time this match rolls around. Also, Petke has already showed surprising ambition by playing a stronger lineup than most expected for his team’s CCL opener, so perhaps the club is more invested in the tournament than presumed.
Nonetheless, the Red Bulls’ league standing will most likely determine whether they show up for this game with true competitive intent.
A win for either side gives it the upper hand in the group, but each will probably need something of out of the return leg at Red Bull Arena in October.
Waterhouse FC 4 – 1 Tauro FC
Waterhouse’s victory over Tauro in Panama felt like a fluke: one extraordinary goal and one ordinary one allowed the visitors to sneak by a home team that missed a surprising number of chances.
This result, however, was no fluke. It was fashioned from a relentlessly positive game plan: attack, then attack again.
The Waterhouse back line looks slow and lacking in composure. Tauro, as in Panama, did not lack for chances. Tauro, as in Panama, missed most of those chances.
For the most part, however, Waterhouse’s problems at the back were of its own making, and this might have been a much more comfortable victory if clearances were more confident and positioning a little better.
But the tactics were more focused on attack than defense, and this paid off handsomely, starting in the 13th minute.
A long ball down the right was chased down by Damarley Samuels, who one-touched a cross to the middle, finding Jermaine “Tuffy” Anderson charging past his markers for the tap-in. The goal was reminiscent of DC United’s early winner against Waterhouse in the previous round.
Samuels scored the next one himself: a scrappy, stumbling dribble through the defense crowned by an exultant finish to the top corner (not a million miles away from the goal Obafemi Martins scored for Seattle against Portland in MLS last week).
Two goals down at half-time, Tauro predictably came out charging for the second half. But Waterhouse weathered the storm. And then Tuffy Anderson broke free of the back line long enough to tee up a left-footed drive that was arguably the goal of the game.
The visitors got a goal back off a corner, but couldn’t get the second required to really take advantage of Waterhouse’s nervous defense. Instead, Neiko Williams knocked in the rebound of a rebound (he slapped a fumbled shot off the keeper’s gloves and onto the far post, then netted the ball at the next attempt) for the home team’s fourth.
Three points was three more than was expected out of Waterhouse in this tournament. Six points is more than any Caribbean side has managed in CCL since Puerto Rico Islanders in 2010-11.
It is not an unprecedented achievement, just an unexpected one.
For the Jamaican team, there is one game remaining to see if it can extend its run in this tournament. For Tauro, the result extends a winless streak that stretches back to April, and includes the first six games of the new domestic campaign (three draws, three losses) and both CCL matches to date.
The Panamanians look utterly demoralized, as losing teams often are, and now face the unhappy challenge of needing to beat one of the best sides in MLS if they are to salvage any pride from their CCL travails.
For Waterhouse, the reward for this latest success is renewed…not expectation, that is the wrong word…hope. But a different sort of hope than most might have had for this team prior to the tournament: a hope no longer restricted to avoiding embarrassment, but now grown into a legitimate challenge to win the group.
Next Match: 9/16 – Waterhouse vs. DC United (7:00 pm, Chicago time; Fox Soccer Plus)
This looks a lot like the make-or-break match of this group. Waterhouse has six points from its matches against Tauro. DC United will play the Panamanian club in its last two games of the group.
For Waterhouse, the only way to retain control of its destiny is to beat DCU by more than one goal: the margin of defeat the Jamaican team suffered on its visit to DC.
The first tiebreaker in the groups is the head-to-head record between tied teams. If Waterhouse beats DC by two goals, and DC beats Tauro twice, the group leaders will have nine points, and they will be level on points gained against each other (three each), but Waterhouse will have the edge on goal difference in games played between the clubs. DC will be out, regardless of its results against Tauro.
Conversely, any other sort of result – a draw, a win, a loss by only one goal – hands the advantage squarely to DC. At worst, it will need to establish a goal difference that is better overall than that of Waterhouse.
Tauro has say in all this, of course. But Waterhouse’s last game of the group stage is its opportunity to secure a quarterfinal berth without assistance from Panama.
DCU should be the better team. Or rather, Ben Olsen could field what ought to be a better team, if he chooses. And Waterhouse has the harder task, for the simple reason that its best result is beating a better-equipped team by a comfortable margin.
In all likelihood, CCL won’t be over for either team at the end of this match – it will just feel that way for one of them.
Olimpia 6 – 0 Alpha United
Alpha United was the second team eliminated from the tournament in this round, in a match The Hammer will want to forget.
The team had acquitted itself relatively well in its two CCL home games, and – if you want to be charitable – it lived with Olimpia for about 20 minutes in this one.
But then the wheels came off.
The Hammer is expected to lose all its games in this group, but this was an embarrassment. Whatever factors led to coach Wayne Dover fielding an apparently weakened team (hitherto starting ‘keeper Ronson Williams, benched for Dwaine Sandy; Trinidadian import, Jamaal Jack and veteran pro strikers Kithson Bain and Gregory Richardson – all missing from the squad entirely) were not to Alpha’s advantage.
Sandy gave up the first goal, in the 19th minute: letting a routine save pop out of his hands for Anthony Lozano to finish.
Six minutes later, Oliver Morazan thrashed a shot from distance past the hapless Sandy. Five minutes after that, Fredixon Elvir picked up a soft clearance on the edge of the box and one-timed it to the far side of goal.
Elvir got his second – and Olimpia’s fourth – shortly after half-time, when Caio Oliveira (one of three Brazilians who popped up in the Alpha squad for the Portland game) made a mess of a routine clearance and effectively played Lozano in behind the defense: a quick run into the box, cross, goal.
Lozano’s second goal was a simple header off a set piece. Elvir got his hat-trick (Olimpia’s sixth) from another defensive mix-up: two defenders and the ‘keeper converged to close down a break, and the ball squirted out to Elvir to pass into an empty net.
It was distressingly easy for Olimpia. The Hammer has played better than this – twice – in this competition. Clearly, the effect of travel on a squad that is being not so much rotated as centrifuged was debilitating. Alpha seemed to have neither the physical nor mental energy to keep up with its opponent.
Next Match: 9/16 – Portland Timbers vs. Olimpia (9:00 pm, Chicago time; UDN – delayed broadcast)
Long suspected, now confirmed: Group 5 is a two-horse race.
Both teams have quite a bit of football to play before this match, so current form (Portland’s is so-so; Olimpia has now scored 10 goals in its last two competitive matches) may not be any great predictor.
Los Leones have four players lined up to go to Copa Centroamericana – Javier Portillo, Romell Quioto, Anthony Lozano and Carlos Mejía – and those guys may not bother heading home before the Portland match (they will should be in LA for the final round of the tournament, unless Honduras finishes dead last in the competition), since CCA doesn’t wrap up until 9/13.
So Olimpia may turn up with a few players acclimatized, if a little tired. And all the visitors really need out of this game is a draw. If Caleb Porter intends to play a full strength side for any game in this tournament, it should be this one. A big win could allow the Timbers to contemplate losing the return leg in Honduras, as long as it isn’t by much.
Alajuelense 1 – 0 Chorrillo FC
Group 6 continues to fascinate. At the halfway stage, this is a genuine three-way battle to win the group.
Chorrillo seems to prefer an open game, happy to trade chances on the road as much as it did at home against Cruz Azul. The team’s finishing could use some work, as you might expect from a side which has scored once in its last three league games (all lost).
Alajuelense will have preferred to have bagged a few more goals, and will be hugely grateful to ‘keeper Patrick Pemberton, who blocked an on-target header that would have got the visitors a point.
The failure to score many goals won’t trouble LDA too greatly. The team rode a solid defense to the semifinals last year, and and couple more clean sheets plus just one more goal will be enough to get out of this group.
Next Match: 9/16 – Cruz Azul vs. Chorrillo FC (7:00 pm, Chicago time; Galavision)
Cruz Azul isn’t done yet. Yes, La Máquina probably needs to win both its remaining games. Yes, one of those games in at Alajuelense, which is not what any team in this competition really wants to have to go through to get three points.
But if Chorrillo continues to be an obliging opponent, giving up as many chances as it creates, Cruz Azul has every right to be confident of its ability to get the multi-goal win it needs to get back on track, and ensure it has the head-to-head tiebreaker advantage over the team it lost to in Panama.
For Chorrillo, a team that more often than not cannot score at the moment, a win at Estadio Azul would appear implausible. But so too did a win over the same opponent at home. This isn’t a club that allows low expectations to hold it back, and that ambition is what it will rely on to carry it forward in CCL.
León 1 – 1 Herediano
Keep an eye out for Alexander Larín, who played a big part in what was very nearly a major upset.
The Salvadoran (on loan to one of the best teams in Costa Rica from UANL Tigres, so he is not an unidentified talent) set up Herediano’s go-ahead goal, and nearly pulled off something spectacular.
He also set the tone for a somewhat chippy game, by drawing the first yellow card in the 12th minute. After that, León appeared distracted by the search for physical revenge over their impudent visitors, almost forgetting that there was a game to be won.
La Fiera‘s coach, Gustavo Matosas, noticed the danger. He’d opted again for a lightweight lineup in CCL, with just four starters from Leon’s disappointing Liga MX loss to Leones Negros in its preceding game.
Though he was quick to bring in Mauro Boselli for Martín Bravo at half-time, that didn’t fix his team’s biggest problem: it was getting out-played in midfield. Matosas started an attacking but inexperienced line-up in the middle of the field. Fernando Navarro has a cap for Mexico, but that was back in 2011, when he was solid performer for Atlante. Since then, he hasn’t played much for Tigres, Pachuca and now León. Aldo Rocha is 21 and just started breaking into the first team last season; Mauricio Castañeda is 22, and of similar status to Rocha; Oscar Suárez is 19 and still at the stage where making the bench in Liga MX is a vote of confidence.
Herediano lined up with David Myrie (10 caps for Costa Rica; part of the World Cup squad), Gabriel Gómez (100 caps for Panama), Óscar Granados (also part of Costa Rica’s World Cup squad; 12 caps for his country), and Larín (7 caps for El Salvador; he’s 22 – he’ll get plenty more) all contributing to maintaining control of the middle third.
Matosas did bring on more experienced players in the second half – Elías Hernández and José Cárdenas – and on another day León probably wins this match easily. La Fiera had chances, but so too did Herediano.
And the visitors scored first, after Larín accepted the invitation to have another go at initiating a far-post cross routine that had been cleared at the first attempt.
Boselli got the equalizer, and could have nicked a winner at the death, but León underestimated its opponent and almost paid with a loss at home that would have made getting out of this group very difficult indeed.
La Fiera will probably need at least a point from its trip to play Herediano in Costa Rica in September. Matosas hasn’t come close to fielding his best team in CCL yet, but he certainly has the playing resources to beat any opponent in this tournament, let alone this group.
Whether he chooses to deploy them after this showing may yet determine León’s fate in the group stage, because Herediano is not a bad side and it will have the home crowd behind it for the return match.
Next Match: 9/18 – Isidro Metapán vs. Herediano (9:00 pm, Chicago time; UDN)
Metapán’s chances of progressing in this group are remote: Los Caleros must win both remaining games, against teams that have already beaten them handily. More likely, if they get anything out of this match, they will hand the advantage in the group back to León.
For Herediano, the task is clear: win heavily to get the points and goal difference advantage it may need if it cannot beat León at the next time of asking.
Comunicaciones 1 – 1 América
Turco Mohamed is no fool. He let a team largely comprised of up-and-comers handle Bayamón at home in the last round, but for a road trip to a slightly tougher opponent, he sent out a more seasoned group.
Ventura Alvarado, Moisés Velasco, Jesús Leal, and Luis Mendoza were replaced by both Aguilars (Pablo and Paul), Jesús Molina and Osvaldo Martínez. And perhaps the biggest surprise: Luis Rey, a regular starter for the club, was benched in favor of América’s biggest star, Oribe Peralta.
Don’t say Las Águilas weren’t taking this game seriously. Mohamed wanted goals early and often. He got one early: Peralta tapped in a rebound off a fumbled save in the 5th minute.
He should have got several more: América had the better of the chances. But Comunicaciones stood up to the regional heavyweights.
A deflected shot ballooned skyward and Rolando Blackburn nipped past a bewildered Erik Pimentel to pocket his fourth goal of the tournament. 1-1.
Despite considerable effort by América to right the wrong of a somewhat fortunate equalizer, the score held steady.
The result doesn’t change the expected outcome of the group. Comunicaciones played better than many might have predicted, but Las Águilas are still favorites to win at Azteca. Both teams are expected to beat Bayamón again.
The tie does mean América won’t finish the group stage with maximum points, and may yet concede home advantage in the quarterfinals to another team. And, as this result illustrates, strange things can happen in football – especially if you’re on the road.
Next Match: 9/17 – Puerto Rico Bayamón FC vs. América (7:00 pm, Chicago time; UDN)
Anything but a win for América will be a shock, since Bayamón has appeared completely out of its depth in both its matches to date.
For Las Águilas, expect to see a similar lineup to that which put six past the Puerto Rican club in Azteca. Unless Turco is so incensed by his team’s misfortune in Guatemala that he forces the more experienced campaigners back out on the road to do the job right. Either way, if América doesn’t win by at least three goals, it might be fair to call the result an upset.
The next round of group stage matches runs from September 16th to September 18th.
Follow @OTFSoccer for updates on our continuing CCL coverage.
OTF’s Austin Fido chatters about CCL @canetop.