CONCACAF Champions League 2014-15: Quarterfinals – Olimpia vs Herediano & Pachuca vs Montreal Impact – 1st Leg Round-Up
OTF’s Austin Fido recaps the first two quarterfinals of CCL 2014-15…
CONCACAF Champions League came back with…not quite a bang, but certainly a startling enthusiasm in the opening pair of quarterfinals of the 2014-15 edition of the tournament.
In Honduras, Olimpia and Herediano played an entertaining if scrappy draw. There was a tie in Mexico also, though few would have predicted it would be Pachuca – one of the star teams of the group stage – desperately trying to get back into a match at home against Montreal, a team so terrible in 2014 it had no choice but to take CCL more seriously than is usual for MLS clubs.
The results offer hope for similarly competitive second legs between these sides. Until then, here are the recaps. (And, in case you missed it, here is the preview for these games.)
OLIMPIA 1-1 HEREDIANO
After the first test of the knockout rounds, it’s still Costa Rica’s Champions League. Saprissa and Alajuelense may have tougher challenges ahead (América and DC United, respectively), but Olimpia is no pushover.
Confidence translated into an open, attacking game. Olimpia had the bulk of possession, more and better chances, and thereby plenty of opportunity to win. But a defensive error in the 58th minute saw Herediano’s in-form striker Cristhian Lagos played onside by a misjudged header – and he duly collected his third consecutive goal of his last three games.
In the first half, Los Leones‘ Javier Estupiñán – recently returned from a brief stint in Malaysia – put the home team ahead with a scorching strike from outside the area.
Although the draw was a fair result on the balance of play, Olimpia will rue the opportunity missed to take a lead to Costa Rica. For the most part, everything came up Herediano in this game: even a late red card for reserve striker Jonathan Hansen may be insignificant if, as is hoped, the Costa Rican club welcomes top scorer Yendrick Ruiz back from injury for the second leg.
The Hondurans will now need to score in Costa Rica, which will not be easy against a defense that has conceded just five times in nine competitive games so far in 2015.
Both teams have all to play for, but a score draw on the road favors the side playing the next leg at home – and that is Herediano.
Second Leg: March 5 @ Herediano; 7:00 pm (Chicago time)
PACHUCA 2-2 MONTREAL IMPACT
The statistics imply a game that Montreal was extremely lucky to survive: Pachuca had 73% possession and attempted 21 shots. Those sort of numbers generally signal a thrashing, and it is true that the match tilted more and more in the home team’s favor as L’Impact’s players predictably tired in a game played at a higher altitude than they typically experience.
But it is also true that only six of Pachuca’s shots were on target, and that even when legs were fresh, Montreal was happy to let Los Tuzos pass the ball around, while it attempted to keep defensive shape, selectively apply pressure, and spring counter attacks whenever possible.
The game plan worked perfectly. Pachuca wanted to go wide – to wingers Jürgen Damm and Hirving Lozano – and Montreal let it happen, backing a defense led by Laurent Ciman to intercept whatever species of cross was attempted. By the end, the stats sheet suggested Los Tuzos had tried 37 crosses, but landed just 22%.
No team gives up more than 70% possession without needing a bit of luck to stay in the game. But where Pachuca was wasteful or unfortunate, Montreal was clinical: just 12 attempts on goal, but more of them on target (seven) than the home team managed with almost double the number of opportunities.
Leading the clinic in efficient use of scant possession were, surprisingly, Montreal’s own wingers: Dilly Duka and Justin Mapp. Surprising in the sense that if you had to pick a wide man in this game to cut in on the dribble and squeeze a shot through traffic and into the net, it would have been Damm or Lozano – but instead it was Duka who exhibited the control and flair necessary to open the scoring in the 25th minute.
Mapp went on a similar run in the 53rd minute, swerving past Aquivaldo Mosquera to open up space for a shot on goal from inside the area. Óscar Pérez got a hand to it – but Duka cleaned up the rebound. Two goals up with just over the half the match played: Montreal was in control.
Except it really wasn’t: Pachuca had perhaps lacked urgency, but did not lack opportunity. The two-goal lead was shortlived – Heriberto Olvera got one back in the 57th minute with a deflected free kick. More pressure was applied, Ariel Nahuelpán missed a sitter, and then scored an entirely fortuitous equalizer: Ciman and Impact ‘keeper Evan Bush took out each other instead of the ball, allowing a low cross from Lozano to ricochet off the colliding pair into Nahuelpán’s midriff and into the net.
Four yellow cards in the last 10 minutes illustrated the pattern of the game after Pachuca’s equalizer. Lozano was lucky to stay in the match after he petulantly slapped at Hassoun Camara in the closing minutes – but Camara was fortunate to be on the pitch himself, since he greeted Lozano with an ambitious effort to amputate the young winger’s feet, and dedicated himself to being a nuisance thereafter.
Any time a team gives up a two goal lead, there is a sense of an opportunity lost. But Montreal would have been praised for losing this game by a goal or two: 2-1 or 3-1 would have been quite good results. To score two away goals and take this quarterfinal back to Canada not necessarily needing to win to advance to the next round is a very good result indeed.
As will doubtless be mentioned several times in the build-up to the second leg, L’Impact was the worst team in MLS a few months ago. Now it is capable of (just about) executing a bend-but-don’t-break game plan on the road, at altitude, against quality Liga MX opposition.
The series is far from over, and the advantage gained here will count for little if Montreal gives up the first goal in the next leg. But the pressure is on Pachuca.
Los Tuzos now prepare for a trip to Tijuana with the knowledge that it has a fight on its hands for CCL survival. L’Impact spent two weeks in Mexico, preparing for the first leg, getting acclimatized and studying its opponent. Pachuca will have a few days to get used to conditions in Canada.
The quarterfinal second leg will be Los Tuzos‘ fourth competitive match in two weeks. The benefits of “mid-season form” are offset by a mid-season schedule. Liga MX teams have big squads, but their best players are not so easily replaced.
Nine of the players in Pachuca’s starting lineup against Montreal had started against Leon three days earlier. The club is hovering just outside the playoff spots in the Liga MX Clausura table at the moment, and in a short sprint to the post-season, there aren’t many throwaway games in top-flight Mexican soccer. Coach Diego Alonso knows his players will be cold in Canada; he needs to decide if he is willing to risk them being tired as well.
L’Impact’s head coach Frank Klopas has no such tough choices. Beating Pachuca, even in Montreal with all the advantages of home, is no easy task – but it is at least all Klopas has to worry about over the next week. He and his players have put themselves in a very good position to advance to the semifinal, and if they can execute their tactics in the second leg as well as they did in the first, there will be a Canadian flag flying in CCL for the next round.
Second Leg: March 3 @ Montreal; 7:00 pm (Chicago time)
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CONCACAF editor Austin Fido chats CCL @canetop.