CONCACAF Champions League 2014-15: Semifinal 1 Preview – America vs Herediano
OTF’s Austin Fido previews the first semifinal match of CCL 2014-15…
CONCACAF Champions League has hit the semifinal stage, and the opening match of this stage pits the last remaining Mexican team in the tournament against one of the two Costa Rican contenders still standing.
Here is the preview of the opening semifinal first leg of CONCACAF 2014-15…
América vs Herediano
First leg: March 17 @ Herediano; 9:00 pm Chicago time.
Second leg: April 8 @ America; 9:00 pm Chicago time.
It’s the knockout phase’s second seed (América) vs the third (Herediano): so no need to think too hard about the favorite in this match up. But there is an edge to this fixture. Herediano knocked León out of the group stage of this tournament: the club managed by Gustavo Matosas, who has since taken over coaching América.
For the second time in one season, Matosas finds himself managing a team expected to beat Herediano. For the second time in one season, Herediano isn’t really expected to have much chance against a class act of Liga MX.
History suggests expectations are not nearly as interesting as reality.
How they got here
Cruised the quarterfinals, beating Saprissa 5-0 on aggregate. Indeed, América has been cruising for most of this tournament. Las Águilas haven’t conceded a goal in CCL in three straight games (they won their last game of the group stage 2-0), and the last time an opponent in this tournament scored on them (FC Bayamón back in September) it was in the context of a 10-1 win for the Mexican club.
All told, América has scored 24 goals in six games played to date in this competition, and conceded three. But for a hiccup in Guatemala – a 1-1 draw against Comunicaciones – the club would be the top seed in the knockout round. And despite that unexpected blemish on their record, Las Águilas are the favorites to win this year’s title.
What they’ve done recently
Since clinching a CCL semifinal berth, América has drawn on the road (0-0 against Pachuca) and beaten Santos Laguna at home (1-0). The team heads to Costa Rica as the third-placed side in Liga MX, near the top of a tightly bunched group of clubs chasing Tijuana.
Los Xolos are top of the league at the moment thanks to scoring a lot of goals: 21 in 10 matches, of which seven have been won. Las Águilas have not been so free-scoring – just 13 in their 10 league games to date – but they do have the best defense in Liga MX right now: six goals conceded in the Clausura so far.
One to watch: Oribe Peralta
Goals win games and Peralta is América’s top scorer this season. His presence or absence from the game also speaks to how seriously coach Gustavo Matosas is thinking about the match. In the first leg of the quarterfinal, Peralta did not start. The game dragged on, América got pushed around a bit, Saprissa looked a threat to score. Peralta joined the match in the 62nd minute, and finished with two goals in Las Águilas’ 3-0 win.
How they got here
This the team that shouldn’t even be here: late additions to the tournament after Belize’s Belmopan Bandits were booted by CONCACAF for having a shabby pitch. And Herediano shouldn’t be here – in the knockout rounds – because it was dropped into a group with León, at the time considered a CCL favorite courtesy of having won back-to-back league titles in Mexico.
But the Costa Rican side prevailed over the best team in Mexico in the group stage. And how it must try to do much the same in the knockout round: beat the team considered by many to be the best in Liga MX (league position notwithstanding), coincidentally managed by Gustavo Matosas, who was in charge of León when Herediano ran La Fiera out of the tournament.
In between, the Costa Rican club had a slightly nervy quarterfinal with Honduras’s Olimpia. The teams were all square after the first leg (tied 1-1), and Los Leones won a penalty 30 minutes into the second game. If Anthony Lozano had converted, giving his side an away goal and the lead on aggregate, perhaps things would have been different. But he didn’t and the home team prevailed, 2-0.
What they’ve done recently
Herediano lies fifth in the Costa Rican Primera División, courtesy of a patchy run of form in recent weeks: two losses on the road (both 1-0) and a 1-0 win at home. In general, the team’s road form is poor. It won its opening game of the Torneo de Verano away from home, and hasn’t won on its travels since. This does not bode well for a team that is likely going to need to get something out of a trip to Azteca.
One to watch: Yendrick Ruiz
He is perhaps best known as the younger brother of Costa Rican star Bryan Ruiz, but that may start to change if Yendrick can lead Herediano to an unexpected upset and into the CCL final.
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CONCACAF editor Austin Fido chats CCL @canetop.