Champions League Preview: 2011-12 Quarterfinals, Second Leg
Posted on March 13, 2012 9:51 pm
Monsters at home, mice on the road: in the knockout stage of CONCACAF Champions League tournaments, only twice have Mexican clubs managed to win games outside of their country. Focus on the quarterfinal round, and Cruz Azul’s 1-0 win over Arabe Unido in the 2009-10 tournament remains the sole victory for FMF clubs on foreign ground. Nevertheless, we have yet to see the elimination of a Mexican club by a non-Mexican one, a testament to the overwhelming home field advantage maintained by the aztecas. Yes, they have lost three times at home in the CCL era, but all of them took place in the group stage and none seriously damaged their chances at survival.
It is true that the Sounders and Metapan do not need to win this week in order to advance. But if either are still standing on Friday, they will have written a new chapter in the history of this tournament.
Before getting into each of the matchups, here is the schedule for this week’s games, with the home team listed first (all times EST).
Tuesday, March 13:
CF Monterrey (MEX) vs. Monarcas Morelia (MEX), 10:00 p.m.
Wednesday, March 14:
Santos Laguna (MEX) vs. Seattle Sounders (USA), 8:00 p.m.
LA Galaxy (USA) vs. Toronto FC (CAN), 10:00 p.m.
Thursday, March 15:
Pumas UNAM (MEX) vs. Isidro Metapán (SLV), 10:00 p.m.
I have to admit that the Cruz Azul fan in me harbors a strong distaste for Morelia coach Tomás Boy*, but he is absolutely right in saying that beating Monterrey tonight wouldn’t be a great achievement. The only problem for him is that a simple victory won’t suffice: the Monarcas have to score at least three times, since a 2-0 win for the Oxxo lookalikes would still favor Victor Manuel Vucetich’s side on away goals. Given the requirement, I would be shocked if Miguel Sabah did not start this match, but the michoacanos will need him at top form if they are to knock out the defending champions.
Pumas, on the other hand, will feel themselves more than capable of shutting down Isidro Metapan’s historic run in the CCL. The universitarios have won every home match they have played against Central American opposition, with only Comunicaciones holding them to a one-goal margin of victory in 2009. On the other hand, Isidro Metapan have regularly returned home from Mexico with their suitcases stuffed full of goals, so keeping the scoreline respectable would be a feat in and of itself. As I mentioned before: a Pumas victory is not a foregone conclusion, but Isidro Metapan are guaranteed all the honors this week if they somehow make it.
While the Sounders have proven themselves more capable of handling away matches south of the border, the task they face is even more daunting: Santos Laguna have won every CCL game they have played in Torreon against foreign opposition, and the guerreros went top of the Mexican Clausura regular season table last weekend with a 3-1 victory over Puebla. With Darwin Quintero possibly set to return to action, the Santos attack should be firing on all cylinders tomorrow, and Seattle’s back line will have to be at their best in order to keep Oribe Peralta, Herculez Gomez, Cristian Suarez and Daniel Luduena at bay. Then again, Sigi Schmid’s side managed to score on both of their previous trips to Mexico; more importantly, they have their own horror story to tell about a Mexican side scoring in quick succession against them, so Osvaldo Alonso and co. will know better than to try and bunker in for extended periods.
Santos Laguna will look to avoid being the first Mexican club to get knocked out of a CONCACAF tournament by an MLS team since…well, when Santos Laguna invented getting knocked out by an MLS team in a home-and-away series, after a 3-2 aggregate defeat to the then-Kansas City Wizards in 2002. And if they are unsuccessful, Seattle will have guaranteed that for the second-straight year, the CCL will finish outside of Mexico. Normally, that would be more than enough to declare this the marquee match of the week; but the other series on their side of the bracket is more evenly matched.
MATCH OF THE ROUND
First, let me get this out of the way: it is a shame, as understandable as it is frustrating, that the LA Galaxy have to deal with an attendance cap of 7,500 for one of the most important home matches they will play this season. Even more embarrassing for AEG is that (from what I’ve heard) they may not even get that many people to show up for the game.
The crowd issue is out of Bruce Arena’s hands, but whatever fatigue the defending MLS champions will display tomorrow night falls entirely on his shoulders: the LA manager sent out a near-starting lineup on the weekend for their domestic season opener against Real Salt Lake, a decision that failed to pay off immediately as the Galaxy slumped to a disheartening 3-1 defeat. Fortunately for David Beckham and co., RSL are an echelon above the Canadian visitors whom they will “entertain” at the Home Depot Center. I should mention that the quotation marks are necessary, since their advantage on away goals absolves the Galaxy of any imperative to take risks and play an open game.
Toronto, on the other hand, will have to chase a victory in order to advance, given how unlikely a 3-3 draw or higher appears. Their 3-0 demolition of FC Dallas in the group stage is still fresh in the memory, and the return of key players Julian de Guzman and Nick Soolsma will allow Aron Winter to send out the best available starting lineup, in order to hold the Galaxy at bay long enough for Danny Koevermans, Ryan Johnson and Joao Plata to earn their paychecks. With all due respect to Terry Dunfield, replacing him with de Guzman will give TFC a better defensive cover against an LA attack that is starting to click; but everyone on the back line will have to be concentrated for the full 90 minutes (and injury time, to be sure), since the Galaxy proved their capacity to punish any lapses in concentration in the first leg. The hosts may have the talent, the history, the trophies and the away-goal advantage, but the Reds find themselves only one plausible victory away from the semifinals, the first time in the history of CONCACAF that a Canadian club would get that far. Now that would be a “great achievement.”
* Morelia have eliminated la máquina from the last two Mexican league playoffs.