Apertura Champions: Where Are They Now? (Plus CCL, CFU, TFC, etc.)

Posted on March 23, 2012 1:25 am

I should start off by apologizing to regular readers for the lack of a review entry last week. Unfortunately, it was one of those times when life intervenes…in a good way: I recently finished transitioning into a new position at my job, one with greater responsibility and oversight. It will not cut down on my ability to contribute here, but my weekly schedule has been adjusted accordingly.

On top of that, the return legs of the 2011-12 CCL quarterfinals hardly went unnoticed in my temporary absence. For those of you who remember the serious discussions over whether this tournament would ever catch on, the congestion in CCL coverage is, as the cliche goes, a good problem to have. But before we move on to today’s topic, let me hand out the belated awards from the second legs.

TEAM OF THE ROUND – Toronto FC (CAN), authors of one of the greatest upsets in Champions League history and the first Canadian club to reach the semifinals of a CONCACAF tournament.

COUNTRY OF THE ROUND – The Overlord

GOAT OF THE ROUND – As badly as the Seattle Sounders and Isidro Metapan got blown out on their trips to Mexico, the LA Galaxy had the easiest assignment of the four teams that got eliminated last week. Frankly, this performance made a mockery of their CCL ambitions. Fortunately for Major League Soccer’s “Superclub”, a third bite of the cherry will be on offer in the 2012-13 competition.

Their demise left MLS with only one “representative” left, although the league’s fans seem to be of two minds regarding their support for the Reds (a dilemma that I predicted last year). For the LA/Toronto series, I seldom noticed any nationalist references among those commenting on the game here and elsewhere; but now that the Canadians stand alone, the question of whom they represent (more specifically, whom they represent most) has become more pertinent. If I may toss in my two cents: the fact that Toronto FC reached the Champions League by winning a Canadian competition, rather than one under the MLS umbrella, should in-and-of-itself settle the debate in favor of the Canadian champions representing their country. If you remain unconvinced, and happen to be American (for the purpose of this entry, just those from the US), let me ask: if the Rochester Rhinos had managed to win the US Open Cup and, through a miracle CCL campaign, ran into TFC in the quarterfinals, would you cheer for your fellow Americans or your fellow MLSers? Or if Montreal made the 2013-14 CCL and faced off against surprise 2012 US Open Cup champions Minnesota Stars?

From the hypothetical to the real: after a longer-than-usual wait, CONCACAF announced the format for the 2012 CFU Club Champions Cup, with the first-round games starting next week in the Cayman Islands. The Regional Review will focus in on this tournament in May, once the participants are two stages away from reaching the CCL; but I did have a couple of immediate observations to share. First, it is a shame that Jamaican clubs have opted out of the CFU cup yet again; and with the announcement having been made in Kingston, one wonders if “Captain” Burrell will do anything about speeding up the long-overdue return of Portmore United, Harbour View, Tivoli Gardens and co. to regional competition. On the other hand, two countries have returned to the fold, with clubs from Curacao and Antigua and Barbuda signed up to participate. It is curious that Antigua Barracuda have been granted a bye to the second round, since this is the first time they have ever played in a CFU competition; but given that the USL-Pro outfit provide the backbone for their national-team, I am personally anxious to see if one of the Haitian clubs can exact revenge on Peter Byers and co..

Finally, the main topic: half of the remaining berths in the 2012-13 CONCACAF Champions League will be filled with clubs from the various Central American leagues. But while the rest scramble to obtain the last remaining ticket for their respective country, the Apertura champions have busied themselves with pursuing a higher goal: the best available berth. For teams from Guatemala, Panama and El Salvador, the rewards are especially significant: with the top berth, they can luck out and fall in a group with a US/Mexican team and a weak third seed, while the second berths from their respective countries will subject them to fighting for dear life with a strong Central American rival (or the Canadian champions, clearly no pushovers) and the aforementioned US/Mexican opponent.

With this in mind, let us see how the Apertura champions have done up to now in their respective Clausura tournaments.

Belize

Unfortunately, there is no Apertura champion to speak of: all of the clubs in Belize had disassociated themselves from the Football Federation of Belize, symptomatic of the administrative turmoil that led to a FIFA intervention. The clubs rejoined a new Premier League of Belize as part of the reform process; one presumes that the 2012 Opening Season winner will occupy Belize’s spot in the 2012-13 CCL, pending CONCACAF approval for FFB Field.

Guatemala

Municipal are the defending champions, but you wouldn’t know it by looking at their current form: the rojos are just outside of a playoff position, in eighth place in the Clausura on 17 points. Then again, they were the last team to qualify for the Apertura playoffs, so the recent predicament will not have Guatemala’s finest worried about their title defense. A good thing too, since winning the Clausura title appears to be the only way that Municipal will take the GUA1 spot in the next Champions League.

El Salvador

Isidro Metapan set for themselves the unenviable record of receiving the joint-worst beatdown in the CCL era (along with thrashing that Herediano handed out to Alpha United back in the prelims of the same tournament), but the jaguares still rule the roost at home. With four games left in the Clausura (five for Metapan), the Apertura winners have a healthy lead over the pack in the full-year table, with 61 points to 53 for second-place FAS. The tigrillos can reach a maximum of 65 points, leaving Metapan only two wins away from clinching the SLV1 spot; as I pointed out before, while SLV1 is not a top seed, and the Salvadoran champion will have to take on one of the best US/Mexican clubs in the tournament from the start, it is still far preferable to SLV2.

If the rest have ground to make up to catch Edwin Portillo’s side, they still have plenty of reason to put their best efforts into the regular season’s final stretch. Thanks to Metapan’s historic run in the 2011-12 CCL, El Salvador is surely first in line to receive a hand-me-down spot, should the Belizean champion be dismissed once again for lack of a suitable stadium. As it stands, FAS, Luis Angel Firpo, Once Municipal and Aguila are within two points of each other in the full-year table, so the race for the second (and possible third) Champions League berths is anyone’s game.

Honduras

Olimpia sit comfortably at the top of the Honduran Clausura regular season table. Add up the points from the Apertura regular season, however, and el León finds itself one point behind Marathon, with 55 points to el monstruo verde‘s 56. Real Espana are also within shooting distance on 52 points, so Olimpia will likely have to struggle with the San Pedro Sula giants until the end of the season.

Nicaragua

As we already know, Apertura champions Real Esteli clinched their place in the 2012-13 CCL by sealing their place atop the full-year table for the Nicaraguan Primera Division.

Costa Rica

The last I heard, Costa Rica continues to count playoff results in its full-year table; no announcement to the contrary accompanied the change in format for the 2011 Torneo de Invierno, when the playoffs were reduced from six to four teams. Not that the playoff bonus will help Alajuelense much: the manudos tied three of their four matches in the Torneo de Invierno liguilla. On top of that, the defending champions are mired in eighth place in the Torneo de Verano standings, seven points out of a playoff spot. With seven games left in the regular season, “Liga” have plenty of time to right the ship, but clinching the CRC1 spot before the playoffs hardly appears an attainable goal.

Panama

Finally, Chorrillo FC only find themselves three points away from the last playoff spot in the Clausura regular season. However, a full 10 points separates them from the top of the table…currently occupied by Sporting San Miguelito, also the best team in the Apertura regular season. Like Municipal and Alajuelense, the defending Panamanian champions will likely have to pull off the bicampeonato in order to get the top CCL spot for their country. For the debutants, this could mean the difference between dealing with one heavyweight opponent (say, Real Salt Lake and Real Esteli) and struggling with two (e.g. RSL and Saprissa).

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