CCL 2012-13 Qualifiers: When the Champion Goes Missing

Posted on April 28, 2012 8:57 pm

May tends to be one of the more exciting months of the year for football in our region. Why is this the case? At the end of April, around half the berths in the next CONCACAF Champions League remain vacant, to be filled through one playoff-saturated weekend after another (to say nothing of the midweek Canadian and Caribbean matches). This time around, while all is said and done in Nicaragua (as far as continental qualifying is concerned), the rest of the Mexican and Central American leagues find themselves either at the door of the postseason or already submerged in it, and this weekend we will focus on the semifinals in El Salvador, Belize and Costa Rica.

First, a word on the leagues that have yet to appear on our radar: up in Mexico, both of the Apertura finalists (Tigres and Santos Laguna) have already qualified for the liguilla, so there still remains the outside possibility that Herculez Gomez and co. could win the Clausura (stop laughing) or set up a rematch with the felinos in the Final, in order to upgrade to Mexico’s second top seed. In Guatemala, on the other hand, Municipal are barely hanging on to sixth place ahead of the last matchday in the Clausura regular season. Should they crash out of the playoffs, however, the presence of at least one team below them in the full-year table means that the rojos will not officially be demoted to their country’s second berth (an eventual third seed in the CCL) until at least the semifinals.

The Honduran Clausura is currently at the quarterfinal round; we will jump in at the same time as defending-champion Olimpia, who will either need to double up on domestic titles or hope that Marathon (who finished the Apertura and Clausura seasons with 62 points to Olimpia’s 61) fails to usurp the throne in order to grab Honduras’s top berth. Down in Panama, Chorrillo will just be happy to make the Clausura playoffs: tomorrow, they will face off against Tauro for the fourth and final playoff spot. Chorrillo must win to survive; otherwise, ironically, a Tauro championship is the only outcome in which the defending champions retain their country’s top seed.

On to this weekend’s action: both second legs of the Salvadoran Clausura semifinals will take place tonight at 9:00 p.m. (all times EST). Reigning monarchs Isidro Metapan will have to overturn a 2-0 deficit when they host FAS; given that the caleros are the higher seed, any two-goal victory will do. While they struggle for survival, Aguila may already be arranging for transportation to the Estadio Cuscatlan: with a 4-0 advantage over visiting Luis Angel Firpo and the higher seed, they will simply have to avoid losing by five in order to reach their first domestic Final in two years.

Later on, at 9:30 p.m., the second legs of the Belizean Premier League semifinals will get underway, as Police United host FC Belize and Belize Defence Force receive Placencia Assassins. Both first legs ended in a draw (2-2 and 0-0, respectively), and according to the league rules, a second tie in either series will force overtime and penalties, if necessary. Unfortunately, I have not located any broadcast information for these matches, so most likely we will learn how they turned out in a couple days.

Finally, the Costa Rican semifinals will kick off at 10:00 p.m. tonight on Repretel’s Canal 6, as Herediano play host to Perez Zeledon. The visiting guerreros del sur may have surprised everyone by finishing atop the season table; but under new coach Odir Jacques, Herediano finished the Torneo de Verano regular season with four wins and a draw, and will look to extend their impressive form this evening, en route to finally earning redemption for having choked away the Invierno Final on penalties at home.

The other series will begin tomorrow (Sunday) at 1:00 p.m. on Teletica, as Deportivo Saprissa face off against Santos de Guapiles. The morados may be the lower seed in this series; but thanks to the Santos front office’s economic decision to “host” the return leg at the Estadio Nacional (guaranteeing thousands of Saprissa fans in attendance), they will get to play two de facto home games, so an adverse result at the Estadio Saprissa (where Saprissa only collected 15 of 30 available points over their regular-season home games) will hardly faze them.

It should be mentioned that Invierno champions Alajuelense are nowhere to be found: thanks to Herediano’s 3-1 victory over Saprissa on the last day of the regular season, the florenses exacted a measure of revenge against “Liga” by snatching the last playoff spot out of their hands. More significantly, last weekend’s results conspired to deny Alajuelense a shot at their fourth-straight championship. Now, the manudos will simply have to hang on to their calculators and see whether the eventual Torneo de Verano winner manages to overtake their full-year record (as far as I can tell, playoff results still count in Costa Rica for determining CCL spots).

CCL 2012-13 Qualifiers

1. Seattle Sounders [USA2]
2. LA Galaxy [USA1]
3. Real Salt Lake [USA4]
4. Houston Dynamo [USA3]
5. Chorrillo FC [PAN1 or PAN2]
6. Santos Laguna [MEX2 or MEX3]
7. Tigres UANL [MEX1]
8. Olimpia [HON1 or HON2]
9. Isidro Metapán [SLV1]
10. Municipal [GUA1 or GUA2]
11. LD Alajuelense [CRC1 or CRC2]
12. Real Estelí [NCA]
13. Águila [SLV2]

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