CCL 2012-13 Qualifiers: The King, or the Emperor? (Update: El Salvador Situation Explained)

Posted on May 11, 2012 11:00 pm

In a month’s time, the domestic leagues in our corner of the world will give way to the undisputed main course of the year, World Cup qualifying. Before we get to talking about Chicharito, Dempsey, Luis Tejada and co., there are still seven tantalizing championships (of continental relevance) to be covered. Two of them will begin tomorrow, and a third will kick off next Wednesday; the semifinals taking place in Mexico, however, arguably outweigh the other matches in importance, given the caliber of teams that could grace the next CONCACAF Champions League with their presence.

This weekend’s action begins tonight at 10:00 p.m. (all times EST), as Tauro and Sporting San Miguelito return to the Estadio Rommel Fernandez for the second leg of their Panamanian Clausura semifinal series (available on TV Max). As the higher seed, Sporting only need to tie the series on aggregate in order to reach their first league final in the CCL era. Pacifico Giron’s side have no choice but to win, though, given that Tauro come into this match holding a 1-0 advantage from last week.

Both Tauro and Sporting still have a pair of games to negotiate if they want to join Chorrillo in the next CCL; up in Honduras, however, both Marathon and Olimpia have assured themselves of continental play, leaving only the question of which club will earn their country’s top seed for next season. The first leg of the 2012 Clausura Final will take place on Saturday at 8:30 p.m., with Golazo-Radio providing live coverage from San Pedro Sula. It should be noted that both sides have experience in the Champions League quarterfinals, so whoever ends up as HON2 will certainly provide plenty of headaches for their eventual group-stage opponents.

Later, at 10:00 p.m., the snake-bit Herediano will host the first leg of the Costa Rican Torneo de Verano Final against Santos de Guapiles; UPDATE: you can watch the game on Repretel’s Canal 6. One way or another, history will be made: Herediano will attempt (once again) to kill off the longest ongoing trophy drought for a Costa Rican grande (at least Cartagines won the 1994 CONCACAF Champions Cup), while Santos are two matches away from winning the first-ever league title for Limon, the only province in Costa Rica yet to experience the honor.

At the same time (10:00 p.m.), the next CCL qualifier will emerge from Mexico, as the most successful club in CCL history will face off against arguably the most successful club in CONCACAF history.

Five-time continental champions América have no choice but to win at the Estadio Tecnologico, where they will take on back-to-back Champions League winners Monterrey; any other result will keep alive the possibility of the first all-regio Final. I would be hard-pressed to label this a do-or-die match from a continental perspective, since whoever falls at this stage will still hold a 75 percent chance of catching a hand-me-down spot. But the victor will guarantee their place in the CCL, along with a 75 percent chance of receiving a top seed, good for an easier assignment in the group stage (e.g. facing off against Metapan instead of Marathon).

As for Marquense and Xelaju, however, only the 2012 Guatemalan Clausura title will guarantee them advancement to the Champions League, and the two will vie for a spot in the domestic Final on Sunday at 2:00 p.m. The superchivos travel to San Marcos with a 1-0 lead from the first leg; more importantly, Xelaju managed to keep the clean sheet at home. A second win or a draw will give them the series, while hosts Marquense will chase at least a two-goal victory; a 1-0 result for the leones sends the game into overtime, while a final score of 2-1, 3-2 or higher favors Xela on away goals.

Later, at 4:00 p.m., Arabe Unido will receive Chepo at the Estadio Armando Dely Valdes in Colon, Panama. The only canalero club to reach the CCL quarterfinals, Arabe simply need a victory to wipe out Chepo’s 1-0 advantage from the first leg and ride their higher seed to the Clausura Final, but a tie or loss at home will allow a team that escaped relegation in the very last minutes of the 2010-11 season to reach their first-ever LPF championship. Neither TV Max nor RPC TV include the match in their weekend programming, but you will be able to follow it on state radio. As far as Chorrillo are concerned, a Sporting-Chepo final will force them to live with the PAN2 spot, while triumphs for Tauro and Arabe will allow them to keep Panama’s top seed.

The Guatemalan Clausura finalists will also be determined later on, as Comunicaciones entertain archrivals Municipal at 8:00 p.m. Thanks to a 0-0 tie at the Estadio Mateo Flores in midweek, the cremas only require a victory to reach their fourth straight domestic final (and condemn the defending league champions to the GUA2 spot). However, Municipal also simply need a win; better yet, while a second scoreless draw will require overtime, a 1-1 tie or higher gifts the series to the rojos on away goals.

Finally, at 9:00 p.m. in Mexico, the second leg of the Santos Laguna-Tigres semifinal will take place at the Nuevo Estadio Corona in Torreon. After a 1-1 draw in Nuevo Leon, Santos Laguna only need to avoid defeat to reach the Clausura Final, while Tigres are obligated to win in order to defend their Apertura title. Should the felinos pull it off, both Monterrey and América will join us in next season’s Champions League, while Santos advancing would keep Chivas’ faint hopes alive. Just as in the recently-concluded CCL knockout round, however, refereeing controversies have taken up the headlines: Santos filed a protest against Tigres goalkeeper Enrique Palos, after he pulled off his best Nigel de Jong impression on Oribe Peralta without even getting booked. Fortunately, if there is any referee who can manage Sunday’s showdown without drawing attention to himself, it’s Marco Antonio “Chiquidracula” Rodriguez.

Right?

UPDATE: When Once Municipal first brought up the issue of CCL qualification on its Facebook page, Sergio Zelaya, of Salvadoran newspaper La Prensa Gráfica, weighed in the issue and responded to the precedent in Panama that I referenced (translation mine):

That’s how it was in Panama; but in El Salvador, [qualifying] is based on the accumulated table…

As it turns out, Zelaya is right: after republishing the press release from CONCACAF, the Salvadoran First Division’s official website added a note to clarify the criteria by which Once had been denied a place in the next Champions League. To sum it up, all hand-me-down spots in El Salvador are now passed down via the full-year table. That is, if Aguila had not won the Clausura title last Sunday, FAS would have received the hand-me-down SLV2 spot from Metapan and Aguila would have qualified as a wild-card team.

It should be noted that while CONCACAF’s Press Office provided the announcement, the Salvadoran Football Federation (FESFUT) made the decision (the only involvement on CONCACAF’s part comprises approving the qualification procedures). I do not have a direct qualm with the new regulations; after CONCACAF’s 2009 stipulation that Central American leagues use the full-year table as the primary tiebreaker, different countries have adopted the measure in distinct ways (for instance, to the best of my knowledge, Costa Rica is the only one that includes playoff results in said table). My main question, then, is at what point were the clubs informed of this change from the 2009 precedent. I have reached out to First Division Press Secretary Guadalupe Zúñiga on the issue, and will share both the original version and a translation of her response should it be forthcoming. As for Once, the ongoing, drawn-out changes in their front office have left them behind the curve with signings for next season, so it is unlikely that they will file a formal protest with FESFUT in time to reverse the decision.

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]
14. FAS (SLV) [BLZ]
15. Marathón [HON1 or HON2]
16. CF Monterrey [MEX2 or MEX4]

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