CCL 2013-14 Qualifiers: Old Hands, New Hands

Posted on July 10, 2012 10:15 pm

Yes, I know what you are thinking: why are we already monitoring qualifiers for next year’s CONCACAF Champions League when the guest list for this season’s tournament just got completed yesterday? Well, 21 days ago, but the point remains.

Last year, we waited until October to find out which one of the LA Galaxy and Seattle Sounders would grab the first available Champions League spots. The US Soccer Federation’s decision to truncate the duration of their Open Cup, though, leaves the current semifinalists already within earshot of reaching the 2013-14 CCL, and Wednesday’s matches will determine where the first berth will be awarded.

Before we get into that, here is a brief recap of what happened in the first five rounds, for those who do not normally follow the US Open Cup. In response to vociferous complaints about the 2011 competition, the USSF decided to make two major format changes for this year: up through the quarterfinals, the home team for each match would be determined randomly via coin flip (behind closed doors). Also, for the first time, no fewer than 32 professional teams would participate directly in the tournament: the 16 amateur survivors from the first round of one-off matches each faced opponents from the NASL and USL-Pro, with the winners moving on to challenge MLS sides in the third round. The lower-division representatives made the most of the expansion, as no fewer than eight MLS teams crashed out at the first time of asking.

Real Salt Lake’s defeat against the Minnesota Stars merits particular mention: while the latter had won the aforementioned coin toss for their third-round showdown, Real Salt Lake’s management negotiated a backroom deal with the Stars to buy the hosting rights. Up in Cascadia, the Seattle Sounders and the Portland Timbers reached similar agreements with the Atlanta Silverbacks and the Wilmington Hammerheads, respectively (although the latter got knocked out early and failed to cash in); while one can argue that the exchanges helped stabilize finances for the lower-division participants, the USSF’s failure to publicize the existence of this option beforehand drew deserved ire and distrust from the US soccer community.

On the field, the Harrisburg City Islanders managed to knock out the New England Revolution (in an extraordinary match that involved the Pennsylvanians overturning a 3-0 deficit in overtime) and the New York Red Bulls in order to reach the quarterfinals, while the Dayton Dutch Lions and the Charlotte Eagles accompanied their fellow USL-Pro club by finishing off lower-division opposition in the Round of 16. All three were subsequently dismissed from contention, however, leaving us with only MLS candidates for the first US berth in the CCL (and the other three, of course).

Curiously, the four remaining teams are separated by CCL experience, as well as geographic location.

Tomorrow, at 7:30 p.m. (all times EST), the Philadelphia Union will host Sporting Kansas City in the first of the US Open Cup semifinals (with Sporting broadcasting the match on their Youtube channel). The current MLS Eastern Conference leaders will look to atone for the 4-0 thrashing they received on their last trip to PPL Park; more importantly, both sides are shooting for their maiden appearance in the Champions League (Kansas City did participate in the 2002 and 2005 CONCACAF Champions Cups, though).

Believe it or not, Chivas USA have already seen the Promised Land…although Tauro dismissed them from the 2008-09 CCL in the preliminary round. At 10:00 p.m., they will return to the Starfire Complex in Tukwila, Washington and attempt to end the Seattle Sounders’ quest for a fourth-straight Open Cup trophy (the hosts will stream the match on their website). On paper, Chivas USA stand little chance of survival: the Sounders have not lost in this tournament since 2008, and have knocked out Chivas three times in the last six years. Then again, Robin Fraser’s side have only lost once in the last two months (going back to May 10); in that same period, their defense has only received nine goals over 10 games in all competitions. With goalkeeper Dan Kennedy in particular in top form, Chivas will restrict Seattle to only a handful of opportunities, leaving Juan Agudelo, Juan Pablo Angel and Jose Correa the task of scoring enough goals to achieve the upset.

Should Chivas move on, they will face another road match, based on the results of the discreet, closed-bid process determining hosting duties for the semifinals and Final. According to the USSF, Sporting Kansas City and the Seattle Sounders offered “identical” bids for the 2012 championship in early August, with the former winning out on a coin flip. Thus, if Sporting upend the Union tomorrow, the Lamar Hunt trophy will be awarded at LiveStrong Sporting Park; if Philadelphia hold serve at home, they will either travel to CenturyLink Field or host Chivas USA in the Final.

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