Champions League 2012-13: Matchday 1 Review
Posted on August 3, 2012 2:01 am
If anyone were to write up a “CONCACAF For Dummies” handbook (and I can think of more than one writer here who would be up to the task), at least one chapter would be devoted to the perils of away games in our region. Between the travel, accommodations, hostile fans, refereeing and assorted shenanigans, both clubs and national teams find themselves hard-pressed to extract points from their international outings. This CONCACAF Champions League matchday offered further proof of this trend: the away teams sulked to a combined 0-7-1 record over the last three days, with only a late comeback by Xelaju down in Trinidad and Tobago preventing a clean sweep.
It is true that three of these sides received particularly comprehensive thrashings, but the circumstances of each blowout should be taken into account before rushing to premature declarations on the tournament’s competitiveness. As I pointed out on Monday, Chorrillo and Real Esteli had never even participated in the CCL group stage before this week, to say nothing of experiencing an away match in Mexico. Combine their continental naivete with Monterrey’s and Tigres’ dual motivations for building up their goal differential (their municipal rivalry, as well as eventual ranking for the knockout round) and the hammerings meted out to the debutants were downright predictable. As for Aguila, I am sure there is a good John Wooden quote that one can apply to showing up in a foreign city only 16 hours before your scheduled match.
While the regios and the Reds bask comfortably in a job well done, another club will draw considerably greater satisfaction from their opening victory.
TEAM OF THE ROUND
I will freely admit that I had the florenses pegged to drop points in this game. After losing the services of several star players, and dropping the Costa Rican Supercopa 2-0 to Alajuelense (in a match that ended with coach Odir Jacques taking swings at Liga players…I am not making this up), their chances looked slim against a Real Salt Lake side that seemed to have stabilized the ship over the last month.
The combination of an organized defense and a poor performance from several RSL attackers (particularly Fabian Espindola and Javier Morales) allowed Herediano to hold on after a well-taken goal early in the first half. Curiously, after the American visitors were reduced to 10 men, Jacques opted to close up shop and invite RSL to attack, instead of attempting to extend their advantage. Nonetheless, Herediano successfully earned the full three points against their direct rival for the top spot in Group 2; barring a slip-up against Tauro, they should remain in the drivers’ seat all the way to Matchday 6.
Having said that, their decision not to expand on a 1-0 lead means that any loss by two goals in the Rio Tinto Stadium will give RSL an advantage on head-to-ahead. Another Central American side with strong designs on a place in the knockout round made better use of their first home fixture, pummeling their opponent when the opportunity presented itself.
COUNTRY OF THE ROUND
This evening, domestic bicampeones Olimpia made the trek over to San Pedro Sula to receive FAS at the Estadio Francisco Morazan, aware that a strong result was needed in order to set themselves up for an eventual struggle with the Houston Dynamo for group supremacy. A Luciano Emilio goal put them ahead after only two minutes, and they reached halftime with a comfortable 2-0 lead. At this point, with a friendly against none other than AC Milan coming up in two days, coach Danilo Tosello would have been justified in deciding to ease up on the match and conserve energy. Instead, he threw on forwards Roger Rojas and Douglas Caetano Mattoso; the former drew a late tackle from Nester Renderos that got the FAS defender sent off, and followed up by scoring his team’s third to seal a confidence-building victory. Even after dealing Oscar Boniek Garcia to Houston, Olimpia appear well-armed and well-prepared to challenge for the quarterfinal berth.
I will admit that selecting a particular country for this honor has been rendered far from straightforward, now that eight teams will sit out each matchday. But taking the ones that did see the field into account, Real Salt Lake, Aguila and FAS ruined their respective countries’ candidacies, while Toronto and Xelaju will have to prove their ability to compete with the Mexican giants in their group before I take their chances of survival seriously. Fortunately, the goat stuck his arm out (literally) to get my attention.
GOAT OF THE ROUND
Jay Needham (Puerto Rico Islanders/PUR)
So your team is playing an away game in Central America, weathering attack after attack from the hosts and holding on to a 1-0 lead against the run of play. What is the worst thing you could do at a time like this?
To be fair, an own goal or a lazy defensive pass to an opposing forward would certainly complicate matters, but Needham converted the Islander’s task in Metapan from tough to Herculean after his outstretched arm caught a Metapan player in the face, earning him a straight red. I did not get to see the incident live, so I will refrain from making judgment of intent (and/or whether the victim sold the foul). Nonetheless, given the aforementioned reality of away games in CONCACAF, the risk should simply not have been taken; and once Jonathan Fana had to be pulled off to insert another defender in Needham’s absence, the Islanders provided Metapan the perfect opportunity to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.
One bonus question, for anyone interested: which goal celebration impressed you more, Angel Reyna’s “hurricanrana” or Nicolas Munoz’s “Move It Like Bernie”?