Champions League 2012-13: Matchday 2 Review
Posted on August 24, 2012 2:43 pm
It sounds like one of those “only in…” moments: the LA Galaxy players, coaches and fans were left fuming after a Champions League game that they won 5-2.
Before discussing this week in general, I must address the performance of referee Alfredo Penaloza in LA’s thrashing of Isidro Metapan. More specifically, while I did not get to watch the match in its entirety, CONCACAF’s highlight package allows me to share a couple of words on the most hotly-criticized of his decisions, the sequence that led to Robbie Keane’s expulsion. First, keep in mind that referees are expected to judge around 30 to 40 fouls a game in real time, for everything from intent to severity to whether or not any contact actually occurred. Frankly, to expect them to get every decision correct is unrealistic, especially with no instant replay available. You may counter that they should be confident in their appraisal of the incident before meting out yellow cards, as Penaloza did to Keane for supposedly diving; here, I will have to defer to those with more refereeing experience than myself (none) on the question of whether Penaloza should have been more hesitant.
Regardless, what happened next led Galaxy coach Bruce Arena to question the importance of the tournament itself: Keane stormed off and signaled to the bench that he wanted to be substituted, a clear show of frustration. Penaloza, with little empathy for such petulance, reacted by handing Keane a second yellow and sending him off. I have no problem with Arena’s comments in particular, since CONCACAF Director of Referee Administration Brian Hall (yes, US fans, that Brian Hall) will understand them as an implicit criticism of, and a call to improve, the level of refereeing in this competition. However, for those who commented on the linked mlssoccer.com article and elsewhere, idiotically suggesting that the ref was either out to help his “fellow Latinos” (of course, in the last CCL, Ricardo Salazar did everything in his power to help out his fellow Latinos from Santos Laguna in Toronto, right?) or on an ego-trip, may I remind you that once upon a time, a famous European referee similarly displayed little patience with player dissent. Then again, not even the greatest continental club competition of them all is immune from accusations of illegitimacy and favoritism (“Uefalona”, anyone?).
Unfortunately, such controversy overshadowed what was arguably the best LA performance in the CCL era, highlighted by a Beckham goal directly from a corner kick that doubled as the tournament’s 1,000th. The defending Major League Soccer champions will have the chance to plant one foot firmly in the next round when they host the Puerto Rico Islanders next week; but while they are living up to their potential, another side outperformed all prior expectations en route to their first-ever Champions League victory.
TEAM OF THE ROUND
Xelajú MC (GUA)
It should not have come as a surprise that Chivas failed to snatch three points from their first match in Group 8, as Mexican clubs have routinely struggled with trips to chapin country. It should be noted, however, that all the previous slip-ups came at the hands of the usual suspects: Municipal and Comunicaciones. The only previous occasion on which a Guatemalan club outside of the traditional elite hosted Mexican opposition led to the joint-worst home loss in Champions League history, as Deportivo Jalapa succumbed to a 7-1 beating against Pachuca.
Xelaju, aiming to improve on a premature exit in the 2010-11 CCL, hunted down Chivas for 90 minutes in front of their rabid fanbase, constantly attacking and cutting off their opponent’s scoring opportunities through robust tackling (and some unwelcome simulated injuries, it must be said). In the second half, the same Edgar Chinchilla who rescued a point in Trinidad and Tobago scored the only goal of the match by heading in a corner kick, condemning Chivas to an embarrassing defeat and preserving an early lead in the group for the superchivos.
Their fellow Guatemalans will be no less pleased with their latest outing, as Municipal snuck out of Panama with a 2-1 victory over Chorrillo. Both still have plenty of work ahead in order to overcome the Mexican favorites in their respective groups, though, leaving another country to more heartily celebrate its teams’ progress.
COUNTRY OF THE ROUND
As previously mentioned, the LA Galaxy staked an early claim on first place in their group with a comfortable win over Isidro Metapan. While Real Salt Lake and Houston Dynamo have yet to scratch out such an advantage, both aided their respective causes by earning their first three points. RSL will miss Kyle Beckerman’s leadership when they head down to Panama in September, but their captain’s low, left-footed shot provided the exclamation point for their much-needed 2-0 victory over Tauro. While that result may have been expected, Houston finally earned their first-ever away win in international play, as a hat-trick of headers sealed a 3-1 win over FAS. Even the Seattle Sounders benefited during their bye week, as Caledonia AIA and Marathon failed to join them atop the group, settling for a 0-0 draw and one point each.
Just as this matchday could not have gone better for the US clubs (the red cards notwithstanding), it could not have gone worse for another league’s representatives.
GOAT OF THE ROUND
Isidro Metapan’s appearance in the 2011-12 CCL quarterfinals earned El Salvador an extra Champions League berth at Belize’s expense, allowing its clubs a golden opportunity to step out of the shadow of the more heralded Central American competitors (e.g. Olimpia and Saprissa) and stake a claim for earning back the top seed forfeited to Panama in 2009. Through two weeks in the current Champions League, their record reads: six games, five defeats, and a cumulative -15 goal differential. Aguila in particular have simply humiliated themselves at this level, with poor travel itineraries contributing to the horrific defeats suffered in Toronto and Torreon, while FAS will need a miracle to overcome the six points lost to Olimpia and Houston. Only Metapan still harbor a realistic shot at the quarterfinals, although they will most likely need the Islanders to trip up the Galaxy at some point; otherwise, only an incredibly high-scoring win at the Estadio Jorge Calero Suarez in October (e.g. 4-0 or 6-3) will allow them to outdo Beckham and co. on head-to-head. Even with Nicolas Munoz scoring at will, I have a hard time seeing the Galaxy receiving such a pummeling in this tournament, at least from anyone not named Monterrey or Santos.