Champions League Preview: 2012-13 Group Stage, Matchday 3

Posted on August 28, 2012 8:57 pm

For anyone who missed the MLS-Mexican league showdowns or the numerous near-derbies between clubs from neighboring Central American countries featured in the old CONCACAF Champions League group stage, this matchday will be a sight for sore eyes. For the first and only time in this current round, a Mexican team will travel north on continental duty, as Santos Laguna reprise their volatile series with Toronto FC from earlier this year. Meanwhile, for the first time in the CCL era, Costa Rican clubs will only cross one border: Herediano will head down to face defending LPF champions Tauro, while Alajuelense will reenact a longstanding political rivalry as they face Real Esteli in only the second Champions League match held at the Estadio Independencia. The remaining fixtures promise no less intrigue, as teams either attempt to break away at the lead of their respective groups or keep pace with the favorites. Here is this week’s schedule, with the group and home team listed first (all times EDT).

Tuesday, August 28:

1 – Toronto FC (CAN) vs. Santos Laguna (MEX), 8:00 p.m.
6 – Real Estelí (NCA) vs. LD Alajuelense (CRC), 10:00 p.m.

Wednesday, August 29:

8 – Chivas de Guadalajara (MEX) vs. W Connection (TRI), 8:00 p.m.
5 – LA Galaxy (USA) vs. Puerto Rico Islanders (PUR), 10:00 p.m.
7 – Municipal (GUA) vs. CF Monterrey (MEX), 10:00 p.m.

Thursday, August 30:

2 – Tauro FC (PAN) vs. Herediano (CRC), 8:00 p.m.
4 – Caledonia AIA (TRI) vs. Seattle Sounders (USA), 8:00 p.m.
3 – Olimpia (HON) vs. Houston Dynamo (USA), 10:00 p.m.

All of these matches will be broadcast on CONCACAF TV. Whether or not you will be able to watch them, however, depends on the regional blackouts neatly explained at the bottom of the linked page. Unfortunately, I have not been able to locate any television guide on the tournament’s main page; it has been confirmed that Sportsnet One will carry the TFC-Santos match in Canada, while Fox Soccer Channel will show all the games involving MLS teams in the US.

One imagines that the match currently in progress between Toronto and Santos will also be carried on Fox Sports in Mexico (and the rest of the “Northern Cone”), given the implications it carries for fans all over North America. While those on the pan-MLS bandwagon in the US will support Toronto FC by proxy, the sides directly involved will focus exclusively on the opportunity to adopt the protagonist role in Group 1. Santos Laguna will look to establish an early advantage against their direct rivals by drawing maximum points from BMO Field. On the other hand, Canadian clubs have never lost at home against Mexican opposition; and with their domestic league campaign well beyond repair, TFC will dedicate their full resources towards defending their home turf on the continental stage.

Municipal, who twice held Santos to draws at the Estadio Mateo Flores, will similarly aim to defend their undefeated CCL home record against the aztecas as they play host to Monterrey. While Chorrillo served notice of their competitiveness last week, the rojos will justifiably view the defending Champions League winners as the primary obstacle to overcome. Monterrey hold an encouraging 2-1-1 record in Central America over the last three years, however, and even with Aldo de Nigris unavailable due to injury, Victor Manuel Vucetich’s side possesses enough offensive firepower to distance themselves from the rest of Group 7′s occupants.

On paper, Alajuelense will enjoy a much easier assignment, as a victory over Real Esteli (owners of a 0-4-1 record in the CCL era) will keep the manudos within shooting distance of Tigres. Contrary to the suppositions of “Liga” coach Oscar Ramirez, however, head-to-head remains the first tiebreaker if teams finish equal on points; that is, the pressure to score will be much heavier when they visit the “Volcan” in Monterrey than tonight.

Surprisingly, Chivas find themselves with a similar task, as they look to gain their first victory in CCL play over the visiting W Connection – to calm down the deluge of criticism that has poured over John Van’t Schip’s side after their poor start to the current season on all fronts, as well as get back within a game of current group leaders Xelaju.

While Herediano may not face the same sort of pressure as the previous two, their challenge is undoubtedly tougher: Tauro may find themsleves overmatched in Group 2, but with the contributions of captain Luis Moreno and Temistocles Perez (previously a consistent goalscorer in the Champions League with San Francisco), they are more than capable of complicating Herediano’s efforts to keep Real Salt Lake in the rear-view mirror.

The LA Galaxy and Seattle will shoot for the highest positions in the eventual ranking system, as well as their respective groups, as they handle Caribbean opposition. David Beckham and co. received a merciless 4-1 beating the last time they hosted the Puerto Rico Islanders; and although the current version of the tropa naranja struggles to evoke the same sort of fear as their giant-killing predecessors, the Galaxy will aggressively attack their visitors in the hopes of burying the past humiliation once and for all. While Seattle will not enjoy similar motivation for their first-ever trip to Trinidad and Tobago, a second-straight win over Caledonia AIA would provide them the opportunity to win Group 4 early when they head down to Honduras next month.

The only MLS team to face a Central American opponent, though, will face one of the most daunting road assignments in all of CONCACAF; and unless staring down a possible elimination on Matchday 6 appeals to them, the circumstances will have to be overcome in order to scratch out a positive result.

MATCH OF THE ROUND

vs.

Olimpia, as one of the few teams to have participated in every Champions League to date, have only lost once at home against North American opposition. After the pummeling they delivered unto FAS in San Pedro Sula, el Leon will return to the Estadio Tiburcio Carias Andino in Tegucigalpa in order to take on a Houston Dynamo side still savoring their first victory in Latin America. With Roger Rojas and Luciano Emilio on form, Olimpia have more than enough offensive options to secure a win; but Brian Ching, Cam Weaver, and ex-olimpista Oscar Boniek Garcia will have to be kept in check, as away goals could limit the number of acceptable results for the Hondurans when they meet again in October.

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