Champions League Preview: 2012-13 Group Stage, Matchday 5
Posted on September 25, 2012 10:19 pm
The first time that Monterrey earned the opportunity to test themselves on the global stage, the draw gave them the easiest possible path to earning a first-ever appearance for a CONCACAF club in a World Cup Final. The rayados would begin by taking on a host team venturing outside of domestic competition for the first time, before the potential all-American showdown with Santos – no easy task, but certainly more realistic than the one facing Al Sadd of Qatar on the other side of the bracket.
As you will remember, Humberto Suazo and co. went on to completely waste the gift, falling to Kashiwa Reysol on penalties and subsequently limping out of the tournament in fifth place. No such favors were awarded to the CONCACAF Champions League bicampeones this time: on Monday, the 2012 Club World Cup draw set up the regiomontanos with the winner of this year’s AFC Champions League in the quarterfinals, with the survivor taking on none other than Chelsea in the next round. Before Monterrey can start thinking about how to overcome an Asian rival with international experience, though, there is the relatively smaller matter of Champions League survival to be secured, and a good result this week will do the job.
Here are the fixtures for this matchday, with group and home team listed first (all times EDT).
Tuesday, September 25:
1 – Águila (SLV) vs. Toronto FC (CAN), 10:00 p.m.
2 – Herediano (CRC) vs. Tauro (PAN), 10:00 p.m.
7 – CF Monterrey (MEX) vs. Municipal (GUA), 10:00 p.m.
Wednesday, September 26:
8 – W Connection (TRI) vs. Chivas de Guadalajara (MEX), 8:00 p.m.
4 – Marathón (HON) vs. Caledonia AIA (TRI), 10:00 p.m.
6 – LD Alajuelense (CRC) vs. Real Estelí (NCA), 10:00 p.m.
Thursday, September 27:
5 – Puerto Rico Islanders (PUR) vs. Isidro Metapán (SLV), 8:00 p.m.
3 – FAS (SLV) vs. Olimpia (HON), 10:00 p.m.
From the time the current CCL format was announced, I pointed out that CONCACAF had risked provoking a situation in which one or more of the teams on a bye on Matchday 6 remain in contention for a quarterfinal spot, only to watch from home as their group opponents determine the final outcome according to their own interests. In order to avoid this, CONCACAF elected to have all the bottom seeds sit out the last games in October, and for the most part their gamble paid off: only one of the teams that started in Pot C still has a realistic chance at reaching the knockout round, and they will be able to determine their own fate based on this week’s proceedings.
With the exception of that match, most of the upcoming fixtures feature one team attempting to keep themselves in contention for first place in their group, against another simply fulfilling obligations. The de facto CCL Reserve League match between Marathon and Caledonia AIA hardly demands any commentary on my part; the other Honduran representatives in the tournament, however, will send out as strong a team as they can muster for their short trip to the Estadio Cuscatlan, where they will take on a FAS side still smarting from the thrashing they received in Houston. Given that Olimpia won 4-1 in the same fixture back in 2010, it appears the tigrillos will only play spoiler insomuch as they prevent the visitors from overtaking the Houston Dynamo on total goal differential (relevant if the last match of the group ends in a 1-1 draw).
Metapan, Toronto and Chivas share a more urgent need for results, given the real possibility of prematurely crashing out of the tournament. The Canadians may have little to fear from Aguila, who have already thrown the white flag by releasing players for national-team duty with El Salvador, but any result other than a victory will snuff out even the mathematical chance of catching Santos Laguna at the top of Group 1. Metapan and Chivas enjoy a little more room for error, although neither can afford to lose against their Caribbean opposition. For the caleros, it is particularly important to escape Puerto Rico with three points, as their task against the LA Galaxy next month would be reduced from “win by four” to simply “win”.
The Costa Rican duo of Herediano and Alajuelense, however, will aim to take control of their respective groups and gain a decisive advantage over their direct rivals, ahead of the highly-anticipated visits to Salt Lake City and Monterrey (respectively). They both will welcome teams crossing their country’s borders, as Herediano pursue a two-goal win over Tauro from Panama and Alajuelense receive Real Esteli. Neither will be able to clinch their group with a victory, however, a possibility only afforded to two teams this week.
MATCH OF THE ROUND
After sweeping Chorrillo, the Rojos travel up to Nuevo Leon tonight to make their last roll of the dice against a Monterrey side climbing the Mexican Apertura table in spite of injuries to starting forwards Aldo de Nigris and the aforementioned Suazo. The hosts only require a draw to close out Group 7 early; Municipal, however, could shock the region by eliminating the defending champions with a victory of two goals or more, or through a one-goal victory with two or more away goals on their part (i.e. 2-1, 3-2, 4-3, etc.). Only a 1-0 win for the Guatemalans will bestow meaning on Monterrey’s October visit to Panama; any victory against Chorrillo would keep Victor Manuel Vucetich’s continental treble campaign on track, though, so Municipal will realistically decide their fate tonight.