Champions League 2012-13: Matchday 5 Review

Posted on October 1, 2012 1:57 pm

First of all, my apologies for the delay in posting this entry; a multitude of job hunt-related events conspired to consume my entire weekend. Fortunately, I know of at least one person who can sympathize: after Municipal’s directors decided that the club’s CONCACAF Champions League failure outweighed its comfortable position in the Guatemalan Apertura standings, now ex-coach Javier Delgado similarly must have had future employment on his mind in the last few days.

On to the results from Matchday 5: it is not often that one can say this, but CONCACAF’s schedule has proven a great success. It remains to be seen if the current circumstances will be replicated with future tournaments, especially if a team starting in Pot C manages to provide a stiffer challenge for the top spot in its eventual group; but this time around, none of the clubs still in contention will have to watch on TV as their fate is decided elsewhere. Whereas Cruz Azul depended on Marathon overcoming Saprissa in 2008 in order to survive, and the monstruo verde looked on in horror two years later as a blooper by Kasey Keller gifted Saprissa advancement at the Hondurans’ expense, the five currently vacant quarterfinal spots will be occupied through direct confrontations between the remaining candidates. Even better, none of the group deciders will be played simultaneously; arguably the most exciting CCL group stage matchday ever will await us at the end of the month.

Immediate survival has already been secured for three clubs who will now keep one eye on the eventual rankings (…or not). We already covered the Seattle Sounders’ advancement last week; the first team to join them similarly took care of business on their own by winning their third Champions League match on the trot.

TEAM OF THE ROUND

CF Monterrey (MEX)

It is no surprise that the visiting rojos wilted under the constant offensive pressure from the regiomontanos, who have yet to drop points against Central American opposition at the Estadio Tecnologico in the CCL era. Even with regular forwards Humberto Suazo and Aldo de Nigris still working themselves back into full condition, Abraham Carreno and co. mercilessly peppered Jaime Penedo with shots; and were it not for a typically stellar performance by the Panamanian, Monterrey may well have closed the gap with Santos Laguna on goal differential (+9 and +11, respectively). At this point, with only an away match against Chorrillo left on their continental calendar, Victor Manuel Vucetich’s side will fancy their chances of securing the #1 ranking among group winners, good for hosting the second leg through the entire knockout round, so that for once they will be able to (potentially) win a CCL trophy in front of their own fans.

Such dreams of regional glory and rubbing shoulders with fellow Champions League winners in Morocco are fast fading for another one of Mexico’s representatives, however. After a “Cubo” Torres opener was canceled out by a missile of a free kick from W Connection’s Clyde Leon, Chivas returned home with their long-term chances of CCL success as damaged as their pride. Further south, however, another country’s participants both celebrated having taken control of their respective groups.

COUNTRY OF THE ROUND

Costa Rica

Both Herediano and Alajuelense started the week with an opportunity to firmly install themselves in first place in their respective groups, ahead of the decisive showdowns with their direct opponents. While the defending champions from their neighboring leagues fully intended to complicate life for the ticos, both defended their home turf and emerged with the necessary three points. If the results met expectations, the actual performances proved underwhelming: Herediano allowed Tauro their first goal of the tournament and could only manage a 2-1 victory, leaving themselves vulnerable to getting eliminated with a 1-0 loss at the Rio Tinto, while the manudos could only score on a penalty against a team whose offensive strategy largely consisted of getting the ball to Samuel Wilson and watching him try and escape three defenders. Still, Alajuelense will simply need to avoid defeat at Tigres in order to reach the quarterfinals for the first time, while an Herediano goal against a Saborio-less Real Salt Lake in four weeks’ time will force the Americans to chase three goals to move on. The likes of Chivas and Olimpia, who slumped to a 2-1 loss at the Estadio Cuscatlan against table-propping FAS, look on in envy at the Costa Ricans’ relative security; then again, at least they are still alive in the competition.

GOAT OF THE ROUND

Isidro Metapán (SLV)

Yes, the Puerto Rico Islanders have a well-established reputation for giant-killing at the Juan Ramon Loubriel. And the tropa naranja had already served notice of their competitiveness by holding the Galaxy to a scoreless draw the week before, setting the record straight after their opening road defeats led observers to start discussing the end of the Islanders’ regional relevance. Isidro Metapan had faced these exact same conditions last year, though: in their 2011-12 CCL preliminary series with Puerto Rico, the jaguares traveled to the Caribbean in order to defend a 2-0 lead, and managed to dismiss their hosts with a vital away goal.

This time around, Edwin Portillo’s side required at least a draw to remain within shooting distance of the LA Galaxy, before hosting Landon Donovan and co. at the Estadio Jorge Calero Suarez, while their opponents only had pride left to protect. Nevertheless, the Islanders’ local boy Hector “Pito” Ramos put the Salvadorans’ continental aspirations to the sword by taking advantage of gaps in Metapan’s defense to snatch a brace. Gregory Richardson affixed the punctuation mark to the Islanders’ victory by slaloming through the defenders and goalkeeper to slot away Puerto Rico’s third, in the process gaining a small bit of revenge after his Guyanese national team fell to El Salvador earlier in the month; meanwhile, thousands of miles away, Bruce Arena bemusedly scratched off names and started planning a reserve-team Central American bonding trip (I would say “gleefully”, but bemusement appears Arena’s default condition).

IF THE GROUPS FINISHED TODAY…

Santos Laguna (MEX) vs. LD Alajuelense (CRC)
Herediano (CRC) vs. LA Galaxy (USA)

CF Monterrey (MEX) vs. Xelajú MC (GUA)
Seattle Sounders (USA) vs. Houston Dynamo (USA)

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