CCL 2013-14 Qualifiers: Northern Upheaval

Posted on October 6, 2012 1:44 pm

In the United States and Canada, something remarkably unusual occurred with qualifying for the current CONCACAF Champions League: the best teams from each country occupied all the available berths in the continental championship. While Toronto FC had already made themselves comfortable at the foot of the Major League Soccer table, the three-time Canadian Championship winners and 2011-12 CCL semifinalists recalled their impressive cup form, defeating both Montreal and Vancouver at BMO Field en route to a fourth-straight national title. Meanwhile, last year the LA Galaxy, the Seattle Sounders and Real Salt Lake, none of whom would go missing from a list of top-tier US sides, occupied the top three spots in the season table; the Houston Dynamo nearly claimed their third MLS Cup in six years, eventually settling for the last US spot in the 2012-13 CCL. Furthermore, these clubs had all experienced Champions League play, and all had previously reached the knockout round. Simply put, this group of qualifiers comprised the best American and Canadian contingent yet.

Building a domestic hierarchy, however, has never figured among MLS’s strategic goals.

We will cover the Canadian Championship when it returns next April; for now, suffice it to say that if Toronto wish to maintain their dominance over the Great White North, they will have to win the Voyageurs’ Cup outside of BMO Field for the first time since the tournament shifted to a knockout format (barring a surprise run from second-division FC Edmonton). Further south, another knockout tournament already produced a breakaway from last year’s elite, with Sporting Kansas City (who admittedly missed the current Champions League by only one game) overcoming Seattle on penalty kicks to claim the Lamar Hunt trophy and break the Sounders’ US Open Cup streak. The second US berth could be settled as early as today; and while the favorites for the honor have been known for months, no one last year would have predicted their dominant run through the current MLS season.

Ever since Week 9, after Kansas City’s opening win streak ran out (and skipping the New York Red Bulls’ brief interruption in Week 12), the San Jose Earthquakes have maintained themselves atop the MLS standings, in spite of handling a schedule heavy on matches with ostensibly-tougher Western Conference opponents. With three games left in the regular season, Sporting remain within one game of Chris Wondolowski and co., delaying their potential celebrations until after the World Cup qualifying break. As far as CCL qualifying is concerned, however, a certain combination of results from today’s MLS fixtures could reproduce the situation that guaranteed continental play for San Jose’s archrivals last year.

At this point, only four teams could mathematically prevent San Jose (currently on 61 points) from clinching the Supporters’ Shield. In the most unlikely case, Real Salt Lake would have to “max out” (win the rest of their games) with 61 points, hope that San Jose blow the rest of their fixtures and overtake the Earthquakes on goals scored (the first tiebreaker), with the Earthquakes currently enjoying a 21-goal advantage.

New York and the Chicago Fire have a more realistic shot at catching the Quakes, but both max out at 62 points; better yet, they have to play each other today, at 3:30 p.m. (all times EDT) on NBC. Later tonight, the San Jose Earthquakes will attempt to square things away on their own, as they travel to face the Colorado Rapids at 9:00 p.m. on MLS Matchday Live. Simultaneously, on the NBC Sports Network, Real Salt Lake will finish up their regular-season series with defending MLS champions LA Galaxy at the Home Depot Center, although RSL have won every match they have played at the venue this year. The following combination of results will reduce the struggle at the top to a two-horse race:

- If a winner emerges from the New York-Chicago match, San Jose will need to win at Colorado in order to write off both of them and RSL.

- If New York and Chicago tie, however, either a) San Jose earning at least a draw at Colorado OR b) RSL failing to win at LA will seal the deal.

Should either scenario play out, the Earthquakes will either win the Supporter’s Shield eventually (as most observers suspect), or they will finish behind Kansas City, who would then have a CCL berth to spare. Either way, the likes of Wondo, Steven Lenhart and Marvin Chavez (all of whom have participated in the CCL with other MLS teams) will have guaranteed continental matches at Buck Shaw next year, for the first time since the team was revived in 2008…and who knows, they could very well inaugurate their new stadium in 2014 with a Champions League quarterfinal.

CCL 2013-14 Qualifiers

1. Sporting Kansas City [USA1, USA2, USA3 or USA4]
2. San Jose Earthquakes [USA1, USA2, USA3 or USA4]

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