CCL 2013-14 Qualifiers: Just Rewards

Posted on October 20, 2012 3:36 pm

On Sunday, at 7:00 p.m. (all times EDT), two bitter West Coast rivals will face off in an MLS regular season match with silverware on the line.

In Vancouver? Let me clarify: with important silverware on the line.

While the Whitecaps host the Portland Timbers in the last Cascadian Cup fixture for 2012, and attempt to maintain their lead over the Montreal Impact in the race for the highest ranking in next year’s Canadian Championship, a simultaneous showdown with more direct continental implications will take place further south. At Buck Shaw Stadium, the last of the regular-season California Clasicos will pit the Supporters’ Shield holders (LA Galaxy) against the team in prime position to snatch the trophy from their fingers. The San Jose Earthquakes have already guaranteed themselves a berth in next season’s CONCACAF Champions League, but one more victory against their biggest foes will suffice in order to wrap up a top seed in the tournament.

Its utility can be called into question, now that finishing as USA1 or USA2 provides no scheduling advantage (all CCL participants play four group stage matches regardless of how they qualified). Besides the satisfaction of claiming one of the main domestic trophies available to MLS teams (the Supporters’ Shield or the MLS Cup), however, earning a top seed provides a greater chance of landing a manageable first-round group. The scenarios awaiting the US clubs in the current Champions League are instructive of this benefit: the LA Galaxy and Seattle Sounders have already wrapped up their spots in the knockout round, and the latter will be certain to finish their quarterfinal series at home with a win over Marathon. The Houston Dynamo and Real Salt Lake, however, still have plenty of work to do against their higher-seeded Central American opposition: the Texans must avoid defeat to Olimpia, while Jason Kreis’ side have to dance around the away-goal booby trap in order to overcome Herediano.

The necessary result for Chris Wondolowski and co. to claim their first trophy since the club’s 2008 revival may well be nothing, depending on what happens exactly 24 hours before. Tonight at 7:00 p.m., Sporting Kansas City, the last team with mathematical hopes of overtaking the Earthquakes, will take on the New York Red Bulls out in Red Bull Arena. Given the five points that separate them from the summit, only a victory for Sporting will prevent early celebrations on the opposite coast; and if they take care of business, the Quakes will simply need to vanquish their SoCal archrivals to officially earn the regular-season championship. Even a tie would practically take KC out of the picture, unless the US Open Cup winners plan on closing a seemingly insurmountable gap in goals scored (currently 29) with one game left.

CCL 2013-14 Qualifiers

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

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