Champions League 2012-13: Bracket Set

Posted on October 26, 2012 1:42 am

This is why I advocated a ranking system.

Tonight’s match between Isidro Metapan and the LA Galaxy served as an excellent example of the excitement that can be generated under this format. If CONCACAF had decided to continue with the practice of a knockout-round draw, with the angelinos having already won the group, Bruce Arena would have been entirely justified in taking this game off by sending out the reserves. As it turns out, he threw his club’s CONCACAF Champions League future in the air: if they lost in the uncomfortable surroundings of Metapan, the Galaxy would have been guaranteed a quarterfinal date with one of the 2011-12 CCL finalists, hardly the ideal way to open the new year. Fortunately for him, the kids proved their mettle on the continental stage, clawing out a 3-2 victory to move the Galaxy to fourth among the group winners.

Among those that had yet to assure their place in the next round, Tigres hardly broke a sweat, rolling over Alajuelense 5-0 on the strength of an Alan Pulido hat-trick. To be fair, coach Ricardo “Tuca” Ferretti perhaps felt a litle heat from above, given his decision to break from the custom of saving the starters for domestic play and unleashing the likes of Damian Alvarez against the manudos. Santos Laguna also got the necessary result at half-pace; the guerreros simply needed to avoid a rout at home to Toronto FC, and yet another Herculez Gomez goal against the Canadians lifted them to the second place ranking.

Up in the US, the Houston Dynamo were similarly required to keep their last remaining challenger at bay; at halftime, however, the visiting Olimpia had taken the lead and coach Dominic Kinnear had received his marching orders for protesting a non-call on a foul in Olimpia’s penalty area. Andre Hainault began to make amends for his horror show in national colors last week by heading in the ball from a corner kick to draw the Dynamo level, and Oscar Boniek Garcia entered the game to help calm nerves and see out the draw against his decimated former team.

In fact, only two of the group-stage finals ended with positive results for the visitors, each one making history along the way.

TEAM OF THE ROUND

Herediano (CRC)

The travel.
The weather.
The fans.
The 2010-11 Champions League runners-up facing them.
The club ownership that had completely abandoned them.

In spite of all the obstacles that they faced on the night (or all year, in the latter case), Herediano relied on their impressive discipline to limit the number of clear opportunities available to the hosts. Fabian Espindola absolutely should have scored on the empty net; after that gift, the florenses got their defensive lines in order, keeping bodies in front of the Real Salt Lake attackers and nearly grabbing the vital away goal on a couple of occasions. They did revert to the dark art of timewasting in the last minutes of the match, but their performance over the course of the group (in spite of the club’s well-publicized financial woes) stands as a testament to the admirable character of the squad.

Both of the Central American sides to survive have reached the Champions League quarterfinals for the first time. But while Herediano made history for themselves, the other knockout-round debutant changed the course of the entire tournament.

COUNTRY OF THE ROUND

Guatemala

While traditional giants Comunicaciones (who didn’t even qualify) and Municipal watched at home, Xelaju traveled up to Guadalajara to face the ultimate obstacle for non-Mexican clubs: eliminating an azteca opponent, something that had yet to occur in the CCL era. And after Chivas pulled ahead in the first half, the superchivos knew that survival rested on pushing forward and snatching the vital away goal.

They thought the mission had been accomplished in the 68th minute, when Israel Silva collected a pass and slotted it past Luis Michel, but the linesman incorrectly called it back for offsides. No problem: nine minutes later, Xelaju made the most of a scramble in the Chivas penalty area, with one of their forwards chipping the ball to a wide-open Allan Aleman on the left to head it into an empty net. Hernan Medford’s side practically hung off of the crossbar to maintain the one-goal deficit, but in the end they held on to eliminate one of the Mexican grandes, a feat which will live long in the memory of the multitude that went up from Quetzaltenango to support their heroes.

GOAT OF THE ROUND

Chivas de Guadalajara (MEX)

On the other side, Chivas will have to bear the humiliation of being the first Mexican club ever to crash out of the CCL in the group stage, and at the hands of non-Mexican opposition. While the defensive mishap allowed Aleman to grab the group-winning goal, the attackers must accept the lion’s share of the blame for the failure to advance. They did blaze six goals past their opponents at the Estadio Omnilife, but their wet-powder performance in Guatemala and the inability to find a game-winner at W Connection rendered Chivas vulnerable to elimination on away goals.

And with that, the knockout round has been determined; keep in mind that the winner of the above series will host the second leg in the semifinals and final (i.e. Monterrey will host the second leg of their series from here on in, while Tigres will finish each round on the road).

THE GROUPS FINISHED TODAY…

CF Monterrey (MEX) vs. Xelajú MC (GUA)
LA Galaxy (USA) vs. Herediano (CRC)

Santos Laguna (MEX) vs. Houston Dynamo (USA)
Seattle Sounders (USA) vs. Tigres UANL (MEX)

It may appear that the Galaxy ended up with a better deal than Seattle, considering that the Sounders well outperformed their fellow US club in the group stage. Keep in mind, however, that Herediano got to this point by winning a de facto home-and-away series with an MLS side, defeating RSL in Costa Rica before doggedly holding on for a draw at Rio Tinto. Now that their own Estadio Rosabal Cordero got the green light to host CCL matches, expect Herediano to push forward against the Galaxy in front of a sold-out stadium, hunting an advantage that they will then aim to protect at the Home Depot Center. Tigres, on the other hand, barely escaped Nicaragua with a draw; that particular starting 11 will probably bear no resemblance to the ones that Tuca will line up for this series, but their chances of advancing to the semifinals will probably depend on building up a sizable lead at home, instead of anything they will be able to scrape out of their visit to CenturyLink Field.

With the other two series, Monterrey and Santos Laguna are simply the class of the competition. Xelaju have little hope of preventing the regiomontano march to a third-straight continental title; while Garcia, Brad Davis, Calen Carr, Corey Ashe, and whoever mans the front line (Will Bruin and Cam Weaver?) will have to play out of their skin for Houston to keep up in the arms race with Oribe Peralta, Carlos Darwin Quintero, Cristian Suarez, Daniel Luduena and Herculez Gomez. Mexican pride took a dent with the Chivas fracaso, but a second-straight all-norteño final remains the strongest possibility.

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