CCL 2013-14 Qualifiers: At the Doorstep (Plus: one AFC champion, coming right up)
Posted on November 10, 2012 5:03 am
Ask Monterrey fans what is the biggest match this weekend, and they will most likely point to the close of the Apertura regular season, as the rayados visit Cruz Azul in need of at least a draw (and some help) in order to reach the playoffs. While they are justifiably concerned with the immediate goal, the challenge Humberto Suazo and co. will face in Japan next month will be decided in a matter of hours. Many thanks to regular reader SwissGCZ for directing me to the following information: this Saturday morning, at 5:30 a.m. (all times EST), Ulsan Hyundai of South Korea will host Saudi Arabian club Al Ahli in the AFC Champions League Final. You can catch the game on Al Jazeera’s global channel; as a reminder, the winner’s Club World Cup quarterfinal with Monterrey will determine who gets to welcome Chelsea to Japan, and perhaps shock the world by interrupting UEFA’s almost-perfect attendance record in the Final. 1
While the 2011-12 CONCACAF Champions League winners anticipate their reintroduction on the global stage, we turn our attention back to our corner of the world, as clubs continue along the path to the 2014 world championship. As we saw in midweek, none of the hand-me-down scenarios for US spots in the 2013-14 CCL came to pass. Sporting Kansas City fought valiantly, falling one goal short of sending their quarterfinal with the Houston Dynamo into extra time at home; as for the San Jose Earthquakes, a shocking first-half defensive collapse allowed the visiting LA Galaxy three goals, costing their team the chance to repeat their archrivals’ Supporters’ Shield/MLS Cup double from last year.
With the continental safety net having been abruptly yanked from under them, DC United took matters into their own hands. After dealing with a switch in the order of their series against the New York Red Bulls, along with a last-minute postponement of the second leg Thursday due to (a grossly inadequate response to) inclement weather, Ben Olsen’s side prevailed on a late goal by Nick DeLeon. Curiously, they are the only team left in the MLS playoffs without Champions League matches already written into next year’s calendar; but while they attempt to return to the competition for the first time since 2009, everyone else will be fighting for a second bite at the cherry, should their 2012-13 CCL campaign fall short.
The MLS Cup semifinals will open this Sunday, as the Houston Dynamo host DC United at 4:00 p.m. and the LA Galaxy receive the Seattle Sounders at 9:00 p.m. (here is the television schedule for the US and Canada). Both of the visitors have been duly warned: although the Galaxy and Houston had to survive an extra play-in round just to reach the quarterfinals, their fatigue proved a non-factor as they overturned the top seeds in their respective conferences. They also hold an advantage over their current foes in terms of recent history: DC United ended up as the first notch in Houston’s undefeated streak at their new BBVA Stadium, while the LA Galaxy have only lost to Seattle once at the Home Depot Center since the rave green joined MLS in 2009.
It should be pointed out that per the format change for the next two seasons, the semifinals will also be home-and-away affairs, with the second legs scheduled for the following Sunday. The Final remains a one-off, however, and hosting rights for the big event are in dispute alongside the continental considerations. To put it simply: the winner of the Los Angeles-Seattle series will either travel to play DC United or host Houston on December 1. Nothing will be decided by “half-time” on Sunday; but DC and Seattle will want to avoid returning home with a deficit to overcome, as these playoffs have proven anything but respectful to higher seeds.
1 – The 2000 exception ended with host-team Corinthians overcoming fellow Brazilians Vasco da Gama.