Champions League 2012-13: Home Stands, or Lack Thereof
Posted on March 8, 2013 9:51 pm
Monterrey took a commanding lead, the Galaxy snatched a draw from their road trip and the remaining games ended in slim victories for the hosts.
Welcome to last year’s CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals.
To be fair, one can identify a few novelties with this week’s events. Besides the new faces (Tigres, Xelaju and Herediano) and Houston appearing in this round for the first time since 2009, all eight clubs managed to score in the opening week of the 2011-12 CCL knockout round, while the only away goals on offer this time belonged to defending champions Monterrey. Facing an energetic attack from hosts Xelaju and a field that acted as an extra defender by frustrating attempts to control the ball, Victor Manuel Vucetich’s side reached into their reserve of international experience, clinically putting away the few chances created by winning the ball back in the opponent’s half and punishing the superchivos with lightning-strikes to firmly plant one foot in the semifinals. It is true that a 3-0 loss at the Estadio Tecnologico would eliminate the rayados…although I can only recall such a setback occurring once in the last three years in all competitions, and never on this stage.
Their archrivals Tigres, however, will be much less satisfied with the current balance of their quarterfinal against the Sounders. Had Lucas Lobos and Luis Garcia more clinically put away their shots (each within 10 yards of the goal), we would be discussing how Seattle plan to recover from yet another first-leg goleada. Although their backline effectively limited Eddie Johnson to only one half-chance at goal and nullified Mauro Rosales, their profligate finishing meant that only a late header from Alan Pulido (thanks to Zack Scott holding all the attackers directly involved in the play onside) punctuated the scoreboard.
On the other hand, let me run off a few names: Mike Fucito, Fredy Montero, Alvaro Fernandez and David Estrada. What do they have in common? This collection accounts for all of Seattle’s goals scored against Mexican opposition in the CCL era. Unfortunately for Sigi Schmid, only one of them is still with the Cascadians; and given Levante’s determination not to let Seattle pry Obafemi Martins from their fingers, he may have to roll the dice on either a Johnson-Estrada or Johnson-Sammy Ochoa front line in search of the desired series equalizer. It should be noted that when they have finished a two-game series at home, only once have the Sounders emerged triumphant: against San Francisco of Panama in 2011, and even that required overtime.
While they return north pondering how to overturn the Mexican Clausura superlider, another US club with the wind in their sails will head in the opposite direction.
TEAM OF THE ROUND
Houston Dynamo (USA)
For a club in only its eighth year of existence (yes, San Jose fans, after MLS uprooted your Quakes in 2005), Houston have racked up an impressive amount of international experience, whether in the now-defunct Superliga, the old CONCACAF Champions Cup or the current CCL. The prospect of facing Santos Laguna in this round hardly fazed suspended head-coach Dominic Kinnear, who, according to goalkeeper coach Tim Hanley’s post-game comments, prepared a thorough scouting report and briefed his staff on Tuesday’s visitors. Other than a poor Tally Hall clearance that Carlos Darwin Quintero failed to punish, the Dynamo utilized their preparation to prevent Santos from overrunning them, with Oribe Peralta and Herculez Gomez finding goal-scoring opportunities scarce.
Grabbing the lead, however, appeared a step too far, with Will Bruin unable to shake off Felipe Baloy’s attention. The Dynamo responded in a typically North American fashion, inserting Brad Davis into midfield to exploit the space created by the forwards; the move paid off right before full-time, with Davis receiving a square pass from left-back Corey Ashe and quickly slotting it past Oswaldo Sanchez at the far post. Absolutely no one considers the tie solved away; but as the first non-Mexican team to prevent Santos from snatching an away goal since Montreal in 2009, Houston will be able to approach the second leg knowing that only a two-goal victory for Pedro Caixinha’s men would eliminate them.
Given that the two US-Mexico series in the bottom half of the knockout-round bracket finished with a win and a loss each, and that Xelaju failed to protect their already-slim chances of knocking off Monterrey, I decided to give the second honor to the only country whose representative managed to avoid defeat.
COUNTRY OF THE ROUND
According to Juan José Herrera of La Nación, “A ball in the crossbar quenched the hope of victory for an Herediano that was superior to the Galaxy…” (translation mine). With all due respect: I have no idea what game he watched. But it is to the florenses’ credit that in spite of everything that has happened in the past year (including three coaching changes and significant financial hardships), they managed to hold the reigning MLS champions off the scoresheet. The turf played its part, with Robbie Keane and co. needing the better part of the 90 minutes just to get used to the surface as through ball after through ball ended up over the goal line; otherwise, the Galaxy were only conceded one direct opportunity in front of goal that ended with Mike Magee slamming the crossbar. Assuming that the field also limited their capacity to play (and they did manage to threaten Carlo Cudicini’s goal on multiple occasions, wasted penalty aside), Herediano will head up to the Home Depot Center next week knowing that a tie with goals will be enough to send them through.
Of course, there are a trio of elephants in the room to address.
GOAT OF THE ROUND
Courtney Campbell, Garnet Page and Kedlee Powell, referees,
Herediano vs. LA Galaxy
I know that the more volatile fans of both teams will disagree, but Campbell called a consistently loose game, opting to keep the cards in his pocket and only whistle a few of the constant kicks, trips and shoves that threatened to spark a brawl at any point – a staple of international football in our corner of the world, it must be said. He did fall horribly for Ismael Gomez’s dive in awarding the penalty kick; for moments like that, I would love to see referees participate in post-game press conferences (assuming that their physical safety can be guaranteed), in order to hear whether Sean Franklin’s hand on the back or the Herediano attacker’s legs crumbling as if he had suddenly been deprived of a bone structure conned Campbell into making the call.
His assistants, on the other hand…I would honestly be surprised if either of them could accurately explain the offside rule. On separate occasions, Robbie Keane, Mike Magee and Minor Diaz all saw legitimate runs called back for having received the ball behind the opposing defensive line, even though they were all at least two feet onside when their teammates played the ball. The mistake that most infuriated the Galaxy players, staff and fans prevented Mike Magee from opening the scoring on a 1-v-1 with the Herediano keeper in the second half; the worst, however, occurred in the first few minutes, as the flag went up for Magee trapping a ball headed back by a defender. To put it bluntly: Campbell’s assistants had no business officiating a Champions League game. If the veteran Jamaican is retained for the rest of the current tournament, here’s hoping that CONCACAF Director of Referee Administration Brian Hall requires him to find a more competent supporting crew.
UPDATE: I apologize in advance for temporarily suspending my CCL coverage this week. I will be focusing on preparation for the Comprehensive Exam in my graduate program, but regular entries will be back after the weekend.