CONCACAF Champions League preview

You might be just catching your breath from the European version, but IBWM brings you more Champions League than anyone else.  Continuing his review of the CONCACAF tournament, Alistair Cubbon previews a pivotal game.

A look at the CONCACAF Champions League game between Municipal v Santos Laguna. The round 3 tie is due to be played on 14/9/10.

Guatemala’s best take on the Mexican Bicentenario 2010 runners-up in the third game in Group B.  Municipal were formed by a group of city workers from Guatemala City in 1936 and went on to become Guatemala’s most successful club team with 28 league titles. They are the current Clausura Champions. They are also the only team from Guatemala to have won the CONCACAF Champions Cup (as the CCL used to be known). Their victory came in 1974 with a 4-2 aggregate victory in the final against Transvaal of Dutch Guiana. They most recently played in the current incarnation of the tournament in 2008 when they finished bottom of their group, which also featured their next opponents Santos Laguna. Two seasons ago Santos finished top of the qualifying group recording a 4-4 draw and 3-2 victory in the two games against Municipal. Again this year it is Santos who are making the early running with 2 victories from the first two games while Municipal lost 1-0 away to Columbus Crew and drew 1-1 at home against Joe Public. In the first game in Columbus Municipal’s goal was under siege for much of the game as the Crew dominated possession and notched up 7 shots on goal. Only a determined goalkeeping performance from Panamanian Jaime Penedo and some wasteful finishing kept the score at 1-0. If Municipal want to recreate their trophy winning season of 1974 nothing short of a victory against Santos is necessary. Domestically they are cementing their position as the best team in Guatemala once again. After 8 games they are top of the table with 5 wins. In the most recent game they beat 9th placed (out of 12) Mictlán 1-0 with a goal from former LA Galaxy midfielder Guillermo Ramirez. Ramirez is remembered as the player to have the worst shooting percentage in MLS history during his 2005 stay in Los Angeles. Although he did somewhat make amends by scoring a volley from 18 yards in extra time that won the MLS Championship for the Galaxy. His only goal prior to that came from a penalty against Colorado that rebounded off the post and goalkeeper before crossing the goal-line. He fares better in Guatemala though as he leads this season’s goalscoring charts with 6, and is also the most capped player ever for the Guatemala national team with 95 caps and 11 goals for his country. Municipal’s 39 year old captain Juan Carlos Plata hasn’t played in either of the first two games but he holds a more dignified record than his colleague. He is Guatemala’s all-time leading scorer and is currently the third most prolific scorer from all the world’s top leagues among still active players.

In their second CCL game this year Municipal entertained Joe Public of Trinidad and came away with a disappointing 1-1 draw despite having dominated the game and Joe Public having Jevon Morris sent off in the 80th minute. Municipal had scored through Mario Rodriguez three minutes before the sending off and they looked set to gain their first win before a goal three minutes into injury time denied them the chance. The game was played in torrential rain and by the end the pitch was a muddy mess. Municipal defending was also a shambles as they left substitute Micah Lewis unmarked at the far post to head home the equaliser.

Their opponents Santos Laguna may not have been around as long as Municipal but they have certainly crammed a lot into their short life. The club was established in 1982 and have since won the league championship 3 times and also finished as runners-up on 3 occasions. Santos have been managed by Ruben Omar Romano since 2009. The Argentinian was born in Buenos Aires but has spent most of his professional career as player and manager in Mexico. His first job after he retired from playing in 1995 was as assistant to another better known Argentinian who made his name in Mexico, Ricardo La Volpe, when he was at Club Atlas. Romano has since taken charge of 9 teams including Mexican giants Pachuca, Club America and Cruz Azul. While he was at Cruz he was kidnapped and held for 2 months before being rescued by the Mexican Federal Investigation Agency. To add insult to injury he was then fired 3 months later following a poor run of results. He took over Santos in December last year and steered them to second place in the 2010 Clausura. The only time they have competed in the CCL was in its first year in 2008 when they made it the semi-finals before losing to another Mexican side Atlante 4-3 on aggregate.

In this season’s Champions League they along with the other 3 Mexican teams look to be the most impressive in the whole competition. Santos have played 2 and won 2, scoring 6 and conceding 2. Striker Jose Maria Cardenas is responsible for 4 of those goals. He became the only player to score 4 goals in a single CCL game when Santos beat Joe Public 5-2 in the first game, or at least he was until fellow Mexican Javier Orozco of Cruz Azul repeated the feat a week later.   Santos’ most well-known player, at least to Premier League fans, is Christian Benitez who spent last year at Birmingham City. The big Ecuadorian striker has also not yet featured in this year’s Champions League but he does lead the scoring charts in the Mexican Primera Liga. Considering Santos’ commanding position in their group it would be a surprise if Benitez played in the game against Municipal. Santos overwhelmed Joe Public in the first game but they could count themselves slightly lucky to beat Columbus Crew with an injury time goal in the second. The win came under dubious circumstances and Santos found it difficult to break down a stubborn defence. Santos are currently in second position in the Mexican Primera Liga although they suffered a shock 5-2 defeat this weekend against 10th placed Querétaro.

They will expect to bounce back strongly against the Guatemalan champions and will be favourites to take this tie.

Another game played on the 14/9/10 is the visit of Seattle Sounders to Saprissa in Costa Rica. Of the 4 MLS teams in the CCL this year Seattle Sounders are finding it the toughest. They lost their first two games and now face a difficult trip to San Jose. Seattle's schedule over the next 5 weeks is verging on the ridiculous. Including last Thursday's draw against Real Salt Lake they will play 13 games including trips to Costa Rica, Mexico and Toronto. They will play in the US Open Cup final and also have a lucrative but potentially damaging friendly against Chivas of Mexico. All this travel could have a negative effect on their performances and may inhibit their play-off prospects. What is certain is that they can expect a hostile reception when they arrive in Costa Rica. Teams from the US have often suffered verbal abuse from the fans when they play in Costa Rica and the US national team were bombarded with coins, bags of urine, batteries and other forms of rubbish in a World Cup qualifier in 1996. In the last game of the recent qualifying campaign for the 2010 World Cup, Costa Rica were leading until the fifth minute of injury and a victory would have seen them qualify for the finals in South Africa when Jonathan Bornstein broke clear to equalise. The US had already qualified and didn't need the point, Costa Rica needed all 3 points but the draw condemned them to a play-off against Uruguay which they then lost.  Whatever the reaction from the stands Seattle will find it difficult enough on the field. Saprissa are still not playing at their highest level but they are unbeaten in their last 3 games and won 4-1 at the weekend. After losing their first CCL game away to Monterrey they played well to win their second also by a 4-1 margin at home to Marathon.  This game against Seattle is vital for their progression in the CL. After playing Seattle their only home game will be the difficult visit of group leaders Monterrey. A home victory is most likely here.

Other games:

14/9/10

Columbus Crew v Joe Public

Monterrey v Marathon

Municipal v Santos

Saprissa v Seattle Sounders

15/9/10

Toluca v Puerto Rico Islanders

Arabe Unido v Cruz Azul

Real Salt Lake v Toronto

16/9/10

Olimpia v FAS

Alistair will be writing regularly for IBWM and if you’d like to read more from him please visit Sol y Sombra.

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