Scandal, intrigue, upsets. Good football

Mexican dominance in the CONCACAF Champions League has been a given for some considerable time.  In a week that saw the devastation caused by Hurricane Karl, Mexico had plenty of other bad news.  Alistair Cubbon reports.

Not much happening in the CONCACAF Champions league this week......Nah, just kidding, it’s been a week of scandal, intrigue, upsets and some good football but mostly bad news for Mexico, only saved by one brilliant Chilean.  Toluca and Santos Laguna lost, Cruz Azul drew at home and Monterrey won but only after the introduction of Humberto Suazo.  The fall-out from the sanctioning of 13 national team players after a late night party continues to rumble on.  The party in a hotel in Monterrey after the 1-0 friendly win over Colombia led to the suspension of Arsenal striker Carlos Vela and Efrain Juarez from the national team for 6 months, and a 50,000 pesos fine of the 11 other players.  The rumours of late-night visitors and something called a “she-male” have done little for the reputation of El Tri, especially coming directly after the destruction many Mexicans are dealing with after Hurricane Karl ripped through parts of Mexico.  The players fines will be given to the relief fund.

In the CCL, there were on-field problems as well with more trouble for Mexicans playing away from home.  Columbus Crew defeated Santos Laguna 1-0 on Tuesday night.  A goal from Crew’s Peruvian striker Andres Mendoza was enough to beat Santos and put Columbus in top spot with two games remaining.  Coming off the back of a 0-4 home defeat to Seattle in the MLS, Columbus responded well.  Both teams rested big players with Guillermo Barros Schelotto and Christian Benitez both on the bench and as such, chances for both teams were limited.  The MLS side finished the game stronger though and took the points after Mendoza’s 87th minute goal.  “I just basically turned around and shot”, said Mendoza.  That simple.

Olimpia of Honduras also took 3 points as they beat Toluca 2-1 at home.  On a wet and windy night in San Pedro Sula, Wigan Athletic’s Roger Rojas scored the deciding goal.  They are now equal on 7 points with Toluca in Group D and look like serious contenders for the next round.  Both of these teams should qualify as FAS and Puerto Rico Islanders could only manage a scoreless draw in the other group game.

The one bright light in a dark week came from one of Monterrey’s stars, as Humberto Suazo once again showed that he is the best player in this tournament in the 3-2 victory over Seattle.  Los Rayados were trailing 0-2 with an hour gone when Grant Wahl’s twitter curse struck again.  Seattle could have been the first MLS team to win in Mexico, and notwithstanding the power of Wahl’s social networking, Suazo’s introduction on 63 minutes was the real deciding factor.  He scored one and made the other two in a 30-minute cameo as he gave a reminder of his value to Monterrey.  Monterrey have 12 points by virtue of this win and can start to plan for the next round, if Suazo stays fit they have to be favourites to take the CCL title this year.

The other team I highlighted as a possible challenger to the Mexicans is serious danger of missing the group stage.  Saprissa’s 2-1 loss to Marathon was to be expected given their lacklustre performances all season and they only have themselves to blame.  Employing a 5-man midfield in an attempt to control the possession worked well to reduce the number of attacks on their goal in the first half but unfortunately left Saprissa with insufficient forward options to worry the Marathon defence.  This midfield quagmire was broken open in the second half when Saprissa defender Ricardo Blanco lost the ball and Mario Berrios was given space to run at the defence.  He struck a dipping shot from 30 metres that rocketed past Saprissa keeper Fausto Gonzalez.  Gonzalez was picking the ball out of his net 15 minutes later in ridiculous circumstances.  With a contender for own goal of the season, Esteban Sirias fired a 25 metre, shin-volley into the Saprissa net.  Seriously, it’s great, check it out.  Jairo Arrieta did get Saprissa back into the game a minute later but they were unable to lift themselves enough to get the draw.  The defeat leaves Marathon and Saprissa level on points but Saprissa’s better goal difference means they remain in second.  Their next game is at home to the group leaders Monterrey.  The Mexicans have one foot in the next round so there is a chance that Saprissa will face a weakened team.  On this performance, though los morados will struggle to beat a team even without its star players.

Real Salt Lake also showed they are also serious contenders in this tournament as they notched up their first ever victory outside of the US.  They beat Arabe Unido 2-3, while at half time it was 1-3 to RSL the Panamanians at least showed they hadn’t totally given up on the whole thing by scraping a goal back.  They couldn’t find the equaliser though so they probably have given up on the tournament now.  In Panama RSL owed their victory to two goals from Canadian midfielder Will Johnson and Costa Rican striker Alvaro Saborio and a few great performances from some of the younger members of the squad.  Tony Beltran, Chris Schuler and Jean Alexandre all played well and the experience will have done them good.

Real Salt Lake and Columbus Crew have the potential to go far in the Champions League this season but in order to do that they are going to have to figure out a way to win in Mexico.  While scoring away from home seems like second nature for some of the Mexican national team players it is proving a problem for the MLS teams when they visit Mexico.  The longer the winless streak continues the less likely it is that an MLS team will triumph in this tournament.  The good news is there are no more qualifying games in Mexico for MLS teams but the later rounds of games will quite probably pit MLS teams against their Mexican counterparts.  The record has gone on long enough, it’s time to consign it to the history books.

The next games begin on September 28.

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