[CONCACAF CHAMPIONS LEAGUE] Group play moves into the critical phase, with each team playing its fourth of six games. Seattle can clinch, FC Dallas and Los Angeles face tough tests, and Colorado and Toronto are desperate. Here are previews of the five CCL games to be played this week by MLS entrants ...
Group C: Toronto FC (1-2-0, 3 pts.) vs. Tauro FC (0-1-2, 2 pts.), 8 p.m. ET, Fox Soccer.
After starting its CCL campaign with a 2-1 victory in Panama, TFC has lost to FC Dallas, 1-0, at home and been pummeled, 4-0, by Pumas in Mexico City. Since those two teams play each other this week, a TFC victory will put it back into contention regardless of that outcome. Two goals by Danny Koevermans, his first strikes in MLS play, earned TFC a deserved 2-1 triumph over Colorado last weekend, so it comes into the fourth round of group play in good form.
Tauro battled back in Dallas last week after falling behind when FCD scored straight from the opening kickoff, and with a goal by defender Luis Moreno forged a 1-1 tie. It also battled Pumas to a 0-0 tie at home despite losing keeper Adnihell Ariano to a red card in the 27th minute. If it can frustrate TFC by determined defending it can snag another point, at least.
Group D: Seattle (3-0-0) vs. Herediano (0-3-0), 10 p.m., Fox Soccer, Telefutura.
A Sounders win and a victory or tie for Comunicaciones in its game at at Monterrey will clinch a quarterfinal spot for Seattle, but though Herediano is pointless in the CCL, it has won three straight league matches to move into a first-place tie with Alajuelense.
Seattle beat Herediano, 2-1, in Heredia last week with a pair of goals, in the third and 54th minutes, highlighting a scintillating showing by Fredy Montero. The Sounders rolled over D.C. United, 3-0, on Saturday with Mike Fucito opening the scoring and Alvaro Fernandez netting the second and third goals. The sprained MCL suffered by Mauro Rosales will mean a re-shuffling in midfield, but a deep array of central options should enable Seattle to dominate that area.
Group C: FC Dallas (2-1-1, 7 pts.) vs. UNAM (1-1-1, 4 pts.), 8 p.m., Fox Soccer, Galavision.
UNAM got its CCL campaign back on track last week by crushing Toronto FC, 4-0, at home; it should incur a tougher test at Pizza Hut Park, yet FCD looked a bit jaded while losing to New York, 1-0, at PHP Saturday, and in its last CCL game – also at home – it scored after 23 seconds yet wound up tied, 1-1, with Tauro FC.
As for UNAM’s league form, last Saturday it drilled Toluca, 4-1, after falling behind in the sixth minute. Martin Bravo’s cross set up Carlos Orrantia to head the equalizer midway through the first half, and Bravo tucked away the first of two penalty kicks that sent Pumas clear to a comfortable win. Bravo dismantled TFC by netting a hat trick in 25 first-half minutes. Former Chivas USA attacker Juan Palencia is another UNAM attacking weapon.
The victory also snapped a three-game league losing streak and took some pressure off Coach Guillermo Vasquez; at 4-2-3 (14 points) UNAM is fifth in the overall standings only three points behind the leaders. Still, he’ll feel some heat if UNAM doesn’t avenge FCD’s stunning 1-0 victory at Estadio Olimpico Aug. 17.
Group A: Alajuelense (2-1-0, 6 pts.) vs. Los Angeles (2-1-0, 6 pts.), 10 p.m., Fox Soccer, Galavision.
The Costa Ricans got off to a great start in the CCL by upsetting Morelia, 1-0, at Estadio Alejandro Morera Soto, so they are certainly confident of following suit against the Galaxy. Jonathan MacDonald ran onto a through ball and capitalized on a goalkeeper fumble to score the only goal; seeing how Josh Saunders struggled last week in the 2-1 loss at Morelia, Alajuelense is likely to test him in similar fashion if he keeps his place in the nets.
In its last CCL match, Alajuense prompted a coaching change at Motagua by rolling to a 4-2 win in Tegucigalpa. Super-sub Allen Guevara entered in the 79th minute with the score tied, 2-2, and struck twice in two minutes to push Alajuelense alongside Morelia and L.A. atop the group.
The Galaxy’s back line has been nearly impregnable in league play recently; it blanked Vancouver, 3-0, on Saturday, and zeroed the Rapids, 1-0, 11 days ago. Against the Whitecaps, Coach Bruce Arena rested right back Sean Franklin, Juninho, and starting keeper Donovan Ricketts. Franklin is listed as out of this game because of right knee inflammation; Juninho (left hamstring strain) and Ricketts (right quadriceps tightness) are questionable.
Group B: Colorado (1-1-1, 4 pts.) vs. Real Espana (0-2-1, 1 pt.), 10 p.m. (delayed telecast 1 a.m., Fox Soccer).
The Rapids are reeling on two fronts; after Santos Laguna inflicted a 4-1 thumping at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, TFC dished out a 2-1 league loss at BMO Field. On paper, this matchup favors Colorado; it tied Real Espana, 1-1, in San Pedro Sula Aug. 23 in the second round of group play, and the Honduran club is coming off a 2-1 loss at home to Isidro Metapan in its last CCL match.
The injury bug bit Colorado again this week with the news that defender Anthony Wallace needed surgery last week to repair damaged cartilage in his right knee. He joins Conor Casey, sidelined in July with a torn left Achilles tendon, on the list of players out for the season. Weakened thus in the back as well as up front, and in third place two points behind co-leaders Santos and Isidro Metapan, Colorado nevertheless can unleash its attacking speed with Omar Cummings and Sanna Nyassi to register important points at home this week in both competitions (it plays San Jose on Saturday). After that, well, who knows?