MLS clubs face different challenges in Concacaf Champions League

By Paul Kennedy

MLS is well positioned to qualify a region-high four teams for the Concacaf Champions League quarterfinals -- Mexico's Liga MX is in danger of qualifying only two teams -- but the New York Red Bulls were eliminated when they lost at Montreal and could only tie FAS in San Salvador in consecutive weeks.

The priorities of Red Bulls' management were questioned following Wednesday night's exit that saw them once again field a team comprised mostly of reserves, but that's been the case of the other MLS entrants for much of the group stage.

In each of the two games against FAS, the Red Bulls started four current starters but in the 1-0 loss at Montreal, they started three players who were part-time starters earlier in the season and eight other players with one MLS start between them this season.

Red Bulls coach Mike Petke praised his second stringers for their effort in the slim loss at Montreal that would have kept them in contention for a berth in the quarterfinals if they had beaten FAS on Wednesday.

The second FAS game became a must-win game, and New York should have beaten a team that was entering its final match with three losses in three games and had already been eliminated. The Red Bulls had their chances, and Saer Sene's missed penalty kick proved to be killer in a 0-0 draw.

But with the Impact match and away FAS game falling before critical league matches against Seattle -- which the Red Bulls won, 4-1 -- and at the LA Galaxy on Sunday, Petke chose not to risk stars like Thierry Henry and Bradley Wright-Phillips, or ever keeper Luis Robles or central defenders Jamison Olave and Ibrahim Sekagya. Lloyd Sam started both FAS games, but left the second game early in the first half with tightness in his hamstring.

With the Red Bulls involved in a tight playoff race -- they are one of five teams bunched five points apart for the final three playoff spots in the Eastern Conference -- there was no way to realistically expect that Petke would use his big guns in San Salvador.

In retrospect, a better option would have been fielding the stronger team at Montreal and getting a result there -- rendering the outcome of the match at FAS meaningless if you assumed the Red Bulls would have to beat Montreal in October -- but Petke likely figured the Seattle home game was more important -- ie. more winnable -- than the Galaxy away game if he had to pick one game to have all his starters rested.

New York Red Bulls:
vs. FAS (2-0)
New York -- Meara, Eckersley, Armando, Perrinelle, Miller, Sam (Stevenson 74), Cahill (Obekop 89), Oyongo, Luyindula (McCarty 78), Alexander, Sene.
at Montreal Impact (0-1)
New York -- Meara; Kimura, Perrinelle, Armando, Eckersley; Lade, Christianson, Obekop, Bover (McCarty 82), Stevenson; Sene (Alexander 79).
at FAS (0-0)
New York -- Meara, Duvall, Armando, Perrinelle, Eckersley, Sam (Stevenson 17), McCarty (Alexander 61), Christianson, Oyongo, Luyindula, Sene (Bover 72).


D.C. United and Montreal were the first MLS teams to advance to the final eight, each with three wins in three games.

United, first in the Eastern Conference, started reserves in its two home games and used only a few key players -- notably goalkeeper Bill Hamid, midfielder Perry Kitchen and forward Fabian Espindola -- in the match that mattered, the road game against Waterhouse of Jamaica.

Last in the Eastern Conference, Montreal has had nothing to lose in MLS, so it has made the CCL the priority. It went so far as to rest its two stars, Ignacio Piatti and Marco Di Vaio, for its MLS game against New England to save them for the home game against the Red Bulls it won, 1-0.

D.C. United:
vs. Waterhouse (1-0)
D.C. United -- Willis; Caskey, Opare, Shanosky, Attakora; Porter (Silva 80), Neal, Jeffrey, Martin (Kemp 70); Estrada, Johnson.
at Waterhouse (2-1)
D.C. United -- Hamid; Kemp, Birnbaum, Opare, Inkoom; Porter (Pontius 67), Kitchen, Neal, Caskey (Franklin 46); Estrada (Boswell 86), Espindola.
vs. Tauro FC (2-0)
D.C. United -- Willis, Inkoom, Opare, Shanosky, Korb (Franklin 46), Caskey, Martin, Jeffrey, Porter, Pontius  (Johnson 54), Estrada.

Montreal Impact:
vs. FAS (1-0)
Montreal -- Bush; Krol, Ferrari, Camara, Ouimette, Gorka, Felipe (Lefevre 78); Romero, Duka (Bernier 63), Mapp (Tissot 69), Di Vaio.
at FAS (3-2)
Montreal -- Bush; Krol, Lefevre, Ferrari, Ouimette; Bernier, Felipe, Piatti, Duka (Mallace 46), Romero; Di Vaio.
vs. New York Red Bulls (1-0)
Montreal -- Bush; Miller, Pearce, Ferrari, Camara; Mallace, Gagnon-Lapare, Romero, Duka (Jackson-Hamel 90+1), Piatti (Lefevre 81); Di Vaio (McInerney 82).


Sporting Kansas City and the Portland Timbers are in good shape to make the final eight, both carrying two-goal leads into what are in effect two-leg series with their remaining Central American rivals because of Concacaf rules that make head-to-head the first tiebreaker.

Sporting KC will carry a 3-1 edge into its match at Saprissa of Costa Rica, and Portland leads Olimpia of Honduras, 4-2. But both games will be played midweek between the next-to-last and last weeks of the regular season, so their coaches will have tough decisions about who to play.

In all three games to date, Sporting KC's Peter Vermes has started his two U.S. World Cup players, Matt Besler and Graham Zusi. While it opted not to take a week off before or between the two legs of the 2013-14 CCL quarterfinals at the start of the 2014 MLS season, Sporting KC got a break in the scheduling as the second and third matches of the current group stage fell between a bye week in MLS.

The Timbers have mostly held out their starters from their first three CCL games -- an exception was Will Johnson, rested ahead of the 4-2 win over Olimpia at home -- but they do benefit from having one of the deepest attacks in MLS.

Sporting KC:
at Real Esteli (1-1)
Sporting KC -- Kempin, Ellis, Collin, Besler, Sinovic, Claros, Olum, Zusi (Feilhaber 67), Saad (Dwyer 73), Sapong, Dovale (Zizzo 57).
vs. Saprissa (3-1)
Sporting KC -- Gruenebaum; Juliao, Collin, Besler, Sinovic; Claros, Nagamura, Feilhaber; Dovale, Dwyer, Zusi.
vs. Real Esteli (3-0)

Sporting KC -- Kronberg; Igor Juliao, Palmer-Brown (Claros 60), Besler, Sinovic; Olum, Nagamura (Medranda 84), Feilhaber (Zizzo 46); Dovale, Bieler, Zusi.

Portland Timbers:
at Alpha United (4-1)
Portland -- Weber, Powell, McKenzie, Kah, Villafana, Zemanski, Alhassan, Jewsbury, Nanchoff (Peay, 82), Urruti (Adi, 56), Zakuani (Wallace, 64).
vs. Olimpia (4-2)
Portland -- Weber, O’Rourke, Paparatto, McKenzie, Harrington, Alhassan (Wallace, 46), Jewsbury, Johnson, Nanchoff (Nagbe, 63), Fernandez, Urruti (Adi, 81).
vs. Alpha United (6-0)

Portland -- Gleeson; Harrington, Paparatto, McKenzie, Peay, O’Rourke, Zemanski, Jewsbury (Wallace, 62), Nanchoff, Fernandez (Fochive, 79), Urruti (Adi, 72).

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