Monday, September 20

CCL Mid-Term Report: GROUP A

Current Standings (Points, WDL, GD)
Cruz Azul… 6… 2-0-1… +6
Real Salt Lake… 6… 2-0-1… +3
Toronto FC… 3… 1-0-2… -3
Arabe Unido… 3… 1-0-2… -6

Home clubs have won five of the six matches thus far with Arabe Unido the lone exception in their match against Cruz Azul. Real Salt Lake, despite being in their first appearance, have kept pace with the two-time finalists from Mexico.

Report Cards

Cruz Azul (Mexico): B
The Mexican side was stunned on the road at Toronto in the opener, falling 2-1 with a late goal after trailing by two since the 44th. They got the first goal from Javier Orozco in the next game against RSL, but saw the visitors rally for a two goal lead after 63 minutes. But Orozco was not done as he scored the next three for the two-time finalists as they fought back for the lead in the 88th minute. But it was not over as RSL tallied in stoppage to tie before Christian Gimenez hit the dramatic winner. Domination finally came as they faced their second Panamanian club of the tournament. After having previously beaten San Francisco 2-1 on the road and 6-0 at home in the Preliminary Round, Cruz Azul posted a second 6-0 result, this time on the road versus Arabe Unido, giving them the two biggest wins of the competition. Current league record: 7-0-1.

Outlook – Advancement is virtually assured at this point despite the group being so close as no MLS club has won in Mexico and Cruz Azul hosts Toronto next. They also host Arabe Unido before playing the final group match in Utah. They will be focused on maximizing the points at home to clinch before week six as they face tough domestic contests versus America, at Toluca and against Santos Laguna leading up to the RSL match. Projection: First. Cruz Azul should comfortably win at home in the next two, making the final match nearly meaningless.

Real Salt Lake (MLS): B+
Alvaro Saborio scored twice to give RSL the 2-1 win in the opener at home against Arabe Unido and scored the first two in the club’s initial rally in Mexico against Cruz Azul in the heartbreaking 5-4 loss. They found themselves trailing again versus Toronto at home, but the club responded with goals from Kyle Beckerman, Jamison Olave and a penalty from Saborio before wrapping up with a tally from Paulo Araujo. The run has been even more impressive with the club’s defeat at Cruz Azul being the lone loss overall (5-2-1) since the weekend prior to the start of group play.

Outlook – With Cruz Azul likely to lock up a spot with its next two matches, RSL will be battling to keep pace for the second berth to the Quarterfinals with matches away from home against Arabe Unido and Toronto. It is a difficult travel stretch as the club will over the next month as they lead up to the group finale against Cruz Azul in Salt Lake City with a home fixture between the two CCL dates followed by road trips to New England and New York after they visit Toronto. Fortunately, they will be back home versus Dallas before a final game that could be critical if they drop points in the next two. Projection: Second. RSL will win at least one of the next two, and if they can pick up a point in the other, they will book their ticket to the next round.

Toronto FC (MLS): C
It has been a rough go of it for the lone Canadian representatives. They shocked Mexican giants and two-time finalists Cruz Azul, 2-1, in the opening match with a goal from Martin Saric three minutes in and a second from Mista right before the break. But the shocking victory proved to be a curse. Going into the match, TFC had lost only three of the last 18 overall (7-8-3) in MLS, CCL and Nutrilite Canadian Championship. After the win, the club went on a seven-game winless stretch (0-2-5) that saw them shutout in five consecutive games overall at one point. That ended this week in league play at Houston with Dwayne DeRosario scoring two dramatic free kicks to come from behind, 2-1. In CCL play during that time, Toronto fell, 1-0, at Arabe Unido and were beaten in Utah, 4-1, by their league rivals after opening the scoring through Maicon Santos nine minutes in. Current league record: 8-7-10.

Outlook – Despite being third in the MLS Eastern Conference, the club is on the outside of the playoff picture behind four clubs from the west. This will be the biggest factor as the club will be facing the dilemma of international versus domestic in weighing competition importance. Traditionally, MLS playoffs have been the most important around the league and with the next match coming at Cruz Azul, the club will likely be putting its emphasis on league play. But if the door opens with an RSL loss in Panama, the second berth will be within reach with home matches versus RSL and Arabe Unido in the final two matches. Projection: Third. After an expected loss in Mexico, Toronto will probably play RSL to a draw or narrowly lose the match. By the time the final match comes, they will probably be out of the playoff race, allowing them to focus on finishing CCL play with pride versus Arabe Unido.

Arabe Unido (Panama): C-
The Panamanian side nearly got off to a great start on the road against Real Salt Lake with the opening goal from Armando Cooper 13 minutes in and despite playing a man down from 28 minutes on was in the running for a 1-1 draw before seeing it slip from their grasps on a stoppage time penalty kick. Returning home, they upended Toronto FC, 1-0, on a 40th minute strike from Fidel Caesar stood as they played with a man advantage for the final 40 minutes. The momentum slowed during the two-week break as they went 1-1-1 in league play before suffering a devastating 6-0 loss at home to Cruz Azul, which has been followed up with another league loss. Current league record: 4-2-2.

Outlook – The upcoming contest at home against RSL will set the course for Arabe Unido. If they can post a victory, it will break the race wide open for the second spot out of the group as they travel to play Cruz Azul a week later. If they fall to RSL, it will be a race for third with Toronto, whom they travel to play in the final match. Projection: Fourth. The club will be close against RSL, but a loss at Toronto in the finale will be the difference.

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