Friday, September 24

Coming Up Around CONCACAF

The CONCACAF Champions League provided plenty of drama this week, but the action of the upcoming weekend should not be cast into the CCL’s shadows as four leagues will see match-ups up teams in the top two spots in their respective leagues while Major League Soccer clubs fight in the race of playoff berths as the season winds down.

In Honduras, where the top five clubs are separated by two points, league leading Platense is playing host to one of the four clubs level two points back when they travel Saturday to face Necaxa, which sits second based on goal differential. Two of the other second-place sides meet when Deportes Savio visits Real Espana the following day.

El Salvador also features a match-up between first and second as Firpo plays host to Isidro Metapan Sunday with a single point differentiating the two. In Panama, the marquee fixture may as well be a battle between first and second as league leading San Francisco is merely two points ahead of their host opponent Tauro, who are fifth in the league with three clubs sitting between the two. Cartagines hosts Barrio Mexico, leaders of Group A in Costa Rica, in a tilt of the group’s top two clubs, although they sit separated by 10 points.

The parity that has been a major theme throughout Central America is abundant in Guatemala, where the distance between leader Municipal and 10th place Malacateco is seven points. The difference between second and 10th is even tighter with nine clubs within just one game’s value of each other, making virtually every match a battle for second in the league while Municipal plays 11th place Penarol La Mesilla. The top match of the week though features the two clubs tied for second place with Juventud Retalteca hosting Marquense Sunday.

While there are no similar showdowns in Mexico, Monterrey remains unbeaten on the campaign with a 5-3-0 record in the Primera Division and a perfect four-game record in the Champions League. Looking to spoil that status Saturday will be host Queretaro, who shocked another CCL club, Santos Laguna, 5-2 just two weeks ago.

The US-based leagues are facing the end of their regular season campaigns. The lone match featuring direct confrontation of the league’s elite will occur in Los Angeles Friday evening when the Galaxy play host to the New York Red Bulls. LA currently leads the Western Conference and the league overall while New York is fourth overall and second in the Eastern Conference. The focus around the rest of the action around the league will be all about the race for playoff position with the Seattle Sounders current sitting in the eighth and final spot with Kansas City and CCL side Toronto FC within five points. Six points, in fact, separate sixth-place Colorado from Toronto FC in 10th. In USSF Division-2, all eight clubs have been determined as of Wednesday, leaving the final two weekends to sort out the seeding.

Wednesday, September 22

Best CCL Night in MLS History

The numbers were daunting coming into Tuesday night’s pair of CONCACAF Champions League matches featuring two Major League Soccer clubs playing against a pair of successful Mexican Primera Division clubs with CCL experience. At the final whistle in Estadio Azul, the MLS clubs finished the night with four points out of six – a monumental and historical effort - as Columbus defeated Santos Laguna, 1-0, and Toronto drew, 0-0, on the road against Cruz Azul.

Prior to the night’s fixtures, MLS teams had recorded only one win in the three years of the competition – Toronto’s 2-1 victory at home against two-time tournament finalist Cruz Azul in the opening week of the group phase. The Mexican sides were 13-4-1 (W-D-L) versus their MLS counterparts, having gone 4-2-0 the first year and 6-2-0 last year. At home, the Mexican sides were 6-2-1 prior to Tuesday.

Much is often made about Major League Soccer’s inability to win in Mexico, but Mexican clubs prior to Tuesday night were 40-4-1 against all competitors in home matches with an amazing aggregate score total of 138-24. Joe Public registered the lone victory by a visitor on October 2, 2008 with a 1-0 decision against eventual tournament champion Atlante.

Santos Laguna took the field in Ohio with only four from its starting eleven on the weekend perhaps looking to rest a squad that has struggled of late, grabbing a stoppage time win against one-win Necaxa this weekend after a 2-2 CCL road draw against Municipal, in which they gave up a two-goal lead, and a shocking 5-2 loss to Mexican minnow Queretaro the weekend before.

A little luck with the ball bouncing his way, Andres Mendoza scored the lone goal on what is arguably the biggest night of Champions League action for Major League Soccer since the debut of the tournament in 2008, striking the winner in the 87th minute for the Crew in the first half of the doubleheader.

The more shocking result though was to come two hours later in Mexico, where Toronto FC registered a scoreless draw against a Cruz Azul side that has been absolutely dominant in Champions League and domestic play, making the Canadian squad the first in MLS history to finish with a better home-away aggregate result against a Mexican club in any phase of the tournament and the third team to earn a draw in Mexico, joining DC United (Toluca, 1-1, 10/20/09) and the Houston Dynamo (Pumas, 4-4, 9/30/08).

Cruz Azul came into the match on a six-game win streak having posted a 3-0 win over Queretaro on the weekend after a 6-0 drubbing of Arabe Unido the week before in the Champions League. Toronto, just eight days after the change in coaching staff, picked up the surprise result against the odds as Javier Orozco, who has 10 goals in the CCL and six in the Mexican Apertura, started the match for Cruz Azul, which suffered only their second shutout of the campaign. In fact, since their 2-0 road loss to Pumas August 8, Cruz Azul had scored at least three goals in all seven victories with the 2-1 loss August 14 in Toronto as the only exception.

In addition to having to shut out Orozco, TFC found themselves scrambling from the get-go while under siege, having to make a substitution for Joseph Nane nine minutes in. Then again just before the half-hour mark, his replacement Martin Saric had to come off for an injury as well, leaving the visitors with only one sub for the rest of the match. The Canadians did well to minimize the quality of the host’s chances though and in the final 10 minutes had a flicker of hope that they could be the first MLS club to ever win a competitive match in Mexico and end Cruz Azul’s 15-game home unbeaten run in all competitions when Fausto Pinto was sent off for a second yellow.

Previous Positive MLS Results v Mexican Clubs in CCL

8/17/10… Toronto v Cruz Azul… 2-1 W

3/9/10… Columbus Crew v Toluca… 2-2 D

10/20/09… DC United @ Toluca… 1-1 D

2/24/09… Houston Dynamo v Atlante… 1-1 D

9/30/08… Houston Dynamo @ Pumas… 4-4 D

Previous Winless Home Matches for Mexican Clubs in CCL

10/20/09… Toluca v DC United (MLS)… 1-1 D

8/5/09… Cruz Azul v Herediano (CRC)… 0-0 D

10/7/08… Cruz Azul v Marathon (HON)… 1-1 D

10/2/08… Atlante v Joe Public (TRI)… 0-1 L

9/30/08… Pumas v Houston Dynamo (MLS)… 4-4 D

Tuesday, September 21

TSB Pro Power Rankings: Barrio Mexico & Minnesota Rising

With most of the top Mexican and Major League Soccer clubs posting positive results on the week, there was minimal change in the Top 10 of The Soccer Barn’s CONCACAF Pro Club Power Rankings this week.

The biggest changes in the first 10 on the lest came as the result of Santos Laguna topping Necaxa, another club near the top, while Chivas Guadalajara fell following a loss to one-win Jaguares.

Further down the list, Barrio Mexico of Costa Rica continues to prove its form is no fluke and at 7-1-1 after a victory over Saprissa moved up to 25 from 31. Alajuelense, 8-1-0, also moved up to number 12 with another victory as they are one of the two remaining unbeaten clubs in Mexico or Central America. The other is second-ranked Monterrey (5-3-0), which also is perfect through three Champions League contests.

The final quarter of the list saw plenty of movement this week with many lower-ranked clubs posting upsets in domestic league action this week, which has created an overwhelming amount of parity throughout Central America. The biggest mover was the USSF Division-2 club NSC Minnesota Stars, who edged the Carolina RailHawks and NASL Conference leader Vancouver Whitecaps to put themselves into the thick of the playoff race with two weeks to go, climing from 94 to 77 on the list.

Central America Round-Up: Parity is King

It was a difficult week for the Central American clubs participating in the CONCACAF Champions League as parity continues to be a dominant factor throughout the region. Only two of the six earned wins midweek in the CCL with only one club picking up a win in domestic league competition over the weekend.

Municipal had the best results on the week, playing to a 2-2 draw at home against Santos Laguna and earning a victory over Comunicaciones in the Guatemalan Liga Nacional. Costa Rica’s Saprissa was unable to carry the win over Seattle back into domestic play, falling to league leader Barrio Mexico. After falling to Olimpia midweek, Arabe Unido was unable to get off the bottom in El Salvador, playing to a draw in a battle of the tied last-place clubs against Atletico Marte. In Panama, Arabe Unido lost its share of the league lead with a loss to Sporting San Miguelito after their midweek pounding at the hands of Cruz Azul. Olimpia and Marathon, losers to Monterrey, were both idle due to a dispute over the match logistics between the two Honduran giants that resulted in a postponement.

Outside of Costa Rica, the trend appears to be that no club is able to pull away from the pack in their respective leagues as the distances between the clubs still minimal between six to nine games into the campaigns. Panama features the tightest race as the top seven clubs (of 10) are separated by five points with only two points between the top five in the league. Two points separating the top five is also the case in Honduras where the top nine clubs (of 10) occupy a six-point margin.

In El Salvador, the top six (of 10) are separated by six points with the top four only three apart. Guatemala’s top 10 (of 12) are in a seven-point window with a stunning three-point gap between the clubs in second and 10th.

While Costa Rica has a breakout leader, Alajuelense and Barrio Mexico, in each of its two six-team groups, the race for second in each is rather close. Clubs two-four in Group A are separated by just two points and second through fifth are in a six-point margin in the other group.

Monday, September 20

CCL Mid-Term Report: GROUP D

Current Standings (Points, WDL, GD)
Toluca… 7… 2-1-0… +7
Puerto Rico Islanders… 4… 1-1-1… 0
Olimpia… 4… 1-1-1… -2
FAS… 1… 0-1-2… -5

The group is the only one where no clubs have lost at home although the first week saw a pair of draws. Since then, the winning home sides have outscored the opposition 13-1 on aggregate with Toluca perfect defensively with no goals allowed through the three matches.

CCL Mid-Term Report: GROUP C

Current Standings (Points, WDL, GD)
Monterrey… 9… 3-0-0… +5
Saprissa… 6… 2-0-1… +4
Marathon… 3… 1-0-2… -4
Seattle Sounders… 0… 0-0-3… -5

Monterrey seemingly can’t be beat. The club has not lost in the CCL or Mexican Primera Division through 11 matches overall. On the flip side, the Sounders are struggling mightily with just one goal in the three defeats and are the only team with a loss at home thus far.

CCL Mid-Term Report: GROUP B

Current Standings (Points, WDL, GD)
Santos Laguna… 7… 2-1-0… +4
Columbus Crew… 6… 2-0-1… +3
Municipal… 2… 0-2-1… -1
Joe Public… 1… 0-1-2… -6

Out of season Joe Public is the only club that has lost at home, falling to Santos Laguna. However, Municipal has two draws at home against Joe Public and Santos Laguna. Columbus has kept itself in the shadow of the Santos Laguna with the only goal allowed occurring in the road loss against the Mexican giants.

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.

North America Round-Up: Minnesota Makes Major Push for D2 Playoffs

While the top clubs in Mexico were victorious in Mexico, it was a week for the underdogs north of the border. CONCACAF Champions League losers Toronto and Seattle posted big wins in Major League Soccer while in the second tier Minnesota stole the headlines with a significant climb into the playoff picture with a pair of victories as the league leaders went winless and the two Floridian clubs were eliminated from contention.

Sunday, September 19

Salvadoran Players Shot in Car-Jacking

Three players returning home after their Isidro Metapan match Saturday evening against Universidad de El Salvador were the target of what is believed to be a car-jacking at a gas station with two players victims of gunfire.

El Salvador Youth International defender Nelson Rivera, son of former Salvadoran international Nelson Portillo, is the most severely injured as a bullet entered his head at the ear and was considered in critical condition after four hours of surgery. It is believed that the bullet that struck Rivera, 19, was the same that grazed the head of teammate and driver Andres Flores. Also in the car was 19-year-old Kevin Santamaria.