Now all the CONCACAF Champions League Round 3 games have been played each group is starting to take shape. The strongest teams are flexing their goal scoring muscles, while the weakest have realised they have other pressing engagements to attend to as the next round fades into the distance. The Mexican cream is again rising to the top of the group stage. All 4 Mexican teams in the competition lead their groups and are favourites to qualify. Only a fool would bet against another CCL trophy heading back to Mexico. So here’s a run down of each group at the halfway stage.
Both the Group A fixtures were played on Wednesday night. Before the games this group was dead level with each team on 3 points from the first two games. The third game has shed some light on to the potential qualifiers though and it is the two best teams occupying the top spots. Cruz Azul simply annihilated Arabe Unido, beating them 0-6 in Panamá. Man of the moment Javier Orozco scored a hat-trick in 17 minutes in the first half, and was substituted after an hour before he did any permanent damage to the fragile mental state of Arabe Unido. Orozco has now scored 10 goals in 3 CCL games this season, and including his 6 in the Mexican Primera Liga, he is well on the way to becoming the next Cruz Azul ídolo. In the other game in the group, the US Champions took on the Canadian Champions, as FC Toronto visited Real Salt Lake. An entertaining game was poised at 2-1 to RSL when it was irrevocably shifted in favour of the home team in the second half when former Valencia and Deportivo Coruña man Mista was sent off for breathing on Kyle Beckerman. Mista had only been on the pitch for 6 minutes, and after an innocuous incident was made to look worse by RSL captain Beckerman falling over, he was walking back to the dressing room. The referee hadn’t finished yet though as two minutes later he gave a penalty to Salt Lake for a challenge that may have begun outside the penalty area. Alvaro Saborio applied the finish to put the game beyond Toronto, and is now second in the CCL scoring charts with 5 goals. Final score 4-1 to Salt Lake.
Cruz Azul lead the group on goal difference above RSL, Toronto and Arabe Unido are playing catch up.
This group again features sides from Mexico and the US in the top two places. Santos Laguna narrowly missed the opportunity to keep their 100% run going as they drew 2-2 away to Municipal. Santos, who had been 0-2 up after 13 minutes, allowed Municipal back into the game. They eventually equalised through Carlos Castillo in the 87th minute. In second place in the group are Columbus Crew after their 3-0 home win over Joe Public. A half-time tactical innovation from coach Robert Warzycha led to three second half goals from Griffit, Gary and Lenhart. Warzycha revealed after the game that the scouting report had shown Joe Public to be weak on the wings and so he asked Emmanuel Ekpo and Leandre Griffit to try to expose the defenders. He asked Griffit to cut inside on his right foot instead of trying to go past the defenders and Ekpo on the right to try cross quicker. Each of those tactical changes paid off as Griffit got the first by driving past his defender on the inside and a cross from Ekpo made the second. Former Everton player Warzycha has the distinction of being one of the 13 foreign-born players playing on the opening weekend of the Premier League and has been the Head Coach at Columbus since 2009.
Joe Public have only 1 point and will struggle to qualify now, they play Municipal at home in the next game. Santos travel to Columbus as the top two sides battle it out for the number one slot.
The standings here show Monterrey to be the best team in CCL so far. They have played 3 and won 3, scoring 5 without conceding. Even more impressive when considering their best player Humberto Suazo has only played 40 minutes in total and didn’t feature in the tie against Marathon. The goals this time came from Aldo De Nigris, with his third in the tournament and William Paredes. Monterrey have played two of their games at home and still have trips to Costa Rica and Honduras to come. Their next game is at home to the worst-performing team in the CCL this year and a victory against Seattle Sounders should be enough to see them qualify for the next stage. Saprissa are doing their best to break to Mexico/US dominance in the CCL and are looking good in second place. They were helped by another red card for their opponents as they were in the last game against Marathón. In this game Costa Rican native Leo Gonzalez did not have the impact he hoped for when he returned to his home town. The Seattle defender went over the top of the ball when attempting to tackle Jairo Arrieta and followed through into the Saprissa player’s hip. Gonzalez did appear to try to pull out of the challenge but his momentum carried him straight into Arrieta. The referee had no hesitation in sending him off. The game had been fairly even until then as Seattle tried to put aside the effects of a long flight from the US. The sending off made this all the more difficult and they conceded 2 goals in the second half. The win leaves Saprissa 3 points behind Monterrey in second place, with trips to Honduras and Seattle and a home game to Monterrey still to come. Seattle have lost their first 3 games in the CCL and are already beginning to focus on the other competitions they are involved in. Goalkeeper Kasey Keller acknowledged this week that failure to get at least a point from the trip to San Jose would mean that the remaining CCL games would give some of the reserve team players a chance to gain some valuable playing time. Next up is a visit to unbeaten group leaders Monterrey, good luck with that, reserve team.
Toluca made it 3 wins and a draw for the Mexican teams in this round by beating Puerto Rico Islanders 3-0. Goals from Gonzalez, Cuevas and Cerda were enough to beat the Islanders, who featured former Hartlepool reserve player David Foley up front. Toluca dominated the possession and chances in this game and now move 3 points clear in first place. PRI are in second, separated from Olimpia on goal difference only, and have tricky away trips to Honduras and El Salvador to come. Olimpia beat CD FAS 2-0 in Tegucigalpa on Thursday night. Both the goals were scored by Roger Rojas, (aka RoRo) the 20 year old striker was signed from Olimpia by Wigan Athletic but was then loaned back to the Honduran side in order to complete the necessary games for his work permit. Wigan have a history of buying ex-Olimpia players, Wilson Palacios and Maynor Figueroa particularly stand out. The way RoRo is playing you can expect to see him joining his compatriots in the Premier League before long. Olimpia play Toluca at home in their next game and FAS are at home to Puerto Rico Islanders, both Olimpia and the Islanders can qualify behind Toluca but it looks like a step too far for the El Salvadorians.
The first Round 4 games begin next week on the 21st.