CONCACAF CHAMPIONS LEAGUE

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Clubs miss out on golden CCL chance

CONCACAF Champions League: San Jose Earthquakes vs. Montreal Impact
CONCACAF Champions League: San Jose Earthquakes vs. Montreal Impact
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Kyle McCarthy

Kyle McCarthy writes about the beautiful game for FOX Soccer, the Boston Herald and several other publications. Follow him on Twitter.

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Starting position only matters if it is leveraged properly. Just ask Montréal and Sporting Kansas City in the wake of their difficulties in CONCACAF Champions League play on Tuesday night.

Both sides entered their seemingly reasonable fixtures -- Montréal away to fellow MLS side San Jose, Sporting at home to Nicaraguan minnows Real Estelí -- with a clear path to the quarterfinals. Montréal needed a victory at Buck Shaw Stadium to maintain control over its Group 5 fate. Sporting wanted a victory to essentially secure a berth out of Group 2 barring a heavy defeat to Olimpia on the final day.

Neither club achieved the intended result despite fielding strong lineups designed to procure them. Montréal buckled under the pressure applied by the Earthquakes -- a formidable opponent on home soil -- and incurred a potentially crippling 3-0 defeat in Santa Clara, Calif. Sporting revealed its continued frustrations when asked to break teams down and suffered a embarrassing superficial blemish in the 1-1 draw against Estelí at Sporting Park.

The lesson -- the body of work still requires consistent reinforcement during this truncated group stage -- offers a helpful reminder for LA Galaxy ahead of Wednesday's match against Isidro Metapán (live, FOX Sports 2, 10 p.m. ET). A slip in that encounter can turn the Galaxy's straightforward march to the final eight into the sort of complex ride every MLS and Liga MX side hopes to avoid.

Sporting Kansas City 1 – Real Estelí 1

This humbling draw provided a microcosm of Sporting Kansas City's potential troubles against deep-lying opposition: there simply aren't enough ideas to find a way through if the usual routes fail to provide the answer.

Sporting toiled for much of a night against a poor opponent. The home side asserted control over the match from outset without determining its fate. Possession yielded frustration in the final third. Too many crosses failed to threaten, too many shots landed anywhere but in the net.

Estelí cobbled together exactly one sequence of note and scored from it early in the second half. Samuel Wilson drove a left-footed effort from distance and forced Sporting goalkeeper Eric Kronberg to parry over the bar. Wilson then curled in a corner kick for Rudel Calero to nod home after 54 minutes.

The visitors promptly retreated inside their own half and waited for Sporting to strike. Sporting eventually complied after substitute Jacob Peterson bundled home Graham Zusi's corner kick in the final quarter of an hour to arrange a grandstand finish. A second goal never arrived to absolve Sporting of its inability to muster an attack with the necessary diversity or sharpness to break down the resolute Nicaraguan side on home soul.

U.S. international midfielder Graham Zusi just about summed up Sporting's thoughts on the matter in a blunt and succinct post-match Tweet:

Despite the rather unflattering result against Estelí, Sporting remains in pole position to advance out of Group 2. Olimpia must win its final two matches – a home date with Estelí on Sept. 24 and a visit to Sporting Park on Oct. 23 – to knock Sporting out of the competition.

San Jose Earthquakes 3 – Montréal Impact 0

San Jose plunged Group 5 into disarray with a convincing 3-0 victory over the Impact at Buck Shaw Stadium. The margin of victory placed the Earthquakes in pole position to qualify on goal difference if the teams finished deadlocked on six points at the end of the group stage.

Montréal can blame a suspect defensive performance for its concerns on the evening. San Jose posed considerable problems with its ambitious work in the wide areas and its typically robust work through the middle, but the Impact crumbled all too easily. The opening goal – Chris Wondolowski turning home after a Dan Gargan long throw-in and a Steven Lenhart flick – summed up the considerable issues with attentiveness, cohesiveness and responsiveness on the evening.

The situation did not improve for the Impact after the interval. Marvin Chávez lashed home wonderfully from the edge of the penalty area shortly before the hour mark to punish a poor clearance. Impact manager Marco Schällibaum inserted Marco Di Vaio and Felipe shortly after the hour mark in a bid to rescue the game, but Shea Salinas placed the outcome beyond doubt with a determined run and a tidy finish six minutes from time.

Heredia currently sits atop the group after winning both of its matches in Guatemala City, but the Earthquakes – barring some obscene Impact blowout or a Heredia result at Stade Saputo next week – could claim the lone quarterfinal berth with a victory against the Guatemalan outfit at Buck Shaw Stadium to close out group play on Oct. 23.

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