Santos Laguna holds the aces
The first half of CONCACAF Champions League group play concluded on Thursday night when Houston and C.D. Olimpia drew 1-1 in Tegucigalpa, Honduras.
The result provided the perfect stopping point ahead of the World Cup qualifying travails on tap next weekend and showed how many of the teams involved still harbor reasonable hopes of a place in the quarterfinals.
Securing one of those eight spots varies in difficulty depending on the group and the performances submitted. Some of the favorites from MLS and Liga MX have sailed through the opening few matches to all but guarantee a berth in the knockout stages, while other fancied sides have found their expected quarterfinal place under severe threat from Central American upstarts.
Plenty of time remains to rectify those concerns during the second half group play, but the margin for error remains thin. Only one side from each three-team group will progress to the quarterfinals and all eight of those teams will be seeded according to their records during this stage of the competition.
The battle for positions will intensify as the group stage matches dwindle. FOX Soccer evaluates where the teams stand on their quest at this interval and takes a look at how the second half of group play might unfold in this group-by-group review.
Santos Laguna (2-0-0, 6 pts.) secured the most important result of the week with a 3-1 victory over Toronto FC (1-1-0, 3 pts.) at BMO Field on Tuesday night. The beaten finalists from 2011-2012 now sit in pole position to qualify for the quarterfinals with a superior goal difference (+7 to TFC’s + 2) in hand and the critical return match with the Reds slated for Estadio Coroña on Oct. 24. If both clubs continue to dispatch Salvadoran side Águila (0-2-0, 0 pts.) with ease, then the Canadians must win in Mexico to retain any hope of progressing to the quarterfinals. TFC’s 6-2 defeat in Torreón in the second leg of a contentious semifinal tie against Santos earlier this year suggests that task may prove too difficult.
Tauro FC (0-2-0, 0 pts.) nearly upset the established order in Panama City on Thursday night, but Waylon Francis struck from distance three minutes after halftime to keep Herediano (2-0-0, 6 pts.) atop the group with a 1-0 victory. Real Salt Lake (1-1-0, 3 pts.) hoped for an upset to bolster its cause. Instead of receiving a bit of help, RSL must take now care of business in Panama on Sept. 18 to presumably set up a winner-take-all affair against the Costa Ricans at Rio Tinto Stadium on Oct. 23. Jason Kreis’ side could go through with a victory in that match if it manages to overturn its current goal difference deficit (+1 to Herediano’s +2) along the way.
Adam Moffat’s 57th minute header handed 10-man Houston (1-0-1, 4 pts.) a 1-1 draw at Olimpia (1-0-1, 4 pts.) on Thursday night and made the Dynamo favorites to progress out of the group. Dominic Kinnear’s side will play its final two group matches at BBVA Compass Stadium, including the potentially decisive affair against the Honduran giants on Oct. 23. A pair of victories in Texas would ensure the Dynamo’s spot in the quarterfinals. Bottom side FAS (0-2-0, 0 pts.) won’t influence the outcome without a substantial uptick in form.
Seattle (2-0-0, 6 pts.) sits in the best position of any group leader heading into the second half of the group stage. A professional 3-1 victory over Caledonia AIA (0-2-1, 1 pt.) in Couva, Trinidad on Thursday night increased Seattle Sounders’ lead atop the group to five points. Marathón’s inability to claim maximum points in a 0-0 draw at the Ato Boldon Stadium on Aug. 22 left the Hondurans (0-0-1,1 pt.) with a mountain to climb in their pair of matches against Seattle. If Sounders can win in San Pedro Sula on Sept. 19, then they would guarantee a berth in the quarterfinals and permit Sigi Schmid to field a reserve side in the last group fixture (Oct. 24 at CenturyLink Field) scheduled during the final week of the MLS regular season.
A pair of home victories leaves Los Angeles (2-0-0, 6 pts.) in control of its own destiny after the first half of group play. Bruce Arena’s young guns brushed aside Puerto Rico Islanders (0-2-0, 0 pts.) 4-0 on Wednesday night to give the Galaxy some latitude heading into the final two group games. The visit to Isidro Metapán (1-1-0, 3 pts.) on Oct. 25 presents the most peril for the Galaxy, but a victory in Bayamon on Sept. 19 would make the voyage to El Salvador less treacherous. Metapán must win in Puerto Rico on Sept. 27 and peel away some of Los Angeles’ significant goal difference edge (+7 to -1) along the way to preserve any hope of knocking the Galaxy out on the final day.
LD Alajuelense (1-0-1, 4 pts.) kept pace with Tigres UANL (1-0-1, 4 pts.) at the top of the group with a 1-0 victory over Real Estelí (0-2-0, 0 pts.) in Nicaragua on Tuesday night. Allen Guevara’s 42nd-minute strike ensured the Costa Ricans did not drop points at the Estadio Independencia, but Tigres remain favored to emerge out of the group despite allowing a 91st minute equalizer in their 2-2 draw in Costa Rica on Aug. 22. The rematch between the top two sides in the group will take place at Estadio Universitario on Oct. 24 and will decide the quarterfinal entrant unless Estelí somehow nicks a point along the way.
Humberto Suazo preserved Monterrey’s unblemished record through two matches with a 79th minute winner against Municipal (1-1-0, 3 pts.) in Guatemala City on Wednesday night. The two-time defending champions (2-0-0, 6 pts.) look like heavy favorites to progress to the quarterfinal stage with the most difficult away fixture now out of the way. A second consecutive victory over the Guatemalans on Sept. 25 would end all doubt with Panamanian minnows Chorrillo (0-2-0, 0 pts.) unlikely to influence the proceedings in any way.
The shock of the competition to date came when heavy underdogs Xelajú (1-0-1, 4 pts.) defeated out-of-form C.D. Guadalajara (1-1-0, 3 pts.) in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala on Aug. 21. Edgar Chinchilla’s 67th-minute header handed Hernan Medford’s side a famous win and restored the possibility of a spot in the quarterfinals after a 2-2 at W Connection (0-1-1, 1 pt.) to start group play. Chivas will hope to derail those dreams and salvage a spot in the knockout stages with a pair of victories in the second half of group play. The 4-0 home triumph over the Trinidadians on Wednesday night started the atonement process, but two further wins – including a victory in the critical home tie against Xelajú on Oct. 25 – must follow in order to avoid further embarrassment.