Goal.com's Luis Bueno says the 2010-11 CONCACAF Champions League will feature some similarities from previous tournaments.
After the Preliminary Round of the CONCACAF Champions League weeded out the deserving from the non-deserving participants, the group stage of the 2010-11 edition is set to get underway on Tuesday.
Sixteen clubs spread out among four groups will do battle throughout North and Central America and the Caribbean. And while this phase will run through mid-October, there are several things from the previous two editions that will remain a constant in the third tournament held under this current format.
1. Mexican clubs will dominate: The Mexican league is the class of the region. If the previous two tournaments have proven anything, it is this. Of the eight total semifinalists across the two tournaments, seven have been from Mexico. The lone outsider was Puerto Rico in 2008-09, who took Cruz Azul to penalties before subsiding.
This time around, the four Mexican participants enter the tournament on fine form. Santos, Monterrey and Cruz Azul are 1-2-3 in the Mexican league table after four weeks of the Apertura 2010 season. Toluca have yet to win, though, as the club has three draws and a loss to show for their efforts. Toluca, though, failed to win their first five games last season and won the league anyway.
Santos and Cruz Azul qualified for this tournament via the Preliminary Round and each won their series convincingly – Santos beat San Juan Jabloteh of Trinidad by a 6-0 aggregate while Cruz Azul knocked out Panama’s San Francisco by a 9-2 aggregate.
The domination should begin quickly. In their combined group stage games, Mexicans teams have a record of 20-1-3 in their home group stage games. The lone loss was a 1-0 win by Joe Public at Atlante in 2008.
2. A Mexican league player will be the leading scorer: Since the tournament switched to the current group stage and knockout round format, two Mexican league players have led the tournament in goals. Cruz Azul’s Javier Orozco was the leading scorer in the 08-09 edition while Ulises Mendivil of Pachuca finished atop the scoring charts last time around.
Looking for a candidate this season? How about taking a look at Cruz Azul? Emanuel Villa had a hat-trick in Cruz Azul’s 3-2 win at San Francisco while Orozco had his own three-goal performance in the return leg. If Cruz Azul play their top players, either of the two might be a good bet to finish atop the scoring chart.
3. Major League Soccer will struggle: Not much of a surprise here, but MLS teams will struggle. Only two MLS teams have reached the knockout rounds – Columbus Crew last time around and Houston the previous tournament. Each team bowed out in the quarterfinals. MLS clubs have struggled to win on the road in this tournament as the five MLS teams in previous tournaments have gone 2-6-7, each win coming last tournament.
This tournament will feature two new wrinkles. Four MLS teams are in the group stage – the most teams the league has placed in the group stage thus far. Also, two MLS teams are in the same group as U.S. side Real Salt Lake and Canadian club Toronto FC are each in Group A. With Cruz Azul the class of the group, it’s almost a guarantee that either RSL or Toronto FC will not get out of the group stage. The other team in Gorup A – Arabe Unido – already has success against MLS as the Panamanians finished in second place ahead of Houston last season.
4. USL will upstage MLS: This has already happened of course. Puerto Rico Islanders made a mess of the supposed best team in MLS with a 4-1 thrashing of the LA Galaxy at Home Depot Center in their 5-3 aggregate victory. Puerto Rico now head to Group D with Toluca, Olimpia and FAS. The Islanders will have their hands full with Toluca but Olimpia and FAS are each teams they can handle, particularly if they approach their games with the same intensity they showed against the Galaxy.
If the Islanders can get through to the knockout rounds, USL's success rate will be 100 percent, and the second-division club will once again be in a position several MLS teams will envy.
5. A different Mexican team will win the tournament: Neither of the previous two champions – Atlante or Pachuca – are in the tournament this time around. Thus, a different Mexican team will be crowned champions.
The smart money might be on Cruz Azul, who have reached the final each time only to walk away empty-handed. The club is trying to break their decade-plus long title drought and could see that end in this tournament – provided they don’t win the Apertura 2010 season, which will end before a new Champions League winner is crowned.
The other three Mexican teams can each state their own case but la Maquina have the depth, experience and motivation to succeed.
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