CONCACAF Champions League: A primer

August, 16, 2011
8/16/11
6:45
AM PT

Any doubts about the Mexican Primera Division's supremacy among the region's professional soccer league has been wiped away in CONCACAF's club championship the past decade.

Since the Galaxy in 2000 gave Major League Soccer its second Champions' Cup title in three years, Mexican clubs have won eight of 10 titles -- and six of the finals have been all-Mexico affairs.

That makes picking favorites in the fourth edition since the competition's switch to the current format -- and the CONCACAF Champions League name -- rather simple: defending champ Monterrey, reigning Primera Division titlist Pumas UNAM, Morelia and Santos Laguna.

The group stage begins Tuesday, with 16 clubs spread among four groups battling the next two months for eight quarterfinal berths when the tournament resumes early next year.

Five MLS clubs, the Galaxy included, are in the field, with lowly Toronto FC representing Canada, which has only four fully professional clubs.

Here's a quick look at each group and club:

  • GROUP A

Galaxy (USA): L.A. learned a lesson in last year's preliminary-round loss, will wage battle with first-teamers this time around -- Robbie Keane included, once he's eligible.
Alajuelense (Costa Rica): Two-time CONCACAF champs are coming off a title season at home, are solid at the back with Ticos defenders Jose Salvatierra and Jhonny Acosta.
Morelia (Mexico): The Monarcas' summer rebuild has brought in several players with CCL experience, and Miguel Sabah and Rafael Marquez Lugo are a dangerous tandem up top.
Motagua (Honduras): Three former MLSers (Amado Guevara, Ivan Guerrero, Pando Ramirez) and a dozen Honduran national-teamers lead the Honduran champs.
Prediction: Morelia is the shoo-in, and the second spot is up for grabs -- the teams that can't win all their home games will lose out.

  • GROUP B

Colorado Rapids (USA): The MLS champs are rounding into form, finally, as the Omar Cummings-Sanna Nyassi partnership bears fruit.
Real Espaņa (Honduras): The club from San Pedro Sula is the only official “Real” outside Spain -- King Juan Carlos I gave the Aurinegros his royal blessing in 1977. Former Galaxy forward Carlos Pavon, 37, is in his fifth stint with his boyhood club.
Santos Laguna (Mexico): The high-powered side from Torreon is coming off a 1-1 draw at Pumas. Oribe Peralta, who scored a sensational goal for Mexico against U.S. last week, already has four in four Apertura matches.
Isidro Metapan (El Salvador): Los Caleros had won four of five Salvadoran titles before last spring's failure, and they answered with a sensational transfer class, with three national-teamers -- Miguel Montes, Alfredo Pacheco and Ramon Sanchez -- arriving from Aguila.

Prediction: Santos is the obvious pick, and our guess is Real Espaņa nips the Rapids for the other slot.

  • GROUP C

Pumas UNAM (Mexico): The Mexico City club has dug into its academy program after claiming the Clausura title last May, but the big-name departures haven't hurt. The Cats are atop the Apertura standings.
Tauro (Panama): No club has won more titles than the Toros (seven) since the Panamanian pro league began in 1988, and their speed and strength will trouble foes if their skill and endurance fails to do so.
FC Dallas (USA): The Hoops aren't quite the team they were before 2010 MLS MVP David Ferreira was hurt, but Brek Shea leads a dynamic group of attackers backed by a solid defense.
Toronto FC (Canada): Former Dutch star Aron Winter's rebuild is going to take time, but all the player moves the past few weeks -- especially the addition of veterans Danny Koevermans and Torsten Frings -- are starting to resonate.

Prediction: Pumas and Dallas should romp into the knockout stage.

  • GROUP D

Monterrey (Mexico): The Rayados won the CCL title last spring, ending Real Salt Lake's home dominance in the decisive match, and have claimed two of the past four Primera Division championships. They have arguably the tournament's best roster and, in Chilean star Humberto Suazo, its foremost player.
Comunicaciones (Guatemala): Los Cremas have won 24 Guatemalan championships, including both from last season, and contribute a half-dozen players or so to the country's national team. But Dwight Pezzarossi's move to Chile leaves a hole up front.
Seattle Sounders (USA): The two-time defending U.S. Open Cup champs (yes, that's worth a berth) are one of MLS's deepest and hottest sides, and the arrival of Mauro Rosales provided new dimensions this season.
Herediano (Costa Rica): The Florenses haven't added to their 21 league titles since 1993, but they've already exceeded their performance in last year's CCL, when their misfortune was meeting Cruz Azul in the preliminary round.

Prediction: Monterrey, without question, will make it through. The Sounders were awful in last year's group stage, but they'll push onward, past Herediano, as long as they take the competition seriously.

  • ROUND 1 SCHEDULE

TUESDAY
B:
Real Espaņa at Santos Laguna, 5 p.m.
A: Motagua at Galaxy, 7 p.m.
A: Morelia at Alajuelense, 7 p.m.
D: Comunicaciones at Seattle Sounders, 7 p.m.

WEDNESDAY
D:
Monterrey at Herediano, 5 p.m.
B: Isidro Metapan at Colorado Rapids, 7 p.m.
C: FC Dallas at Pumas UNAM, 7 p.m.

THURSDAY
C:
Toronto FC at Tauro, 5 p.m.

All times Pacific


  • WINNERS LIST

CHAMPIONS' CUP
1962: Guadalajara (Mexico)
1963: Racing Club Haītien (Haiti)
1967: Alianza (El Salvador)
1968: Toluca (Mexico)
1969: Cruz Azul (Mexico)
1970: Cruz Azul (Mexico)
1971: Cruz Azul (Mexico)
1972: Olimpia (Honduras)
1973: Transvaal (Suriname)
1974: Municipal (Guatemala)
1975: Atletico Espaņol (Mexico)
1976: Aguila (El Salvador)
1977: America (Mexico)
1978: U de G Tecos (Mexico), Comunicaciones (Guatemala) and Defence Force (Trinidad & Tobago)
1979: FAS (El Salvador)
1980: Pumas UNAM (Mexico)
1981: Transvaal (Suriname)
1982: Pumas UNAM (Mexico)
1983: Atlante (Mexico)
1984: Violette (Haiti)
1985: Defence Force (Trinidad & Tobago)
1986: Alajuelense (Costa Rica)
1987: America (Mexico)
1988: Olimpia (Honduras)
1989: Pumas UNAM (Mexico)
1990: America (Mexico)
1991: Puebla (Mexico)
1992: America (Mexico)
1993: Saprissa (Costa Rica)
1994: Cartagines (Costa Rica)
1995: Saprissa (Costa Rica)
1996: Cruz Azul (Mexico)
1997: Cruz Azul (Mexico)
1998: D.C. United (USA)
1999: Necaxa (Mexico)
2000: L.A. Galaxy (USA)
2002: Pachuca (Mexico)
2003: Toluca (Mexico)
2004: Alajuelense (Costa Rica)
2005: Saprissa (Costa Rica)
2006: America (Mexico)
2007: Pachuca (Mexico)
2008: Pachuca (Mexico)

CHAMPIONS LEAGUE
2009: Atlante (Mexico)
2010: Pachuca (Mexico)
2011: Monterrey (Mexico)

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