CONCACAF Champions League 2012-13 Preview: Three-Team Groups Means The Drama Starts Early

SANDY, UT - JUNE 20: Head coach Bruce Arena of Los Angeles Galaxy directs his players during a game against Real Salt Lake during the second half of an MLS soccer game June 20, 2012 at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah. Los Angeles Galaxy beat Real Salt lake 3-2. (Photo by George Frey/Getty Images)

CONCACAF's change to three-team groups means that some teams are fighting for their tournament lives on matchday two.

The odd three-team groups of the CONCACAF Champions League means that just two matches into the group stage, teams could be facing a very uphill climb to advance to the knockout stages. Only the group winners will advance from the group so an 0-fer in the first two matches will just about doom a team. Encouraging, ain't it?

So as one-third of the competition's teams take matchday two off and one-third make their tournament debuts, one-third of the teams get ready for their second match. And for some of that final third, it's a do or die match.

Group 1

Santos Laguna (Mexico) vs. Aguila (El Salvador) - Tuesday, 8:00 p.m. ET

Aguila got spanked by Toronto FC 5-1 in their first match and are now on the verge of going out of the competition. In fact, they are almost certainly going out because now they play heavy group favorites Santos Laguna in Torreon. It will be almost impossible for Aguila to get three points at Estadio Corona and if they don't, they will be all but done. Then the only drama left in Group 1 will be whether Toronto can grab three points from Santos at home and give themselves a chance to advance or if Santos will seal things up by matchday three.

Group 2

Real Salt Lake (USA) vs. Tauro (Panama) - Tuesday, 10 p.m. ET

Winning on the road in Central America is tough enough with 11 men so when Real Salt Lake went down to 10 men they were all but done. A 1-0 loss in the books, Salt Lake returns home to host Tauro FC and are another team desperate for a win. Luckily for RSL, they are better than Tauro and should grab three points at home, even without the suspended Nat Borchers, but Luis Renteria is capable of pulling a goal out of his you-know-what so there is that threat for the American side.

Group 3

FAS (El Salvador) vs. Houston Dynamo (USA) - Wednesday, 10:00 p.m. ET

The Houston Dynamo's welcome back gift to the Champions League is a trip to El Salvador. A lump of coal would have been better.

But as far as Central American trips go, opening against FAS isn't too bad.. They will be up for the match after losing their opener to Olimpia and knowing that they need three points, but they are not playing well and sit fifth in the Salvadorian Premier League. With the way that the Dynamo play at home, it is reasonable to expect them to take all six points at BBVA Compass Stadium, meaning a win at FAS could be the match that wins them the group and a spot in the quarterfinals.

Group 4

Caledonia AIA (Trinidad and Tobago) vs. Marathon (Honduras) - Wednesday, 8:00 p.m. ET

While they did well to stay within two of the Seattle Sounders in their opener, Caledonia don't have much of a chance in this group. They are well out of their depth, but Marathon's attack is not going to scare anyone, even Caledonia. That means a scoreless draw could be in the offing, which would make the Sounders very, very happy.

Group 5

LA Galaxy (USA) vs. Isidro Metapan (El Salvador) - Thursday, 10:00 p.m. ET

These should be the top two teams in the group, but there is no doubt that Metapan are the favorite, maybe if one for one reason -- Bruce Arena doesn't care for the Champions League. For whatever reason, Arena has never prioritized the competition and probably won't this time around. That gives Metapan a major advantage and if they can snag a point in LA then they will be well on their way to a group win.

Metapan don't need LA to throw them a bone either. They could be the best team in Central America with Ernesto Aquino anchoring the back line and guys like Paolo Suarez, Chris Bautista and Eliseo Quintanilla in front of them. The Galaxy's defense will have trouble tracing Metapan's attackers and while Metapan's biggest weakness could be defending wide, LA doesn't do a great job on the wings.

Group 6

Alajuelense (Costa Rica) vs. UANL Tigres (Mexico) - Wednesday, 10:00 p.m. ET

There is no doubt that Alajuelense was the best team in last year's Champions League not to go through to the knockout stages. They took 12 points from a tough group and still couldn't get through so you would hope that they might get a break this year. Apparently that was too much to ask for because they drew Tigres, Mexico's Apertura champions.

Tigres have not been at their best this season, though, surrendering five goals in as many matches and sitting seventh in the Liga MX table. They are still heavy favorite, but Alajuelense could give them trouble in Costa Rica and really put a scare in Tigres. The biggest question is how the Costa Ricans can handle things in the midfield, where they have struggled since last summer and will get exploited if they don't get better. That means Pablo Gabas has to be very good.

Group 7

Chorrillo (Panama) vs. Municipal (Guatemala) - Thursday, 8:00 p.m. ET

It's tough to imagine a scenario in which this match matters. Monterrey whooped Chorrillo 5-0 in the opener and should run away in this group. Drama and competition, you are missing in Group 7.

Group 8

Xelaju (Guatemala) vs. Chivas Guadalajara (Mexico) - Tuesday, 10:00 p.m ET

Chivas were the heavy favorite in this group so if Xelaju or W Connection were to have any chance of challenging the Goats then one would almost certainly have to take six points from the other. The only problem is that the two teams drew at the beginning of the month and basically ended any hopes of either team challenging Chivas.

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