By the end of this week, the CONCACAF Champions League will have its four semifinalists, but who those teams are is still a complete tossup. There were two draws and two wins in the first legs of the quarterfinals, with both wins coming by 1-0 score lines at home, leaving plenty of drama for the final 90 (or maybe 120?) minutes in every tie.
Club Tijuana vs. LA Galaxy
Estadio Caliente; Tuesday, 10 p.m. ET
The Galaxy were happy with the result they got in the first leg -- a 1-0 home victory, important because they did not give up an away goal -- but knew they were fortunate to have escaped with it. Tijuana badly outplayed them in the second half and had it not been for the incredible play of Jaime Penedo, Xolos would have walked away with at least a draw, if not a win.
Now LA heads to Estadio Caliente, where they will be on turf, a Xolos home crowd (although the crowd in the first leg was predominantly Tijuana fans) and in need of a better performance that they got in the first leg. Penedo can't rescue them again.
Coming away with a draw or better in Tijuana will have to mean better defense from the Galaxy, who were exposed for a lack of pace and poor set piece marking in the first leg, something that plagued them for most of 2013. It wasn't just Fidel Martinez and Jaime Ayovi getting involved, but Hernan Pellerano and Guemez Lopez who also caused the Galaxy fits, highlighting just how easy it was for Xolos to pick LA apart when they found a rhythm.
But in addition to defending better, LA will have to be better up front, and that means getting star performances from their star players. Landon Donovan was often short of options, despite finding space down the left, and Robbie Keane's touch failed him repeatedly, even if one of those miscues accidentally led to the Galaxy goal.
Xolos are a bad defensive team, conceding 15 times in 11 Clausura matches, but just four of those goals have come at home. They're significantly better at Estadio Caliente so the Galaxy's chances will not be as plentiful as they were in their first leg and that means Keane and Co. will have to make good on the few looks they do get.
Toluca vs. San Jose Earthquakes
La Bombonera; Wednesday, 8 p.m. ET
If any tie looks well in hand, it would be this one. The Earthquakes left Buck Shaw Stadium excited after a 90th minute equalizer in the first leg, but the reality is they allowed an away goal in the 1-1 draw and now head to Mexico needing either a two-plus goal tie or a win. Odds are, that's not happening. In fact, odds are that it won't even be close.
Toluca remain the second best team in Liga MX and have not lost at home. In fact, the only time they did not win was in their first home match of the tournament, which they drew. They've outscored opponents 10-2 at La Bombonera and Pablo Velasquez may even play on Wednesday, making things even tougher on San Jose than they were in the first leg.
It's not as if the Quakes have always been doomed. They were the better team for most of the first leg when they pounced on a largely second choice Toluca side, but they finished terribly. Now, with the tie moving to Mexico, they'll need to be even better, which is a big ask considering their midfield played incredibly last week.
The Earthquakes had plenty of opportunities to come away winners in the first leg, maybe even by multiple goals, but they were wasteful in front and that was led by Chris Wondolowski. San Jose had their chance to make the semifinals, but they blew them time and time again at home, and now Toluca will be through barring one of the biggest upsets in the history of this young competition.
Cruz Azul vs. Sporting Kansas City
Estadio Azul; Wednesday, 10 p.m. ET
This tie was billed as the ultimate test of MLS's quality. It pits the defending MLS Cup champions against the Clausura's top team and in the first leg, Sporting KC looked up to the task. They were good, even if Cruz Azul was better towards the end, and got a 1-0 win, but now comes the dreaded trip to Estadio Azul.
Cruz Azul have won all five matches at their home ground in the Clausura, a mark that was propelled them to the top of the table. Marco Fabian has been especially good at home too, scoring three goals since the new year, including two on Saturday against Tijuana. Considering Sporting just barely survived at home, needing two goal line clearances to come away with the win in Kansas, that is hardly comforting.
Sporting have always touted themselves as an excellent defensive team. It earned them a MLS Cup and a spot in the Champions League, but they have spoken about how it was all part of building a club that could succeed internationally. This will be their biggest test of that yet.
With Cruz Azul being Mexico's best team, few will bet on SKC to find a result in Mexico City. Few will bet on them even being close. But what if they can manage a draw? What if Matt Besler and Aurelien Collin are one of the best centerback duos in all of the Americas? Sporting are betting on it, even if they are the only ones.
Arabe Unido vs. Alajuelense
Estadio Rommel Fernandez; Thursday, 10 p.m. ET
Arabe Unido became the first Panamanian club to ever advance to the knockout stages of the Champions League, but apparently they aren't content with being just quarterfinalists. They're dreaming bigger and if the first leg is any indication, they just might make it a reality.
The Panamanians went to Costa Rica and despite being outplayed by Alajuelense, came away with a draw. It wasn't pretty, but it was effective and it sends them home a win away from the semifinals.
Alajuelense are still very much alive, having proven they can get an away result when they beat Club America on the final matchday of the group stage to advance, but it's not a situation they want to be in. They certainly don't want that against an Arabe Unido team that won both home matches in the group stage and appears to have fate on their side, but here they are -- hey need a win or a draw with a goal. If not, Arabe Unido will not just make history by qualifying for the quarterfinals, but the semifinals as well.