The 2010-11 edition of CONCACAF Champions League kicks-off its preliminary round tonight with matches in Toronto, Port of Spain (Trinidad and Tobago), Los Angeles and La Chorrera (Panama). Over the next ten days, sixteen teams will compete for the eight remaining spots in group play, having been paired-off in a series of two-legged ties to decide who rounds out the four, four-team groups that start round-round play on August 17.
Major League Soccer’s Los Angeles Galaxy and Toronto FC host matches tonight, with Seattle Sounders FC at Qwest on Wednesday. While most fans would expect MLS teams to skate through match-ups with teams from Honduras, Puerto Rico and El Salvador, two MLS teams were eliminated at this stage last year.
One of the teams eliminated in last year’s preliminary round, Toronto FC, faces a stacked deck in this year’s preliminary round:
Toronto versus Motagua, 8 p.m. Eastern, BMO Field
Welcome back Amado Guevara, the best player in TFC’s short history, who moved back to his native Honduras this winter, leading Motagua to the best record in the Liga Nacional’s Clausura. He is joined by fellow prominent Honduran internationals Iván Guerrero, Emilio Izaguirre, Sergio Mendoza, and Georgie Welcome. Those stars are joined by a series of young players that have helped Motagua move beyond their disappointing eighth place finish in last year’s Clausura, with the likes of 19-year-old midfielder Ronald Martínez and 20-year-old defender Esdra Padilla leading a group of prospects that have help Motagua regain their place along side Olimpia and Marathón - Honduras’s elite.
Toronto has rebounded from a slow start to the Major League Soccer season to sit third in the Eastern Conference, but the team’s terrible road record hints at problems in next week’s second leg in Honduras. Toronto may be an underdog in the tie going into tonight’s first leg, but if Preki can not engineer a result at BMO, TFC has little hope of avoiding a replication of last year’s result.
With only two days rest since paying a full squad on Saturday against Dallas, Toronto’s veteran team will be taxed by the short turnaround. Expect a number of chances for TFC.
Los Angeles versus Puerto Rico Islanders, 10 p.m. Eastern, Home Depot Center
Unlike Toronto, Los Angeles didn’t play this weekend, taking part in last Thursday’s ESPN2 match against San Jose. The extra day’s rest will help a Los Angeles team which, having a small cushion atop the Western Conference, can afford to prioritize Champions League more than past MLS entrants have been want to do.
The complicating factor for Los Angeles is Wednesday’s All-Star Game in Houston, where Donovan Ricketts, Omar Gonzalez, Edson Buddle and Landon Donovan have been selected by the fans to start against Manchester United. Bruce Arena hasn’t selected any Galaxy players amongst the All-Star reserves, but it remains to be seen whether the exhibition at Reliant will take precedent. Should Arena hold those starters out, the likes of Josh Saunders, Leonardo and Tristan Bowen should be able to get a result against the Islanders, provided the Galaxy give Puerto Rico more consideration than the second division club’s been afforded in the past.
Other Tuesday Matches:
- San Juan Jabloteh (Trinidad and Tobago/Caribbean) versus Santos Laguna (Mexico): The typical pattern for the Mexican teams is to exert minimal effort on the road - play second team players, even if it means losing - and then blow their opponents away in the return leg. With the Mexican Apertura having started, Santos is likely to replicate that pattern, but even if they leave San Juan down, the Guerreros are likely winners come next Wednesday.
- San Francisco (Panama) versus Cruz Azul (Mexico): The Cementeros have disappointed throughout the first half of the year, missing the Bicentenario’s Liguilla and losing the Champions League final to Pachuca. During the off-season, Cruz Azul lost a number of notable players, but their 3-0 victory to open the Apertura last Friday hinted La Maquina may be ready to shake-off a disappointing spring. Enrique Meza’s men should have no trouble against the Panamanians.