Promising start for MLS teams in Champions League group stage
Five things we learned from the first round of CONCACAF Champions League group play, which wrapped up Thursday.
Three of four MLS clubs won on Match Day 1. Toronto, Columbus and Real Salt Lake all made hay in their openers as 16 teams began reaching for the quarterfinals. Seattle's 2-1 loss to Honduran club Marathon late Thursday night was MLS' only hiccup.
Last year two of three MLS clubs crashed out during the group stage. And that was after two other MLS clubs had fallen in the preliminary round. Two years ago, only one of two MLS sides advanced to the group stage, while two others fell during the preliminary round. Total it up, the league is a paltry 2-for-9 in reaching the tournament quarterfinals.
So, can this be the year more than one side finally moves out of the group stage? (This is just the third year for the tournament in its current conception, although the regional competition has been around since 1962.)
Toronto's win was the most impressive.
Cruz Azul coach
Tuesday's match in Canada was sandwiched between weekend league matches back in Mexico for Cruz Azul. Team captain
Wins by Columbus (1-0 over Guatemala's Municipal) and Real Salt Lake (2-1 over Panama's Arabe Unido) were also on MLS home grounds.
Consider that Toronto's only home loss this year has come in a friendly against Bolton of the English Premiership. And even that one was in tiebreaker penalty kicks.
RSL has yet to lose at home this year in MLS, boasting a league-best 8-0-3 record and a plus-20 goal difference at lovely Rio Tinto Stadium. Columbus is 8-2-0 at home this season.
So, perhaps the real backslapping around MLS must wait until more of the teams grab points on the road.
The decision to deploy a bulk of their best players wasn't such a no-brainer for three other MLS managers, who rolled out quality lineups nonetheless. Crew coach
But is it really? The tournament, with so little real history here and almost no brand identity, just doesn't resonate with a lot of fans. The hard evidence suggests fans just aren't into it. Not in 2010, anyway.
The best crowd from this week's trio of group stage matches in MLS venues was in Toronto, where 16,862 came out for Tuesday's contest. That's a respectable showing, no doubt. On the other hand, BMO is almost always packed for league contests, so it's telling any time the stands aren't full.
The crowd of just 5,745 in Columbus was well below Crew Stadium's average for MLS contests (13,984). Rio Tinto's stands were similarly bare for RSL's victory against the Panamanians.
Toronto had things mostly under control, but had to work harder against Cruz Azul once Torrado brought his quality and usual physical approach to the match. But it was the MLS champion, Real Salt Lake, that had the toughest time; the little side from Panama made life difficult on
Even with a man advantage for more than a half, RSL needed a stoppage-time penalty kick to finish off the visitors 2-1. Nor was the match easy on the eyes as the visitors shamefully turned the night into a circus of embellished injuries and other drama created for the sake of delay.
"I think tonight was a microcosm of everything that's wrong with our game," Kreis said afterward. "We've got to come up with a solution in our game where we are not having players laying on the ground for three minutes, having them go off the field, and then come right back on. There must be a simple solution."
Obviously, Seattle had the toughest time. Then again, club officials expected a rough go. So much so that Sounders owners paid for a charter to fly the team into Central America. Apparently the limited routing options from the Pacific Northwest down to San Pedro Sula along the Honduran northern coast (and not particularly near the small country's capital city) made the handsome price of a charter worth it.