The CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal bracket that emerged Thursday night couldn’t be tougher for the three surviving MLS clubs. But unlike other competitions, where blame could be placed on the person picking plastic balls out of a bowl, this time the fault likes with those affected.
Bruce Arena’s decision to send a junior varsity lineup out to face Isidro Metapán on Thursday night, and the L.A. Galaxy’s subsequent 4-0 loss, had ramifications throughout the region.
CONCACAF doesn’t conduct a quarterfinal draw – it seeds the eight group winners according to record. L.A. had a reasonable shot at the second or third seed (with a win). But instead it yielded four goals for just the second time in the past 14 months and plunged to sixth, ensuring that each of the three MLS quarterfinalists will face a Mexican club next March.
(The Houston Dynamo did its part as well, making sure there weren’t four MLS clubs advancing by losing to Árabe Unido, 1-0, in Panama).
The bracket certainly throws up some intriguing matchups. The Galaxy will meet Herculez Gomez, Joe Corona and Club Tijuana in a border battle that will command most of the headlines in March. Gomez won an MLS Cup with the Galaxy back in 2005 and still has a home in L.A. He took quickly to Twitter on Thursday:
Graham Zusi told SI.com this week that he and his Sporting Kansas City teammates longed for the opportunity to “measure ourselves against some of the better teams around the world.”
They’ll get that chance when they meet Cruz Azul in the quarters. Los Cementeros are one of only two clubs with five CONCACAF titles. They were CCL finalists in 2009 and 2010, the Liga MX runner-up in the spring and are on course for the domestic playoffs again.
L.A. and SKC are on the same side of the bracket, meaning they’ll either have to beat two Mexican clubs – or each other – to get to the finals.
The San Jose Earthquakes drew 2012 Apertura titlist Toluca in their quarterfinal. The Quakes have the easiest path to the finals thanks to the potential Alajuelense-Árabe Unido semifinal matchup, but they’re likely the MLS survivor least equipped to take advantage.
Since MLS and Mexican clubs began meeting in home-and-home CONCACAF knockout competition in 2002, teams north of the border have managed to advance just twice in 19 tries. Kansas City did it in ’02 and the Seattle Sounders defeated UANL Tigres last year. Only one MLS club, Real Salt Lake in 2011, has advanced to the finals in the home-and-home format. Thanks in part to Thursday’s results, the odds next March will be long once again.