CONCACAF Champions League: Predicting the Standings of Each Group
This week, the preliminary rounds of the CONCACAF Champions League tournament officially concluded, and we finally know the details of each group in the next round.
Featured in the tournament this year are five total MLS squads and four Mexican sides, meaning that more than half of the contenders this time around will be from the two strongest leagues in the region.
Monterrey is back for a repeat-title, LA Galaxy are finally enjoying a spot in the group stage after failing to qualify last year, and the Seattle Sounders are hoping to improve on their last-place finish in their group.
It should be one of the most competitive, and entertaining, CONCACAF tournaments in recent years. So who will advance out of the group stage and remain alive in the hunt for regional glory?
These are the predictions for the final group stage positions for the 2011-12 tournament. Enjoy.
1. LA Galaxy (USA)
The Galaxy are looking as good this year as ever, as they seem set to complete a second-consecutive run for Major League Soccer's top honor and take home the Supporters' Shield once again. Doing so last year earned them the automatic CONCACAF Group Stage berth, after they failed to qualify in the preliminaries for last year's tournament. This is a club that can score from just about any position in the attacking half, and have even managed to score directly off of a corner kick in this year's domestic competition. The only things that might hold them back are Bruce Arena's apparent distaste for knockout style competitions and the fact that their top keeper is currently out with an injured arm.
2. Morelia (Mexico)
At first glance, Morelia might appear to be the weakest Mexican side to reach the group stage. But don't let their domestic placement fool you. Morelia stormed into the group stage by winning their preliminary round 8-0 on aggregate, performing well and scoring goals in both the home and away legs.
3. Alajuelense (Costa Rica)
Alajuelense earned an automatic spot in the group stage this year, by way of their first-place finish in their domestic league tournament (which they won on penalties 4-3). With Galaxy and Morelia in their group, however, don't expect them to advance to the knockout round.
4. Motagua (Honduras)
Motagua really just squeaked by in their preliminary matchup, winning 4-2 on aggregate and losing 2-0 in the away leg.
1. Santos Laguna (Mexico)
Mexican sides are historically strong competitors in CONCACAF, and Santos Laguna is no exception. They finished the season only two points shy of a second-place finish and are prepared to take full advantage of a mostly-weak Group B in this year's tournament. Laguna was lucky to get this far; however, only winning their preliminary playoff 4-3 on aggregate goals. But you can expect them to take things a little more seriously now that they've advanced and their quality should be more apparent over the next six group stage matches than it was in that first round.
2. Real Espana (Honduras)
Real Espana of Honduras is looking to improve on their only other competitive appearance in CONCACAF, when they reached the group stage in 2009-10 but failed to advance. This year, their domestic finish has earned them a free-pass into the group stage. While Espana may not have what it takes to make it to the final, their fortunate placement in the weak Group B could see them advancing for the first time in their history.
3. Colorado Rapids (USA)
The Rapids are, by far, the weakest side the United States has to offer this year. They won Major League Soccer's MLS Cup Tournament in 2010, taking advantage of a November hot streak to make up for a weak finish in the league overall. That quality hasn't improved much, however, as they seemingly face another weak finish in MLS again in 2011.
4. Metapan (El Salvador)
Having failed to qualify for the group stage in 2010-11, Metapan are back in CONCACAF for another go. This year, they may have made it past the preliminaries, but only barely, advancing thanks to their one tie-breaking away goal against the Puerto Rico Islanders.
1. Pumas UNAM (Mexico)
The current title-holders of the Mexican Torneo Clausura, Pumas are another Mexican side looking for a strong finish in Champions League. With not much competition in Group C aside from Dallas, Pumas should be strong contenders for an advancing position. While I expect Dallas to give them a run for their money, Pumas could easily (and probably will) take the top spot in this group.
2. FC Dallas (USA)
FC Dallas of Major League Soccer might not have the most extensive CONCACAF record imaginable, but there's no doubt that they are a strong squad with a lot to prove. Dallas narrowly lost out to an automatic group stage berth in their 2010 defeat at the hands of the much weaker Colorado Rapids in the MLS Cup Final. This year, Dallas are strong competitors for the top spot in the MLS standings, closely competing with the LA Galaxy for the league's Supporters' Shield honors. If they can maintain their current form, the group stage should be a breeze for Dallas.
3. Tauro (Panama)
I'm gonna be honest with you, this club has just as much business advancing to the knockout round as many of the other sides I've placed in first or second in the other groups. It was a tough decision, and Tauro could still prove to be the surprise of the group, perhaps taking advantage of Dallas' lack of experience. As the most successful side in Panama's history, and a club with a pretty solid financial backing, they could easily prove my prediction of Pumas edging them in the group stage dead wrong.
4. Toronto FC (Canada)
The second worst team in MLS, Toronto FC really seems to just get an automatic berth as one of two Canadian clubs in Major League Soccer. And even that is just because the other Canadian MLS side, Vancouver Whitecaps, happens to be the first worst side in MLS.
1. Monterrey (Mexico)
Last year's CONCACAF Champions League Champions, and the 2010 Mexican Apertura Champions, Monterrey is set for another impressive tournament, this time to defend their title. In every way possible, Monterrey are easy favorites to win Group D and advance to the knockout round for the second year running. Last year, Monterrey was also grouped with the Sounders, and had little trouble defeating them in both legs. Another six points for the MLS squad could be just the beginning of Monterrey's easy road to the next round.
2. Herediano (Costa Rica)
Herediano are looking to be surprising favorites for advancement in Group D, after winning their preliminary series 10-2 on aggregate goals. Any side with an offense like that should prove at least worthy of the quarterfinals.
3. Seattle Sounders FC (USA)
While the Sounders might be on track at the moment to achieve the best domestic finish in their history, they have so far had very little luck in CONCACAF. Last season, they placed dead last in their group, and only won a single match out of six. This season, they're looking questionable in international play yet again, having lost the first leg of their qualifier against San Francisco, and barely managing the extra-time series-winning goal in the second leg at home.
4. Comunicaciones (Guatemala)
This Guatemalan side is easily the best the country has to offer. In any other group, they could have a shot. However, they are likely to be out of luck in the group that's looking to be one of the toughest of this year's tournament.