2- Cruz Azul
3- DC United
Top two group finishers advance to quarterfinals
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This group is the preverbal group of death in a major competition. Featuring three teams that have one the forerunner of this competition, the now defunct CONCACAF Champions Cup this will be a tough group to forecast. Two things stand out for me however in forecasting this group: the difficulty MLS clubs have had getting results in both Mexico and Costa Rica as well as Cruz Azul’s general trouble lately in international competitions with the very notable exception of the remarkable 2001 Copa Libertadoras when Cruz Azul became the first Mexican team to reach the finals. Cruz Azul has however been the most consistent team in the last few FMF tournaments and again in this years’ Apertura is near the top of the table.
Deportiva Saprissa has to be considered the favorite in this group. Not only do they feature Ronald Gomez, who is one of the best attacking players in the region but also have the built in advantage of playing on a tricky plastic pitch at home. Walter Centano is another certifiable legend of Costa Rican football and his creativity and ability to hold the ball will cause fits for the opposition especially in San Jose.
Much like CD Guadalajara which ironically has the same owner, Saprissa only uses home grown players. But when you consider the overall quality of Costa Rican football since the late 1980s it is no surprise that both Saprissa and Alajuelense have been so strong in continental competitions.
DC United has struggled in MLS play outside of RFK Stadium this season. United has also faced an injury crisis exacerbated by MLS restrictive squad rules. However, it must be recalled that Kevin Payne and Dave Kasper made many of their moves this past closed season based entirely on trying to compete and win this tournament. However being forced to play 14 games in 44 days is a lot even for clubs without the sort of restrictive rules applied to MLS sides. DC United is a safe pick for third in this group.
CD Marathon is one of the top clubs in Honduras and quite possibly the wealthiest club in Central America, outside of Costa Rica. However, in this tough group it is difficult to see how Marathon will be competitive. Unlike trips to Costa Rica, MLS sides have gone to Honduras and gotten results frequently in the past and Honduran clubs have had little or no success against Mexican clubs. It should be noted however, that Marathon’s domestic rival CD Olimpia defeated Saprissa in the Central American Cup final this past December but that victory owed itself largely to Amado Guevara who was on loan from MLS.