Another busy week for the three MLS entrants in the CONCACAF Champions League concluded last night, with DC United earning a convincing 3-0 victory over Marathón of Honduras at RFK Stadium. Following on the heels of the Houston Dynamo’s 5-1 thrashing of Arabe Unido of Panama, and the Columbus Crew’s disappointing 2-0 loss to Cruz Azul of Mexico, the MLS teams performed as expected. Going into the last two rounds of group play, all three MLS clubs have an excellent chance of advancing to the knock-out round.
The Houston Dynamo started Week 4 of the CCL well, with a dominating performance against their chief rival in the group, Arabe Unido. Playing at Robertson Stadium, the Dynamo were expected to win this game, especially in light of their result in Panama earlier in the competition. In that match, five red cards, three against Houston, and a late equalizer by Arabe Unido, resulted in a sloppy 1-1 draw. In a disgraceful scene at the end of the match, the Dynamo players had to wait at midfield while the stands were cleared before they could exit the stadium.
In this week’s rematch, there would be little of the drama seen in Panama, as the Dynamo asserted themselves early and often. Already up 2-0 on goals by Eddie Robinson and Cam Weaver either side of halftime, Arabe Unido’s Omar Camargo was sent off with a red card in the 56th minute. And despite, the Panamanians pulling one back, Houston attacked at will over the final 30 minutes and finished with a 5-1 victory. Both teams are now level in Group A with seven points each going into the final two weeks of play.
On Wednesday night, the Columbus Crew would have the difficult task of facing Cruz Azul. Coach Robert Warzycha fielded a relatively strong squad for the home match, with a starting XI missing notable defenders Frankie Hejduk and Chad Marshall. Columbus started well in the game, putting up-field pressure on the ball and stretching the attack through winger Robbie Rogers. Unfortunately all their effort was for not, as shaky defense led to a Cruz Azul goal from a well taken opportunity. The Crew continued to pressure the Mexican defense, but found only the crossbar and the goalkeeper, Yosgart Gutierrez, as targets. Cruz Azul doubled their lead later in the first half, and never really looked threatened after that.
While the Crew would have fancied a win at home, the Mexican side made it clear that they are the best team in Group C. After losing 5-0 earlier in the competition at Cruz Azul, Columbus comported themselves well in their home return, despite suffering their first loss at Crew Stadium since June of 2008. And with two winnable games left in Group C, the Crew must fancy their chances to advance in the tournament.
Last night saw the most important match of Week 4 for the MLS clubs in the CCL played by DC United and Marathón at RFK Stadium. The home side dominated possession throughout the first half, intent on achieving the resounding victory they all but required in their quest to advance in the tournament. Strikers Luciano Emilio and Chris Pontius both missed chances to put their side ahead; however, the Hondurans provided adequate resistance to DC United, and the teams went into the half scoreless.
DC United started the second half with intent under the leadership of substitute Jamie Moreno. Emilio was first to break through, after converting a sublime Avery John cross past the helpless goalkeeper for the 1-0 lead. Moreno then doubled the advantage with a clever toe poke from the top of the area that just snuck inside the post. Marathón couldn’t answer the attacking pressure of DC, as perhaps the political uncertainty back home that led to a lengthy and exhausting journey just to get to RFK left the players feeling lethargic. And when Emilio found the net for the second time in the half to make the score 3-0, the Hondurans were done. The victory leaves DC United and Marathón level on six points in Group B, but courtesy of the big win, DC United owns the head-to-head tiebreaker.
Overall, the three MLS teams are in good position to qualify for the second quarterfinal slot from each of their respective groups. With the first three tie-breakers in the competition being head-to-head record, followed by goal differential, and then away goals, the Houston Dynamo and DC United would advance if they finished even on points for second place with Arabe Unido and Marathón respectively. The Columbus Crew has a home date with Saprissa coming up next Tuesday. Having already beaten them on the road, the Crew will have their hands full with a Costa Rican side looking for revenge. With a win or tie, Columbus will join their MLS compatriots in position to advance.
Anything less than all three MLS teams advancing out of the group stage will be a disappointment. And with all four Mexican representatives poised to finish at the top of their respective groups, MLS could look forward to some excellent and challenging knock out stage pairings with our rival teams to the south. I, for one, cannot wait.