Week #5 of the CONCACAF Champions League saw all three MLS participants playing at home looking to gain maximum points in their groups. For DC United, it was mission accomplished, as the Black-and-Red punished San Juan Jabloteh 5-1 at RFK Stadium. The disappointed Columbus Crew, who had a chance to clinch a berth in the quarterfinals, leaked a stoppage time goal to group rivals Saprissa in a 1-1 draw. Finally, at Robertson Stadium in Houston, the Dynamo gave Pachuca all they could handle, but still came out the loser in a 1-0 defeat.
The CCL takes a three week break, before resuming group play October 20-22. After Week #5 of the competition, none of the MLS teams have secured passage into the final eight. After enjoying the comforts of home over the last two weeks, all three MLS entrants take to the road for Week #6. Let’s break down the advancement possibilities for each team to reach the quarterfinal stages.
In Group A, Pachuca has secured advancement after their sturdy defending and goalkeeping heroics of Miguel Calero Wednesday night secured all three points against the Houston Dynamo. The Dynamo had numerous scoring opportunities go wanting, especially in a frenetically paced first half, and now sit third in the group with just one match to play. First the good news – the Dynamo head to El Salvador to take on struggling Isidro Metapán, still without a point in the competition. Now the bad news – even with a win in El Salvador, the Dynamo will need help in the other group game between Arabe Unido and hosts Pachuca. Houston currently trails Arabe Unido by three points but holds the tiebreaker between the two teams. Anything short of a Pachuca victory against the Panamanians knocks the Dynamo out of the CCL.
DC United’s crushing 5-1 defeat of Jabloteh Wednesday evening keeps their drive to the quarterfinals alive in Group B. After a disappointing start to the CCL group stages, DC United has roared to life with nine points from their last three matches. They could secure passage to the knockout round without needing to touch the ball again if the last Week #5 match between CD Marathón and Toluca results in a victory for the Mexican club. Any other result leaves DC United with a tough trip away to Toluca needing to gain points against the Group B leaders. Expect all eyes in our nation’s capital to keep watch on the match in Honduras tonight, knowing that an early passage to the quarterfinals will leave Tom Soehn’s men able to focus solely on qualifying for the MLS Cup playoffs.
Group C leaders Cruz Azul have already clinched top spot in the standings, leaving the Columbus Crew and Deportivo Saprissa to battle for second position. The Crew did not do themselves any favors by drawing with the Costa Ricans on Tuesday night. After outplaying their opponent throughout the match, Columbus allowed a stoppage time equalizer from Alexander Robinson that left both teams with a chance to proceed to the knockout stages on the tournament. Up by two points and holding the tie-breaker over Saprissa, the Crew needs at least a draw away to the Puerto Rico Islanders in their last group stage match. A loss to PRI coupled with a Saprissa victory would eliminate Columbus from the CCL.
After an exciting Week #5, the CONCACAF Champions League fortunes for DC United and the Columbus Crew look favorable, with the Houston Dynamo requiring help in their effort to advance out of Group B. To be sure, an exiting end to group play awaits us in three weeks.
UPDATE: Thursday night saw Marathón defeat Toluca 2-0 and go equal in points with DC United at nine apiece. Toluca still leads the group with 12 points, but missed their opportunity to join their three fellow FMF representatives in qualifying for the knockout stage with one round of matches remaining. They now host DC United needing a positive result to assure advancing, otherwise they face the possibility of being eliminated if DC United defeats them by 14 or more goals – very unlikely. That leaves the more realistic scenario of Marathón and DC United competing for the second advancement slot. Since DC United holds the head-to-head tie breaker against the Hondurans, as long as they can match Marathón’s result against bottom-of-the-group San Juan Jabloteh, the Black-and-Red will continue to the CCL knockout phase early next year.
Meanwhile, DC United will be up against history later this month, as no MLS team has ever defeated a Mexican league team on their home field. Thursday’s result in Honduras certainly challenges DC United’s hope of advancing in the tournament, and it makes their Week #6 visit to Toluca more meaningful than ever.