This is the final week of the group stages for the CONCACAF Champions League and as its self explanatory we are looking to see which sides will need their final games to advance into next year’s knockout stage, or who will earn a better position when the draw is held at the headquarters of CONCACAF.
As everyone already knows Real Salt Lake and Cruz Azul have already qualified for the knockout stages coming out of Group A, but the hope is to win the group and get a favorable draw for the quarterfinals. Don’t forget that Real Salt Lake had a two goal lead on Cruz Azul down in Mexico City before Javier Orozco came out of nowhere and scored a hat trick to take a lead.
Well this time at Rio Tinto Stadium it would be the defending MLS Cup Champions that got revenge and resting some players Jason Kreis decided to use some of his reserves including a gentleman that spent most of his season down with Miami FC of US Soccer Second Division, Paulo Araujo Jr. He scored a brace in the 43rd and 67th minute to cement a lead with Collen Warner putting the final nail in the coffin two minutes later to help Real Salt Lake win Group A.
Meanwhile another American MLS side that was looking forward to get into the knockout stage of the Champions League were the Columbus Crew who were given a helping hand by Group B winners Santos Laguna. This was one of those situations where Robert Warzycha’s men didn’t have to break a sweat at all. As the Crew will face Trinidadian side Joe Public tonight on the road, this past Tuesday Guatemalan side Municipal got a thrashing as Laguna put six past them.
Oribe Peralta got the scoring started in the 20th minute and scored his second of the match in the 51st. Daniel Ludena also earned a brace in the 27th minute and late in the second half with Rodrigo Ruiz and Carlos Quintero finishing up on the score sheet. So the eight quarterfinalists starting play in next year’s knockout stages are from Group A Real Salt Lake and Cruz Azul. Group B Santos Laguna and Columbus Crew. Group C Monterrey and Deportivo Saprissa and Group D Olimpia and Toluca.
After tonight’s Champions League match the only thing all of us have to wait for is the draw for the quarterfinal pairings and then we can start to discuss possible favorites on who we think can win the tournament. While there are those who believe the four clubs from Mexico are the automatic favorites, something tells me that Real Salt Lake could be a favorite as Jason Kreis has found ways to get his squad competitive.
Of course the main question will be for any MLS side going into the knockout stages can they win on the road down in Mexico. In these past groups stage matches Real Salt Lake and an already eliminated Seattle Sounders had their chances to make history. They have to remember that to keep that precious lead on the road never take your foot off the gas pedal once the 75th minute reaches the match clock. Keep going and keep on fighting ’til the final whistle officially blows from the referee.
Next year is going to be a fantastic time to watch what will happen when all eight sides have their backs to the wall and try to win with the game plan their head coaches give them. As always the top prize is to be called the best club in the confederation of CONCACAF.