It’s that time of year again, time that is for the quarterfinals of the CONCACAF Champions League (CCL).
Which means then, among other topics we must query the fairness of the CCL schedule to MLS teams, we must ask if the MLS salary cap puts its teams at a disadvantage against Mexican opposition and we will again wonder if an MLS team will ever win this tournament, and how much it even matters.
This year’s final eight comes down to a straight showdown of Mexico’s Liga MX clubs versus MLS sides, and with the first matches played the early results were not great for the Norteamericanos.
On Tuesday night, DC United traveled south of the border to face Queretaro while the Seattle Sounders played host to Club America.
By the old matrix of win at home and play for a draw on the road, MLS had a rough night. Despite putting in a decent road performance DC was not sharp with its chances and surrendered goals in the 71st and 83rd minutes to drop the away leg.
This is a United team that has made some changes to its recent all D- all dull style of play and to its credit Ben Olsen’s squad came to play.
This was United’s first match of the season while Queretaro was playing its 7th competitive match. Whether that is an excuse or an explanation is up to the individual to decide but DC will need to sharpen up in front of goal at home next Tuesday if it hopes to overturn this 2-0 deficit.
Meanwhile with the long playing Obafemi Martins to China* saga still playing out the CCL club record-setting crowd of 43,836 gathered at Seattle’s CenturyLink Field were treated to a thriller.
They also were given a positive answer to the question, will Clint Dempsey be alright without his running mate Oba?
The answer? A resounding yes and not just because Dempsey scored both Seattle goals. The first was a gem of a free-kick and the second was Fulham vintage Deuce as Dempsey powered home a header from a corner in that old “I want this more than you do” style that the Pride of Nagadoches has long been known for.
And goals aside Dempsey impressed versus America. Seattle trotted out a new 4-3-3 formation with Dempsey joined on the Sounders front line by Argentine DP Nelson Valdez and, making his anxiously awaited professional debut, Jordan Morris.
From the start, Dempsey seemed to have a free role and the 32-year-old looked sprightly as he roved the brand new CenturyLink turf.
Morris showed the promise that Jurgen Klinsmann saw when he made the Stanford man the first collegiate U.S. international in a generation and Valdez is an exciting talent in what should be a strong Sounders attack.
Seattle took a 2-1 lead on Dempsey’s 52nd-minute header but Mexican international Oribe Peralta spoiled the Sounders night with his 70th-minute reply.
Now Seattle will have to do the unusual, if no longer impossible, win at Azteca. Conceding two road goals is a problem, sure, but it is a problem that Sigi Schmid’s crew can solve by winning outright at Club America’s Mexico City fortress come March 2nd.
Day two of this MLS vs. Liga MX set on Wednesday night followed the established pattern as Real Salt Lake dropped a 2-0 decision in Mexico to Tigres UNAL while the Los Angeles Galaxy emerged with a home draw, although L.A. did pitch a shutout in tying Santos Laguna at the StubHub Center.
Like DC United, RSL were making a decent account of themselves before conceding two second half goals to leave themselves with a mountain to climb at home in the reverse fixture.
On the first center back Jamison Olave was caught napping when Jose Arturo Rivas beat him to score the opener from a 67th-minute free kick.
Salt Lake would have been happy to head home with that 0-1 scoreline but a scrappy goal from Jurgen Damm put paid to that plan leaving RSL in a hole ahead of the March 2nd home leg.
The new look Los Angeles Galaxy was probably happy enough to come away with that goalless draw, even at home, as Bruce Arena attempts to fit all of his new pieces together.
New to Galaxy starting 11 Wednesday night were Dan Kennedy in goal, center back Jelle Van Damme, fullback Ashley Cole, and midfielders Nigel De Jong, and Emmanuel Boateng.
With all the newcomers joining Robbie Keane and Steven Gerrard on the pitch, the Galaxy is an old team but also a deep one. It should surprise no one then that L.A looked like a work in progress.
But 0-0 is not the end of the world for the Galaxy and that scoreline positions the Los Angeles as the most likely MLS team to advance to the semifinals of our region’s version of the Champions League.
*Seattle announced that the Obafemi Martins deal is now official.