Wild Seattle-Olimpia affair an instant CONCACAF Champions League classic
The second round of CONCACAF Champions League matches is in the books and fans were treated to some fairly exciting and wild futbol over the course of the previous three days. Here are five things that were learned from matchday two.
1. Seattle-Olimpia offers up thriller
When the CCL draw was made, Group F -- consisting of MLS sides Seattle Sounders and Vancouver Whitecaps and CCL stalwart Olimpia of Honduras -- was tabbed by many as the "group of death," and it has lived up to the billing. After a tight 1-1 draw in Vancouver between the Cascadian rivals on matchday one, fans in Seattle were treated to a thrilling 2-1 comeback win on Wednesday night that had all the makings of a CCL classic: gamesmanship, late goals and post-final-whistle pushing and shoving.
In what has been a prevailing theme this summer, Panamanian center-back Roman Torres was luckily there to keep the peace between the two incensed groups following Brad Evans' taunting of Olimpia goalkeeper Noel Valladares seconds after the Seattle defender scored the late winner from the penalty spot. This all sets the stage for next week's rematch between the two teams down in Tegucigalpa, where surely the Nacion Olimpista will be out in full force and looking to make life insufferable for Sigi Schmid's team.
Seattle may be sitting top of the group for now, but there are still four rounds left and plenty of drama ahead.
2. Liga MX teams look bored
Perhaps it's all the years of winning this tournament that has made some teams in Liga MX not as hungry when they take the field in the CCL group stage, while their MLS and Central American counterparts play with more urgency. This week, Mexico's four representatives were all in action and served up less-than-inspirational efforts.
Tigres almost suffered one of the biggest upsets in CCL history, but managed to scrape together two goals in the final seven minutes in front of the home fans and nip Isidro Metapan of El Salvador 2-1. Reigning CONCACAF champions Club America could only muster a single goal against Nicaragua's Walter Ferretti at the Estadio Azteca Queretaro, who were tabbed by the supposed experts to barely break a sweat in their group, were held to a 0-0 draw at Verdes of Belize.
There's no question that come the knockout round the Liga MX sides will be at their best and likely break hearts around the region, but a lapse too many in the group stage can prove costly, such as what happened to Cruz Azul and Leon last year, who found themselves eliminated in October.
3. Galaxy coasting to quarterfinals
The LA Galaxy followed up their 5-1 walloping of W Connection on matchday one with a 5-0 thumping of Guatemala's Comunicaciones on Tuesday night, which all but ensures the reigning MLS champions' passage to the next round. The only stumbling block is a final matchday contest in Guatemala City, but Tuesday night's margin of victory should be enough of a cushion for Bruce Arena's team to advance, even if they end up level on points with Los Cremas.
More importantly, L.A. showed how business should be taken care of by MLS sides in the group stage. Arena sent out a team with a perfect blend of youth/fringe players and starters who had enough quality to then start piling in the goals. Comunicaciones are the nearest rivals in Group D to the Galaxy and to own such a heavy head-to-head goal difference early on is a luxury. Last season both Sporting Kansas City and the Portland Timbers paid dearly for not winning by wide enough margins at home against Saprissa and Olimpia, respectively, and their final matchday capitulations in Central America left MLS supporters frustrated. This is not a problem with the Galaxy.
4. Verdes makes history
While 2014 was a year to forget in Belizean football -- the national team lost all three matches at the Copa Centroamericana and the country's CCL representative, Belmopan Bandits, was expelled from the 2014-15 competition -- 2015 is looking much better.
This is thanks in part to Verdes' historical goalless draw at home with Queretaro on Tuesday as they became the first ever Belize team to register a point in the CCL. In what was also the first ever CCL match played on Belizean soil, the hosts stayed compact and organized against the Liga MX Clausura finalists to scratch out the point. There is also enough of a threat up front in Deon McCaulay -- the joint-top scorer in 2014 World Cup qualification with 11 goals -- that Verdes could build upon their history-making result and possibly earn a win on Sept. 22 when Panama's San Francisco FC come to town.
5. Santa Tecla's U.S. connection
The fans at the Estadio Las Delicias in Santa Tecla, El Salvador, witnessed history of their own Thursday night as their club participated in its first ever CCL match: a 1-1 draw with Municipal of Guatemala. A glance at the Santa Tecla roster reveals some familiar names to fans in the United States.
Three of Santa Tecla's starters spent a significant amount of time playing in the U.S. at one time or another. Los Angeles-born and team captain Gerson Mayen once featured for now-defunct MLS side Chivas USA; Californian goalkeeper and hero of the El Salvadorian 2015 Clausura final, Derby Carrillo, has played for several clubs in the U.S., including Eric Wynalda's Cal FC that made a spirited run to the U.S. Open Cup fourth round in 2012. Midfielder Irvin Herrera played college soccer at Gardner-Webb in North Carolina and then Southern Wesleyan in South Carolina, and all three players regularly feature for the El Salvador national team. Not bad for a club who just three years ago played in El Salvador's second division.