Club America throw down gauntlet in CONCACAF Champions League
The first legs of the CONCACAF Champions League are in the books with two teams -- Club America and Alajuelense -- all but booked for the semifinals, while the other two series are still very much up for grabs. Here are five takeaways from the week that was in the CCL.
1. Club America ruthlessly punish Saprissa
For a good stretch Saprissa were the dominant of the two sides in their Wednesday encounter with America. Playing in front of a frenzied crowd, the Costa Ricans swarmed the Mexican champions and should have had at least one goal by the hour mark. It was at that moment when the match, and the feeling inside the Saprissa Stadium, shifted. On came Oribe Peralta, the last of Gustavo Matosas' three substitutions, in addition to Rubens Sambueza and Pablo Aguilar, America's other two second-half subs. With that, America gained full control and took a page out of the Germany-Brazil book by ruthlessly punishing Saprissa, thumping three into the home team's net in a span of six minutes late in the half to quiet the crowd and earn a 3-0 win. It is hard to see anyone taking down this America team when they are at full-strength.
2. Montreal show the way for MLS
Put to the side for a moment the two second-half goals Montreal gave up in their 2-2 draw at Pachuca. It was disappointing to see a 2-0 lead fritter away, but for a good hour or so Montreal were terrific and played one of the best matches ever by an MLS side in Mexico. Perhaps future MLS teams in a CCL quarterfinal with a first leg in Mexico or in Central America will follow Montreal's lead and essentially have their preseason in enemy territory. Montreal looked ready, while Pachuca, who were playing with their starters, clearly underestimated their opponents and were left flummoxed by Dilly Duka.
3. DC United defense a disaster
Stop me if you've heard this one before. MLS team goes to Central America for a pivotal CCL match. MLS team says it knows it will be a hard match in front of a hostile crowd. MLS team takes the field, gets rattled and concedes early. That's what happened back in the group stage to Sporting Kansas City (Saprissa) and the Portland Timbers (Olimpia), and that's what happened Thursday night in Alajuelense, as Ben Olsen's team were hammered 5-2. Barely 150 seconds had been played and the home team already had two good looks at goal. The United defense and goalkeeper Andrew Dykstra -- filling in for usual No. 1 Bill Hamid -- were completely out of sorts and it was easy pickings for an Alajuelense team that had been rotating their squad in their domestic fixtures with the sole intention of making a mark in this tournament. It worked like a charm. DC were never comfortable. They lacked fitness and committed far too many errors to ever have a chance at securing a good result. With the return leg less than a week away, it's hard to think that DC United can turn the tables and win 3-0 or 4-1 in a chilly RFK Stadium.
4. Olimpia, Herediano do good business
During the winter, Olimpia and Herediano went about bulking up their roster with a clear focus on making the most of their CCL quarterfinal. Lo and behold the business done by both teams paid dividends in Tuesday night's 1-1 draw in Tegucigalpa. Colombian Javier Estupinan, who joined Los Leones in January, fired Olimpia into the lead just seconds before halftime with a breathtaking strike. That was answered by Cristian Lagos, who joined the Costa Rican side just days before the signing window closed, as the veteran striker picked up the crucial away goal for Herediano in the second half. With both teams dedicating a good amount of resources to their CCL campaigns, they will surely be happy with the return on investments received thus far.
5. Liga MX still the boss in CONCACAF
It is entirely possible that only one Liga MX side will reach the CCL's final four in Club America, but the way that Matosas' side completely ripped apart Saprissa in the final 20 minutes of their match, it is hard not to think that Liga MX will once again represent the region at the Club World Cup. When Las Aguilas need to turn it up a notch, they can, and the firepower possessed in attack has no rival among the remaining candidates. And with Montreal now having Pachuca's attention, a win in Montreal is not beyond Los Tuzos, which could well lead to another all-Liga MX final.