MLS’s CCL Dream Deferred Yet Again

A team from Major League Soccer will win the CONCACAF Champions League some day. Just not this year.

After Seattle went out to Santos Laguna in a 1-1 second-leg draw on Tuesday night, the LA Galaxy represented MLS’s last hope for a 2013 CCL finalist. Their task was nearly identical to the one Seattle faced on Tuesday: They were playing on the road in Mexico, and they trailed by a goal after the first leg. Indeed, the Galaxy’s degree of difficulty was slightly higher, since Monterrey had scored two away goals in their first-leg win at Los Angeles.

Bruce Arena’s side had been 10 minutes away from taking a 1-0 win down to Mexico for the second leg when the visitors’ two biggest threats, Mexican striker Aldo De Nigris and his Chilean counterpart Humberto Suazo, each struck in the waning moments to send LA to a severely deflating loss. But the Galaxy have Robbie Keane and Juninho and a rounding-into-form Landon Donovan, and their fans had hopes that they could bag the two goals needed in the return match to either win the tie outright or send it into extra time.

LA generated some chances, but Monterrey ultimately showed why they’re the two-time defending champs. Highlights here:

Real Salt Lake’s narrow loss to Monterrey in the 2011 final is looking like a bigger missed opportunity with each passing year. Jason Kreis’s team got a 2-2 draw on the road in the first leg that year, only to fall 1-0 at home in front of an amped-up crowd at Rio Tinto Stadium. Ouch.

Monterrey and Santos Laguna will meet for the trophy in a rematch of last year’s final. The two-leg decider is set for April 24 and May 1.

Two Yoots: Pair of 19-Year-Old Americans Help Galaxy, Sounders Reach CCL Semifinals

For the first time in the history of the CONCACAF Champions League, there are two clubs from Major League Soccer in the final four. Seattle and Los Angeles both advanced to the semis this week, eliminating Tigres of Mexico and Herediano of Costa Rica, respectively, and both got key goals from 19-year-olds who came up through the clubs’ academies. That’s called living right.

Here’s the Galaxy’s Jose Villareal, who was born in Inglewood, Calif., in 1993. You probably remember 1993 like it was yesterday. Villareal is fresh from a standout performance with the U.S. U-20s at the CONCACAF Championships, where he bagged three goals in four games. Last night versus Herediano, he kept his personal momentum going, scoring the second goal to spark LA to a 4-1 win:

Go ahead, watch it again. See the stepover, the spin-o-rama, and the deadly left-footed finish to the far post. Pure class in a glass, as Ray Hudson would say.

The previous night in Seattle, the Sounders fell behind Tigres’s B squad and looked to be on their way out of the CCL. Their 19-year-old right back, DeAndre Yedlin, was beaten—some say fouled—on the play that led to Tigres’s goal and put Seattle in a 2-0 aggregate hole.

The young Seattle native—in his CCL debut and just his second appearance for the Sounders—quickly made amends, scoring a sweet equalizer and turning in an excellent, assured second-half performance.

Check out his goal:

Yedlin was not part of the U.S. U-2o team that qualified for this summer’s World Cup in Turkey, but if he keeps up his current form—he was named to the MLS Team of the Week last week, becoming the first rookie ever to earn the honor in his professional debut—you can bet that coach Tab Ramos will call him in for the tournament.

Bonus Yoot

Another player who was not part of that U-20 qualifying team, but could play his way onto it, is Villareal’s teammate in LA, 18-year-old Jack McBean of Newport Beach, Calif. A big kid with skill and a nose for goal, McBean is the youngest signing in Galaxy history, having put pen to paper with the team in April 2011 at age 16.

Here he is late in last night’s game against Herediano, taking a quick restart and curling a shot into the far side netting to make it 4-1 LA:

The MLS academy system, founded in 2006 and streamlined in ’08, is starting to bear fruit. The 2011 U.S. U-20 team featured just one academy product; this year’s edition featured four—as well as two (Benji Joya and Daniel Cuevas) who split their youth development between US academy sides and the Santos Laguna (Mexico) youth system.

Seattle Squeaks Past Undermanned Tigres to Advance to CCL Semifinals

It came against a reserve-heavy side—and one that took a 1-0 lead (2-0 aggregate) before going down to 10 men just before halftime—but Seattle’s 3-1 win over Tigres last night at CenturyLink Field was a slab of history nonetheless. The victory marked the first time an MLS team had eliminated a Mexican side from the CONCACAF Champions League in the competition’s current format.

Get a load of the series-tying goal by new Seattle signing Djimi Traoré:

The Sounders created chances in the early going, but couldn’t put any of them away, and their wastefulness was punished in the 23rd minute, when former Chivas USA defender Jonny Bornstein started a counter for Tigres that led to a goal by Elias Hernandez. Down 2-0 on aggregate, Seattle would need three goals in the next 70-odd minutes to survive.

A second yellow card to Tigres midfielder Manuel Viniegra opened a door, and the Sounders barged through. Nineteen-year-old DeAndre Yedlin, a Seattle native and Sounders FC academy product, started the rally with a 30-yard volley. Traoré followed with his golazo, and striker Eddie Johnson capped the rally with a blazing run behind the Tigres defense in the 75th minute.

Seattle then survived a stoppage-time scare and held on for the huge win.

Complete highlights here:

The Sounders now advance to the semifinals of the CCL, where they will meet the winner of the Santos Laguna–Houston series, which wraps up tonight (Fox Soccer, 8:00 pm ET). The Dynamo hold a 1-0 lead heading into that second leg in Torreon, Mexico.

Did U.S. Soccer and MLS Turn the Tide in CONCACAF this Week?

JVillareal

 

The United States U-20 team shook off a slow start in the 2013 CONCACAF Championships and went on to produce solid wins over Canada and Cuba to advance to the final against Mexico in Estadio Cuauhtemoc in Puebla, Mexico, last Sunday.

In that game, with only 12 fit outfield players (several guys had departed for their club teams once World Cup qualification was secure with the win over Canada), and with more than 40,000 hostile fans looking on, the young Americans went toe-to-toe with the home side, giving just as good as they got, if not better. They gave up an early goal (after starting the game as the aggressors), but responded quickly with one of their own.

From there, both sides created chances in a wide-open free-flowing game. (Highlights here.) The U.S. ran out of gas late—hobbled striker Jose Villareal (above right) had to stay on the field because they had no subs—and gave up a pair of goals in extra time, but they made a statement in the game nonetheless.

Here’s coach Tab Ramos after the game:

“This shows the character of the players that we have coming up in the U.S. Not only are we playing in a difficult environment, but we take a goal early when we’re attacking and the players responded.”

He acknowledged that the main goal was to clinch a World Cup berth, and once that was done, the secondary aim was to try to win the tournament on Mexican soil. They came closer than just about anyone would’ve expected beforehand, and Ramos suggested the tournament was a valuable learning experience for his group:

“There’s no doubt that these are the games where you see the players and how they respond. I have to give the players a lot of credit because it was their first time playing in a situation like this and I think they respond incredibly. They played a great game and I’m very proud of that. I’m happy with my team. I’m satisfied that [the final] was a game in which either one of the teams could’ve won and I think the team did a great job.”

The coach can also take heart in the fact that this wasn’t even his top group of players. There were several first-choice players out injured, and as we said, several others left the team in mid-tournament to rejoin their clubs. The Yanks should be interesting to watch in the U-20 World Cup this summer, and they’ve clearly narrowed the gap between themselves and their neighbors to the South.

If results pan out the way the three MLS clubs involved in the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals would like, much the same could be said of the U.S. domestic league and its more longstanding regional rivals.

The Houston Dynamo, Seattle Sounders, and LA Galaxy all produced decent results in CCL play this week, and all have a fighting chance to advance to the semifinals.

Houston edged last year’s finalist Santos Laguna 1-0 in a hard-fought game at BBVA Compass Stadium, getting an 89th-minute goal from Brad Davis. They’ll be hard-pressed to hold on to that advantage in the second leg at the foreboding Estadio Corona, Santos Laguna’s home stadium, but we wouldn’t put it past Dominic Kinnear and his men in orange.

Seattle lost 1-0 on the road to Tigres, but they’ll come home to the rowdy confines of CenturyLink Field looking to overturn that margin in next week’s second leg.

The Galaxy have the best chance of all, having locked down a 0-0 first-leg draw away to Costa Rican side Herediano. Each team hit the crossbar, and LA had a goal (by the in-form Mike Magee) called back after a dubious offside ruling. A win at the Home Depot Center in the second leg and they’re through.

MLS has never had more than one semifinalist in the history of the CCL. If things go their way next week, they could lock up three of the final four spots.

That would send a message to the region, if not the world, and put the league in a pretty good position to lift its first CCL trophy in the tournament’s current incarnation. (D.C. United won an earlier version of the CCL, in 1998, when the event featured eight teams instead of the current 24.)

Depending on how things play out in the CCL this spring, and the U-20 World Cup this summer, this week in early March could go down as a pivotal one.

CONCACAF Champions League: Beckham Leads LA’s 5-2 Rout of Isidro Metapan

LA Galaxy midfielder David Beckham created two goals and scored one to guide his team from an early 1-0 deficit to a 5-2 drubbing of visiting El Salvadoran side Isidro Metapan in CONCACAF Champions League group play last night.

Playing without attacker Landon Donovan, the Galaxy nonetheless created plenty of chances and could have won by an even greater margin against a Metapan side that was reportedly shorthanded as well. Four Metapan players, two of them starters, were unable to make the trip due to visa issues, the team said.

Check out the highlights and see if you can tell why Robbie Keane was sent off in the 70th minute:

Looked to us like Keane was booked for what the ref incorrectly believed was a dive, and then, when Keane appeared to request a sub from the LA bench, the official misinterpreted the gesture as something hostile directed at him, and went to his back pocket for the red. Two quick mistakes by the ref, and just like that, Keane is out of the next CCL tilt.

The Galaxy are grouped with Metapan and the Puerto Rico Islanders and must win the group outright to advance to the quarterfinals. See the complete CCL standings here.

CONCACAF Champions League: Toronto FC 5, CD Aguila 1

El Salvadoran side CD Aguila were the consummate guests in their visit to BMO Field last night for their CONCACAF Champions League opener against Toronto FC.

They held the deepest defensive line imaginable, allowing TFC to make themselves comfortable in midfield, and their defenders kept a courteous distance from Reds attackers in the final third, letting them tee up shots at a practice-session pace (see Reggie Lambe’s 48th-minute strike).

It looked like Emily Post designed their game plan, and the lopsided scoreline could have been worse.

Check it out:

Big nights for TFC youngsters Lambe (two goals), Ashtone Morgan (two assists), and Luis Silva (goal, two assists).

Toronto returns to CCL action on Aug 28, when they host Santos Laguna and U.S. international Herculez Gomez.

Herediano 1, Real Salt Lake 0: Murphy’s Law In Full Effect for RSL

Real Salt Lake opened group play in the CONCACAF Champions League last night with an away game against Costa Rican side Herediano.

It did not go according to coach Jason Kreis‘s plan.

After giving up a 14th-minute goal to Elias Aguilar, the visitors missed several chances of their own, had one center back sent off in the 58th minute, and lost their other center back to injury just two minutes later.

The highlights:

Did Nat Borchers’ red card (at the 1:16 mark of the clip) look deserved to you? His studs were down, he didn’t come over the ball, and he appeared to make only glancing contact. A straight red for that was a bit harsh, we’d say

Down a man, and with a makeshift backline for the final half hour, RSL could not rally and must now make up the points in their remaining three group-stage games.

They return to CCL action on August 21, when they host Panamanian club Tauro.