Friday, October 21, 2011

The CONCACAF Champions League group stage and you

TFC is in the knockout phase? TFC is in the knockout phase.
Our odyssey into the Champions League group phase this year started hot, ran arctic chill cold and ended us somewhere in purgatory. As a reference point, here are your final group standings. MLS pushed through Seattle, Toronto (wha?!) and the Galaxy, none of which were group winners. Your group champs? Morelia, Santos Laguna, Pumas and Monterrey. In case you had your doubts, Mexico still owns this competition.

MLS, which began group play 8-1-1 overall, finished 14-4-12 (remember, CONCACAF uses the W-D-L format unlike MLS, which uses W-L-D). Over the final four match weeks, that's a record of 6-3-11. Not so good. To what to we attribute the lackadaisical stumble over the finish line? For one, this confirms the ink spilled over the virility and difficulty of RSL's achievement last year. There was an effort amongst some fans to discredit the run based on... what exactly? The backlash was palpable, even on this site at times. It likely stems from the root that none of us knew how impressive that was, to be obsessively results-driven in this competition over a long period of time. And we still haven't reached the knockout phase yet, where things tend to get dicey on those away legs into the mouth of the beast.

FCD, pull up a seat and take notes. The Hoops famously became the first MLS team to win on Mexican turf, a plaudit they apparently were fine to take with them quietly into the offseason. After that win to open group stage on a resonant high note, FCD went 1-1-3 with bad losses strewn like land mines throughout the schedule. 0-2 to Pumas at home, 5-3 to previously winless Tauro away and the shocker of all shockers, 3-0 to Toronto this week. Walking Red calls it "the most famous, and impressive victory in the history of the club." As for FCD, they are MLS' great disappointment in this year's iteration as depth issues and a crowded schedule finally caught up. I dare not say that this will derail FCD's MLS Cup run, but it sure doesn't help an already wounded locker room.

In any case, it's been a group stage ride worth watching this year, even if it did leave the MLS fan in all of us a bit miffed at the way it ended. But three teams out of five in the next round? Not a bad return. We'll see you in the tourney.

- Colorado's ride ends here... the Rapids lost twice at home
- The Galaxy are a results machine spitting out nothing but wins right now
- So Monterrey is still the defending champ, Seattle discovered this week

And before we go, the MLS playoff field is frozen in place. New York did what we expected and qualified despite Henry's absence, and DC gave the Red Bulls a generous push. With the MLS slate a mostly academic endeavor this weekend, expect a special MLS playoff Grinder this weekend. Fun times are afoot, ladies and gents.

- Will Parchman


Jay said...

That last half of the group stage highlights how MLS roster limits, wage caps, and scheduling hamper it's teams performances. Every team will have depth issues, because they can't add more players -- and the players they CAN add will be limited because the teams won't have the wage space to add players of quality. That's part of the advantage that Mexican teams have over MLS teams.

Now, I'm not frowning on it. I know and accept why those limits are in place. It just needs to be recognized that the losses started piling up starting with LA's 2-1 loss to Morelia on September 13th, which just happens to open a window to the last 6 weeks of the MLS season. Fixture pile-up is cramping everyone's style at that point, players are fatigued, and league play is getting prioritized.

As things stand, this will continue, and none of us should be surprised.

Barry W. said...

Just a quick note, I'm fairly certain that CONCACAF's site is wrong in awarding Morelia first place in Group A. Since Galaxy, Morelia, and Alajuelense are all tied on H2H points, the next step is goal differential in H2H games. The Galaxy come out on top in that three way tie with a +1 differential, Morelia 0, and Alajuelense -1. It's bit confusing, but I'm pretty sure the Gals join the three Mexican sides as group winners.

Will Parchman said...

Seems as though you're correct. The CONCACAF bylaws back your assertion, but it looks like the site's editors went with overall differential instead of a three-way head-to-head. We could very well see an all-MLS quarterfinal with a Galaxy-TFC/Seattle matchup.

As for the MLS roster limitations, the only solution I can see in CONCACAF in the foreseeable future is to compensate for lack of numbers with high end talent. As the league's team-specific academies sprout wings we should see more Brek Sheas impacting these tournaments. Because we all know strength in numbers is not coming.