Skip to content

After strong first legs, can MLS teams advance in Champions League?

Mar 13, 2014, 3:52 PM EST

la_galaxy Getty Images

Two wins and a draw. Had you asked MLS fans before this week’s CONCACAF Champions League action, they’d probably be elated. Fans know how difficult it’s been to compete with Mexico’s best. Real Salt Lake’s run in the 2010-11 tournament still serves as MLS’s bright spot since the tournament’s rebrand.

For this week to serve as more than a moral victory, though, MLS’s three survivors need to get something out of Mexico. For Sporting Kansas City and LA Galaxy, both up 1-0 after their first legs with Cruz Azul and Tijuana (respectively), clean sheets will get them through. Having held their opponents without a crucial away goal, though, each can take a major step toward the final four if they score in Mexico. Whether it be a shut out or a score, both teams will need something next week.

San Jose’s road is more difficult, but thanks to Alan Gordon’s 95th minute “Gonnie-ism” in Santa Clara, Mark Watson’s team has a chance. The 1-1 result against visiting Toluca was a minor set back (giving the Diablos Rojos that potentially crucial away goal), but one score on the road would immediately shift the scales.

(CCL Results: San Jose 1-1 Toluca | Sporting KC 1-0 Cruz Azul | LA Galaxy 1-0 Tijuana)

Here’s where Major League Soccer’s trio stands after leg one, what we learned in the process, and heir chances to advance to the semifinals after next week’s second legs in Mexico.

Best chance: LA Galaxy (up 1-0; leg two at Tijuana on Tuesday)

Bruce Arena’s team used an early Samuel goal and second half heroics from Jaime Penedo to take a 1-0 lead at on Wednesday night. Though the Galaxy gave up significantly more chances than their opponents, last year’s acquisition of their Panamanian international paid off. Perhaps the Galaxy can’t depend on Penedo stealing results every night, but on Wednesday, it worked.

The good news for LA: They’ll likely play better on Tuesday. Hopefully, they won’t seem so work down in the second half. They also have the least travel, won’t be playing at altitude (unlike their MLS partners), and are arguably facing the worst team. Though Tijuana is talented, they’re not one of the top teams in Liga MX’s current tournament (eight out of 18).

One PST reader took exception to the description after last night’s action, but winning 1-0 at home truly is the equivalent of holding serve. Anything less, and you’d be giving something to your opponents. On Wednesday, LA merely did what they were supposed to do.

In that sense, we didn’t get a good idea whether LA or Tijuana is actually the better team. All we know is that LA’s result leaves them with the fewest obstacles for any MLS team on the path to the semifinals.

source: Getty ImagesGood shot: Sporting Kansas City (up 1-0; leg two at Cruz Azul on Wednesday)

The defending MLS champions gave the league’s strongest first leg performance, out-playing Cruz Azul in the first half while limiting the number of chances they gave up in the second. Had Mariano Pavone buried his second half opportunity, Sporting would be sitting in San Jose’s shoes, but thanks to the effort of a former Earthquake defender, Ike Opara, the Cruz Azul attacker couldn’t prevent his team from leaving Kansas with a loss.

Next Wednesday, however, Liga MX’s leaders will be back at Estadio Azul. They’ll be at altitude and playing at a venue where they haven’t lost since September. The last eight opponents to visit La Machina have been outscored 12-3, with Luis Fernando Tena’s team registering at least one goal in each game.

Sporting’s best chance to reach the semifinals would be a clean sheet, but Cruz Azul’s recent history says that’s unlikely. If, however, Sporting can snare a goal, they won’t need a win to move on. The results América (1-1), Toluca (1-1) and Santos Laguna (1-2) have put up during Cruz Azul’s eight-game unbeaten run would be enough to see Sporting into the final four.

Toughest road: San Jose Earthquakes (1-1; at Toluca on Wednesday)

No mystery here: The team with the fewest advantages on the scoreboard has the worst chance of moving on. This job isn’t difficult, folks. I just plug into the machine and let the obvious poor out.

There are other factors that make San Jose’s plight more difficult. They’ll be traveling the longest distance of MLS’s three quarterfinalists. They need to score twice to see the away goals rule work in their favor. They also may face a stronger Toluca side in leg two. Whereas José Cardozo left some of his best players out of his starting XI in Santa Clara, there’s no guarantee he’ll do the same in Mexico.

There is another, more basic reason why San Jose should be seen as a bigger underdog: They may not be as good as Sporting or LA. Between where the teams finished last season and the talent they’ll take into next week’s second legs, the Earthquakes aren’t quite on the same level as their MLS colleagues. Unfortunately, they’re facing a team that sits second in Mexico.

Let’s not get too pessimistic about this, though. What San Jose does well should come in particularly handing in the close games that are more likely to transpire in Champions League. If they can stay within one going into the match’s last stages — if they can take advantage of late defensive substitutes that lead to games being played in their opponent’s end — the Goonies may yet continue on their quest for Champions League gold.

Latest Posts
  1. Tim Cahill thinks Red Bulls are plainly ‘better’ than New England Revolution

    Nov 22, 2014, 9:47 PM EST

    Tim Cahill 2

    New York Red Bulls’ Designated Player Tim Cahill is far from doubting his team’s capabilities against the New England Revolution in the Eastern Conference Championship on Sunday.

  2. Jose Mourinho apologizes for criticizing supporters, grateful for Blues’ triumph over West Brom

    Nov 22, 2014, 7:12 PM EST

    Chelsea FC v FC Schalke 04 - UEFA Champions League Getty Images

    Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho apologized to supporters for criticizing the stadium atmosphere, while praising his team’s play in a 2-0 blanking of West Brom.

  3. Arsene Wenger on loss to Manchester United: ‘We dominated 80 percent of the time’

    Nov 22, 2014, 5:15 PM EST

    Everton v Arsenal - Premier League Getty Images

    His squad controlling possession and gathering a fair amount of chances on goal, Arsene Wenger believes his side deserved a better result against Manchester United.

  4. Premier League Sunday preview: Liverpool, Spurs take to road to face fellow strugglers Palace, Hull

    Nov 22, 2014, 5:03 PM EST

    Britain Soccer Premier League AP

    One game is a rematch of the 3-3 draw that left Luis Suarez in tears, but both Palace and Liverpool have much bigger things to worry about.

  5. Bundesliga roundup: Gotze, Lewandowski lead Bayern rout; Reus hurt in BVB draw

    Nov 22, 2014, 4:45 PM EST

    Germany Soccer Bundesliga AP

    Elsewhere, USMNT defenders Timmy Chandler (right) and John Anthony Brooks picked up wins in 90 minutes each for their clubs.

  6. Alan Pardew, Newcastle organization wishing the best for Ryan Taylor’s recovery

    Nov 22, 2014, 4:25 PM EST

    alan_pardew Getty Images

    Despite an wonderful 1-0 result over QPR to keep their winning run alive, Alan Pardew feels the pain of Ryan Taylor’s sudden injury.

  7. “Always annoyed” Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho: “At halftime it should be four or five nil”

    Nov 22, 2014, 3:38 PM EST

    Chelsea v West Bromwich Albion - Premier League Getty Images

    This season, he has all his players and no excuses. So The Special One is a little ticked off that his Blues aren’t pouring forth goals to match their dominant play.

  8. Alan Irvine calls Costa goal offside, bright spot was spectacular Ben Foster

    Nov 22, 2014, 3:35 PM EST

    alan_irvine Getty Images

    Irvine: “We actually went a goal down to a goal which I thought was offside and that makes life very difficult here.”

  9. Defiant win proves van Gaal’s Manchester United on the right track

    Nov 22, 2014, 3:32 PM EST

    Van Gaal was disappointed his team couldn't hand Chelsea their first defeat of the season. Getty Images

    Red Devils surge to victory away at Arsenal, as LVG’s masterplan is taking shape.

  10. MUST-WATCH: Lionel Messi ties La Liga goals record with fitting free kick

    Nov 22, 2014, 2:51 PM EST

    FBL-ESP-LIGA-BARCELONA-SEVILLA Getty Images

    And there’s still time Saturday to make the record his own, as the game is just at halftime.

  11. Three things we learned from Manchester United’s big win at Arsenal

    Nov 22, 2014, 2:34 PM EST

    Arsenal v Manchester United - Premier League Arsenal v Manchester United - Premier League

    What did we learn from United’s big win at the Emirates? Plenty. But here’s three things.

  12. Arsenal 1-2 Manchester United: Too little too late for Giroud and the chance-squandering Gunners

    Nov 22, 2014, 2:28 PM EST

    Rooney bagged what turned out to be the game-winner as United go fourth. Getty Images

    A testy affair that could’ve gotten Jack Wilshere a red card instead got him injured, and Arsenal had no finish at the Emirates.

  13. Klopp on Premier League: “If somebody will call me, then we will talk about it.”

    Nov 22, 2014, 1:00 PM EST

    Germany Soccer Bundesliga AP

    Klopp has been at Dortmund since 2008 when he arrived from Mainz, and would likely have his choice of jobs should Dortmund let him walk.

  14. Leicester City 0-0 Sunderland: Stalemate between relegation candidates

    Nov 22, 2014, 12:14 PM EST

    Leicester City v Sunderland - Premier League Getty Images

    Foxes and Black Cats cancel each other out at the King Power.

  15. Manchester City 2-1 Swansea City: Champs come back to take the points off game Swans

    Nov 22, 2014, 12:06 PM EST

    Lucasz Fabianski, Stevan Jovetic AP

    Bafetimbi Gomis should’ve put Swansea City level five minutes from time, but he tipped the ball over Hart and wide of the goal.

  16. Stoke City 1-2 Burnley: Clarets grab back-to-back wins, move off the bottom

    Nov 22, 2014, 12:04 PM EST

    Danny Ings Danny Ings

    Clarets stun Potters with first away win of the season.

Featured video

Preview: Arsenal vs. Manchester United