Skip to content

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

Mar 13, 2014, 3:52 PM EDT

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. USMNT player ratings: Johnson, Bradley, Dempsey diamonds in a rough, ugly win

    Jul 8, 2015, 12:08 AM EDT

    Team USA's Clint Dempsey (R) tries to get a loose ball from Honduras' Bryan Acosta (6) during the first half of a CONCACAF Gold Cup soccer match on Tuesday, July 7, 2015, at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas. (Steve Nurenberg/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/TNS via Getty Images) Getty Images

    We highly doubt any U.S. fans were impressed by more than 2-3 players in Tuesday’s Gold Cup opener, and that’s okay.

  2. 2015 Gold Cup: Three things we learned from the USA’s 2-1 victory over Honduras

    Jul 7, 2015, 11:41 PM EDT

    FRISCO, TX - JULY 07:  Clint Dempsey #8 of USA celebrates after scoring against Honduras during the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup Group A match between USA and Honduras at Toyota Stadium on July 7, 2015 in Frisco, Texas.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images) Getty Images

    From Alvarado to Zardes with Najar in between, Andy Edwards tells you what he saw in Frisco.

  3. USMNT 2-1 Honduras: Dempsey brace enough for sloppy Yanks

    Jul 7, 2015, 11:30 PM EDT

    FRISCO, TX - JULY 07:  Clint Dempsey #8 of USA scores against Honduras during the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup Group A match between USA and Honduras at Toyota Stadium on July 7, 2015 in Frisco, Texas.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images) Getty Images

    Next up in Group A is a Friday doubleheader in Foxborough, with Panama and Honduras opening the evening for the U.S. and Haiti.

  4. From London to Lisbon: Costa Rica’s Bryan Ruiz has a new club

    Jul 7, 2015, 10:30 PM EDT

    CANTON DE BELEN, COSTA RICA - JUNE 01:  Bryan Ruiz of Costa Rica holds the ball during Costa Rica training session ahead the beginning of Gold Cup 2015 at FEDEFUTBOL-Plycem Training Centre on June 01, 2015 in Canton de Belen, Costa Rica. (Photo by Arnoldo Robert/LatinContent/Getty Images) Getty Images

    Ruiz will join a potent attack with Islam Slimani and Fredy Montero.

  5. LOGO: Atlanta United unveils logo, makes name official at Tuesday event

    Jul 7, 2015, 9:12 PM EDT

    Atlanta United

    The idea of gold playing a big role is nice, although only the red separate this look from the Philadelphia Union.

  6. Panama 1-1 Haiti: Nazon’s dizzying move helps Les Grenadiers to surprising draw (video)

    Jul 7, 2015, 9:06 PM EDT

    FRISCO, TX - JULY 07:  Blas Perez #7 of Panama controls the ball against Jerome Mechack #3 of Haiti during the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup Group A match between Panama and Haiti at Toyota Stadium on July 7, 2015 in Frisco, Texas.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images) Getty Images

    Duckens Moses Nazon, take a bow: Your 86th minute goal helped start the 2015 Gold Cup in style.

  7. FOLLOW LIVE: USMNT begins Gold Cup defense versus Honduras (Lineups)

    Jul 7, 2015, 8:37 PM EDT

    @USSoccer @USSoccer

    Michael Bradley assumes the captain’s armband from Clint Dempsey and will earn cap No. 100 for his career in the Gold Cup.

  8. CONCACAF ends corporate partnership with FIFA scandal-embattled Traffic Sports USA

    Jul 7, 2015, 8:21 PM EDT

    concacaf

    It’s certainly one of those press releases that makes you think, “Well, I had just assumed that happened, but thanks for confirming.”

  9. WATCH: President Obama calls & congratulates USWNT, invites team to White House

    Jul 7, 2015, 7:52 PM EDT

    Obama USWNT

    All this on the heels of the USWNT announced as the first female team to received a ticker tape parade down New York City’s Canyon of Heroes.

  10. Galaxy’s Gerrard meets the media: “Very impressed with the standard” of MLS

    Jul 7, 2015, 7:01 PM EDT

    CARSON, CA - JULY 7: New Los Angeles Galaxy midfielder Steven Gerrard #8 poses with his jersey after a news conference on July 7, 2015 at StubHub Center in Carson, California. The former Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard is scheduled to play his first MLS match on Friday, July 17 at StubHub Center against San Jose Earthquakes. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images) Getty Images

    You get the feeling it’s impossible not to be motivated when Steven Gerrard is your teammate. Now toss in Robbie Keane.

  11. USWNT to become first females in 55 years to get ticker tape parade down NYC’s Canyon of Heroes

    Jul 7, 2015, 6:20 PM EDT

    USA v Germany: Semi Final - FIFA Women's World Cup 2015 USA v Germany: Semi Final - FIFA Women's World Cup 2015

    The last female to receive a ticker tape parade down that route was 1960 Olympic figure skating gold medalist Carol Heiss Jenkins.

  12. Three reasons Canada could surprise Group B (and beyond) at Gold Cup

    Jul 7, 2015, 4:58 PM EDT

    TORONTO, ON- JUNE 16  -   Tesho Akindele battles for a ball with Chad Bertrand as Team Canada plays Dominica in the second leg of World Cup qualifying   at BMO Field in Toronto.  June 16, 2015.        (Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images) Getty Images

    Their “no-name” defense hasn’t allowed a goal in four matches, and Canada could surprise you this month.

  13. United States midfielder Lauren Holiday announces plans to retire with Women’s World Cup title in hand

    Jul 7, 2015, 4:50 PM EDT

    VANCOUVER, BC - JULY 05:   Lauren Holiday #12 of the United States celebrates as she scores her first goal in the first half against Japan  in the FIFA Women's World Cup Canada 2015 Final at BC Place Stadium on July 5, 2015 in Vancouver, Canada.  (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images) Getty Images

    Lauren Holiday, 27, scored the eventual game-winning goal in the 2015 Women’s World Cup final.

  14. Lampard talks club, challenge, Gerrard: “For me this is as much of a challenge as Chelsea was, as Man City was” (video)

    Jul 7, 2015, 4:09 PM EDT

    Source: New York City FC Source: New York City FC

    “For me this is as much of a challenge as Chelsea was, as Man City was,” Lampard said. “I play football to win.”

  15. 2015 Gold Cup predictions: Can the USMNT win back-to-back titles? Here’s our picks…

    Jul 7, 2015, 3:45 PM EDT

    Championship - 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup Getty Images

    PST’s staff predict how the Gold Cup will play out as the USA, Mexico and Costa Rica clash to become CONCACAF champs.

  16. 2015 Gold Cup: USMNT player profiles – Forwards

    Jul 7, 2015, 3:05 PM EDT

    England v USA: Group C - 2010 FIFA World Cup Getty Images

    Altidore and Dempsey will lead the attack. But who else is in reserve?

  17. Where does Andrea Pirlo joining New York City FC rank in history of MLS mega-deals?

    Jul 7, 2015, 2:35 PM EDT

    Is he in the top five of superstars to join North America’s top-flight since the DP rule was introduced?

  18. 2015 Gold Cup: USMNT player profiles – Midfielders

    Jul 7, 2015, 1:59 PM EDT

    Mix Diskerud, USMNT Mix Diskerud, USMNT

    Will Yedlin start on the right? Have Bradley and Mix got the center locked down?

  19. Reflecting on Michael Bradley from 1-99, as he hits 100 USMNT caps vs. Honduras

    Jul 7, 2015, 1:10 PM EDT

    Michael Bradley, USMNT Getty Images

    A man who’ll go down as one of the USMNT’s all-time greats hits 100 caps tonight. A few thoughts on Il Generale.

  20. Gold Cup Today: USMNT face Honduras, Panama vs. Haiti kick things off – Day 1

    Jul 7, 2015, 12:15 PM EDT

    Honduras v United States Getty Images

    Day 1 of the 2015 Gold Cup is here, as the U.S. starts its title defense with a showdown in Texas.

Featured video

PST Extra: Done deals & transfer gossip