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. MLS Snapshot: Real Salt Lake 1-1 New York Red Bulls

    Jul 31, 2014, 12:23 AM EDT

    Chicago Fire v New York Red Bulls Getty Images

    Thierry Henry’s second half equalizer takes earns a point at Rio Tinto.

  2. MLS Snapshot: New England Revolution 3-0 Colorado Rapids

    Jul 30, 2014, 10:43 PM EDT

    New York Red Bulls v New England Revolution Getty Images

    The Revs’ eight-game losing streak ends thanks to another strong night from Lee Nguyen.

  3. MLS Snapshot: D.C. United 3-0 Toronto FC

    Jul 30, 2014, 9:20 PM EDT

    D.C. United's Eddie Johnson scored for the first time since being traded to the club this winter. His 84th minute goal left his team's game with Montréal tied, 1-1. (Photo: AP Photos) AP

    The Red fall nine points back of second place United in the Eastern Conference.

  4. Southampton’s replacement for Luke Shaw: Ryan Bertrand, on loan

    Jul 30, 2014, 8:27 PM EDT

    Screen Shot 2014-07-30 at 3.46.35 PM

    24-year-old defender loaned out for the seventh time.

  5. Ugly scenes in Northern Ireland as Mexican U-19 player attempts to kick opponent’s head during Milk Cup brawl

    Jul 30, 2014, 7:29 PM EDT

    Screen Shot 2014-07-30 at 4.26.41 PM

    Game is eventually cut short after a yet unnamed player aimed at the head of a fallen opponent.

  6. Atlético Madrid latest club linked with Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernández

    Jul 30, 2014, 6:46 PM EDT

    Chicharito Getty Images

    Atlético’s interest could develop into Chicharito’s best option.

  7. Nick De Santis no longer sporting director in Montréal

    Jul 30, 2014, 5:58 PM EDT

    500px-Montreal_Impact_(MLS)_logo

    Nick De Santis will stay with the Impact, albeit in an administrative role.

  8. Romelu Lukaku completes permanent, $47 million move to Everton

    Jul 30, 2014, 5:11 PM EDT

    MartinezLukaku Getty Images

    Everton’s leading scorer returns to Goodison on a permanent basis.

  9. NWSL implements cooling break procedure

    Jul 30, 2014, 4:01 PM EDT

    NWSL logo

    With immediate effect, U.S.’s women’s league will pause mid-half if when it’s too hot.

  10. VIDEO: Liverpool fan from New Jersey cries, loses the plot, after meeting Gerrard

    Jul 30, 2014, 3:12 PM EDT

    Liverpool fan

    Liverpool roll into town and people freak out! Watch this incredible reaction to Stevie G signing autographs.

  11. Report: US to play friendly vs. Colombia in San Antonio

    Jul 30, 2014, 2:46 PM EDT

    Brazil Soccer WCup Belgium US AP

    Reports from Texas state Jurgen Klinsmann’s side are playing Colombia in September.

  12. Philadelphia Union sign Algerian World Cup star Rais Mbolhi

    Jul 30, 2014, 2:10 PM EDT

    Germany v Algeria: Round of 16 - 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Getty Images

    Union grab Algerian goalkeeper Mbolhi, throw MacMath’s future in doubt.

  13. FIFA’s senior vice-president Julio Grondona dies, Argentina mourns

    Jul 30, 2014, 1:42 PM EDT

    FBL-WC2014-QUALIFIERS-ARG-VEN Getty Images

    One of the most influential men in world soccer passed away on Wednesday at the age of 82.

  14. Premier League will use vanishing spray for 2014-15 season

    Jul 30, 2014, 1:07 PM EDT

    Morocco Soccer Club World Cup AP

    After success at the 2014 World Cup, vanishing spray is coming to the PL.

  15. Manchester United’s Luke Shaw agrees he’s not fit enough after Louis van Gaal criticism

    Jul 30, 2014, 12:45 PM EDT

    Luke Shaw Andrea Ranocchia AP

    Shaw: “I didn’t come into United thinking it’s going to be much harder and that’s something I made a mistake on.”

  16. PHOTOS: Scantily clad Cristiano Ronaldo poses for record-breaking magazine cover

    Jul 30, 2014, 12:03 PM EDT

    ronaldo cover final

    Ronaldo flexing the abs as he is set to appear in the largest-ever Men’s Health front cover campaign.

  17. VIDEO: Manchester United dominate Inter, win on penalties in Washington D.C.

    Jul 30, 2014, 11:18 AM EDT

    International Champions Cup 2014 - Inter Milan v Manchester United Getty Images

    United make it three wins from three on their U.S. tour. Watch the highlights from Van Gaal’s men in action.

  18. Manchester United reach “verbal agreement” on $80 million Arturo Vidal deal

    Jul 30, 2014, 10:45 AM EDT

    Arturo Vidal AP

    Will United splash the cash to sign Vidal in central midfield?

  19. Transfer Rumor Roundup: Cuadrado to Manchester United, Lukaku to Everton

    Jul 30, 2014, 9:11 AM EDT

    Colombia v Uruguay: Round of 16 - 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Getty Images

    United to splash the cash? Lukaku on his way out of Chelsea? All the latest gossip, right here.