Mar 13, 2014, 3:52 PM EST
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.
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.
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.
Jan 24, 2015, 11:00 PM EST
The bitterness is flowing freely from Falcao’s agent as he plots the Colombian striker’s next move to a “world’s best-seven team.”
Jan 24, 2015, 8:45 PM EST
If MLS is good enough for Italian national teamers, why isn’t it good enough for U.S. national teamers?
Jan 24, 2015, 7:45 PM EST
Barcelona were stunning as they put a half-dozen past Elche, while Real stumbled to victory. Elsewhere, AC Milan are very bad.
Jan 24, 2015, 7:04 PM EST
The Baby Yanks are headed back to the Big Dance this summer.
Jan 24, 2015, 5:45 PM EST
A number of PL giants fell on Saturday, leaving Arsenal, West Ham and Aston Villa shaking in their boots.
Jan 24, 2015, 4:54 PM EST
The squad is set for the first games of 2015, following a late addition and a number of cuts.
Jan 24, 2015, 4:20 PM EST
After four games played, absolutely nothing separates any of the four teams in Group D. Nothing.
Jan 24, 2015, 3:23 PM EST
“Frustration is not the right word, embarrassed would be more appropriate.”
Jan 24, 2015, 2:51 PM EST
Catch up on all the latest rumors and gossip, right here.
Jan 24, 2015, 2:08 PM EST
Cristiano Ronaldo was sent off for Real Madrid, but Gareth Bale saved three points with a late-game penalty.
Jan 24, 2015, 1:16 PM EST
Chelsea, Manchester City and Southampton were all upset in one of the craziest rounds in FA Cup history.
Jan 24, 2015, 12:29 PM EST
Another Premier League giant is out of the FA Cup as Middlesbrough got the result of a lifetime.
Jan 24, 2015, 12:05 PM EST
Madness at Stamford Bridge as The Bantams came from two goals down to knock Chelsea out of the FA Cup.
Jan 24, 2015, 11:38 AM EST
Middlesbrough are poised to knock the defending Premier League champions out of the FA Cup.
Jan 24, 2015, 11:04 AM EST
Southampton and Crystal Palace combined to score five first-half goals in a wild FA Cup match.
Jan 24, 2015, 9:49 AM EST
Unfortunately, the strike wasn’t enough to save Swansea City from defeat.
Jan 24, 2015, 9:23 AM EST
Knowing that Mancini knows Yaya well, we’ll present the comments in case something comes up.
Jan 24, 2015, 8:30 AM EST
Jurgen Klinsmann knows that Altidore’s move to MLS is a risk and an opportunity.
Jan 24, 2015, 7:50 AM EST
For every backheel volley highlight, there was a story like his nearly fighting Wilfried Zaha in an England U-21 match.
Jan 23, 2015, 11:10 PM EST
Check out the stats behind the sacks as the League Managers Association releases its quarterly report.
- Italy head coach Antonio Conte supports Sebastian Giovinco’s move to MLS 3
- USMNT U-20s defeat El Salvador, 2-0, qualify for 2015 U-20 World Cup 0
- Jurgen Klinsmann names 23-man roster for USMNT friendlies vs. Chile, Panama 0
- Africa Cup of Nations roundup: Ivory Coast, Cameroon in 1-1 draws as Group D up for grabs 0
- Mourinho on loss: “Me and the players must feel ashamed” 0
- FA Cup roundup: Top-three Premier League teams all eliminated at home 1