The fifth edition of the CONCACAF Champions League begins Tuesday evening with two matches featuring the defending two-time champions Monterrey in one contest and Real Salt Lake of MLS in the other. The 2011 US Open Cup champion representative Seattle Sounders open their third consecutive CCL campaign Thursday.
Sounders celebrate third Open Cup title | photo: Gerald Barnhart
The reigning three-time Open Cup champion Sounders, who will try for an unprecedented fourth August 8 in Kansas City, face Trinidad & Tobago side Caledonia AIA in their first match of group-play as the event kicks off under a revised format that has seen the elimination of the Preliminary Round that was utilized the past four years. Instead of the 16 non-seeded teams playing in a two-leg series to advance to the four groups of four, the tournament has shifted to a group format that has eight groups of three, leaving little room for error while providing more schedule flexibility.
The Sounders’ group also features Marathon, who return to the tournament for a fourth appearance after failing to qualify for last year’s event. The two sides previously squared off in the 2010-11 Group Phase with the Hondurans winning the opening match at home, 2-1, and the Sounders taking the second, 2-0, in Seattle. Caledonia AIA is making its first appearance in the tournament, and is the fourth different side to represent T&T.
Two of the Sounders’ four fellow MLS sides in the event are also kicking off their CCL campaigns this week. Real Salt Lake faces Herediano (Costa Rica) Tuesday night. Canadian champion Toronto FC opens against Aguila (El Salvador) Wednesday. Tauro (Panama) is the third team in RSL’s group while Toronto’s group features last year’s runner-up Santos Laguna.
The Houston Dynamo play their first game August 22 versus FAS and the LA Galaxy open up the following night against Isidro Metapan (El Salvador). Olimpia (Honduras) is the third team in Houston’s group. The Galaxy’s group features Caribbean power and CCL darling Puerto Rico Islanders, who stunned the Galaxy two years ago in the Preliminary Round. The US Second Division NASL entry reached the tournament yet again and will begin their campaign this Wednesday against Metapan.
The Islanders are one of only three teams that have advanced to the event all five years. Group foe Metapan, who eliminated Puerto Rico in the Preliminary Round a year ago, is one and and Olimpia of Honduras is the other. On the flip side, only five of the 24 teams are making their CCL debuts, two of them from Mexico. All five MLS teams have played in the event previously.
1: Toronto FC (MLS, 4th appearance)… Aguila (El Salvador, 1st appearance)… Santos Laguna (Mexico, 4th appearance)
2: Real Salt Lake (MLS, 2nd appearance)… Herediano (Costa Rica, 3rd appearance)… Tauro (Panama, 4th appearance)
3: Houston Dynamo (3rd appearance)… Olimpia (Honduras, 5th appearance)… FAS (El Salvador, 2nd appearance)
4: Seattle Sounders (MLS, 4th appearance)… Caledonia AIA (T&T, 1st appearance)… Marathon (Honduras, 4th appearance)
5: LA Galaxy (MLS, 3rd appearance)… Puerto Rico Islanders (NASL, 5th appearance)… Isidro Metapan (El Salvador, 5th appearance)
6: Alajulense (Costa Rica, 3rd appearance)… Real Esteli (Nicaragua, 3rd appearance)… UANL Tigres (Mexico, 1st appearance)
7: Chorrillo (Panama, 1st appearance)… Monterrey (Mexico, 3rd appearance)… Municipal (Guatemala, 4th appearance)
8: Guadalajara (Mexico, 1st appearance)… W Connection (T&T, 2nd appearance)… Xelaju (Guatemala, 2nd appearance)
New format brings new CCL challenges
Aguila to test revamped TFC in CCL
Team Preview: Seattle look to build on solid showing
Team Preview: Galaxy look to re-establish credentials
Team Preview: RSL get one more crack at the crown
Team Preview: Houston to draw on past experiences
Team Preview: Toronto look to repeat unlikely showing
Sounders glad for improved travel schedule in 2012
With tough road test looming, RSL ready to get going
Mariner admits road will be rough for Toronto FC
RSL begin quest at Costa Rica’s Herediano
Islanders begin CONCACAF Champions League play on Wednesday