July 26, 2011

2011-12 CONCACAF Champions League Preview and Predictions

The tide of Real Salt Lake’s throttling run has receded, and a new edition of the CONCACAF Champions League is underway.

Created in 2008, the CONCACAF Champions League is the face-lifted successor of the CONCACAF Champions’ Cup, the former North American club competition. Modeled after it’s fellow counterpart across the Atlantic, the UEFA Champions League, the tournament features league and domestic champions of its respective nations.

In the new tournament’s existence, Major League Soccer has been given three berths into the tournament, the winners of the MLS Cup and the MLS Supporters’ Shield earn a direct bye into the Group Stages of the tournament, while the MLS Cup runner-up earns a spot in the Preliminary Round, a two-leg series to earn a spot in the Group Stage. Additionally, the United States is allocated a fourth spot, which is given to the U.S. Open Cup champion.

Finally, with Canada, the winner of Canada’s domestic competition, the Canadian Championship, earns a berth in the tournament as well, playing first in the preliminaries.

This upcoming season, five MLS sides will be playing in the fourth edition of the tournament, and thanks to Real Salt Lake’s recent success, the importance, as well as the expectations, have risen significantly for all the American and Canadian clubs playing for the North American crown.

Colorado Rapids

How they got here: 2010 MLS Cup champions

Current Record: (7-6-10) 5th West, 7th Overall

The most unsettling feeling as the Rapids hoisted the Philip F. Anschutz Trophy was the reality check that...the Rapids would be playing in the Champions League. A shakey, mid table team, direct berth in the continental tourney? Jarring, to say the least. For a brief moment in 2011, it seemed like the defending champions could handle CCL well.

But that was in April. It’s July, and CCL is brewing around the corner. If this side wants to actually compete, they will need to find attacking solutions and put emphasis on it.

I do not see that happening, and therefore, I see them staying put in Group Stage.

Group Stage Prediction: 3rd in Group B

FC Dallas

How they got here: 2010 MLS Cup finalists

Current Record: (11-5-6) 2nd West, 2nd Overall

If you look at the ranks of FC Dallas: Brek Shea, Marvin Chavez, George John and Kevin Hartman; this FC Dallas squad is top heavy on talent and arguably one of the toughest and flashiest teams on the continent. Yes, I said the continent. The Schellas Hyndman led side has the capability to be the first MLS side to defeat Mexican opposition on Mexican soil, and determining by the mentality in the Lone Star State, they are taking this as a golden opportunity.

If they do so, the MLS Cup finalists might see themselves in another Champions League final, but its up to the abrupt storming of the center of the pitch by Shea, the quick finishing by Chavez, the impeccable defending of John and, of course, the acrobatics of Hartman. Right now, if any MLS side can not only win their Group, but make the CCL finals, it’s Dallas. The depth is there, the strength is there.

Preliminary Round Prediction: Defeat Alianza

Group Stage Prediction: 1st in Group C

Los Angeles Galaxy

How they got here: MLS Supporters Shield winners, with the best regular season record (17-7-8)

Current Record: (11-2-9) 1st West, 1st Overall

The defending regular season champions will look to retribute themselves following an outright humiliating letdown in last year’s tournament. Being the lone MLS side to not qualify for the Group Stages, the Galaxy fell to second division side, Puerto Rico Islanders, losing 1-4 at home. The Galaxy managed to nab a 2-1 away victory, but it the earlier match had too much of a deficit for the Galaxy to overcome.

With the Supporters’ Shield to their name, the Galaxy find themselves earning a straight berth in the Group Stage, and with it, an additional six matches over the next three months. But with a star studded lineup, and a squad bolstering some of the best depth in the league, Bruce Arena and company should not expect any complaints about too much playing, nor traveling.

Group Stage Prediction: 1st in Group A

Seattle Sounders FC

How they got here: 2010 U.S. Open Cup champions

Current Record: (11-2-9) 3rd West, 3rd Overall

Preliminary Round Prediction: Deft. San Francisco

Group Stage Prediction: 2nd in Group D

Toronto FC

How they got here: 2011 Canadian Championship champions

Current Record: (3-11-9) 9th East, 17th Overall

By far the weakest MLS side in the Champions League, it comes to be no surprise that Toronto FC have perhaps the lowest expectations in the tournament.

At minimal, given their right of passage into Group Stages last year, and being arguably one of the strongest sides to be snubbed from the knockout round, the expectations might be to match their Canadian rivals, Montreal Impact, and earn a berth into the quarterfinals.

With literally no hope of making the playoffs and the Canadian Championship well over, this tournament is practically all that the Reds have left to play for.

Therefore, I see Winter and company taking this tournament seriously. But with the lack of talent that weakens TFC, they’ll need more than that to make any noise in this tournament.

Preliminary Round Prediction: Deft. Real Esteli

Group Stage Prediction: 3rd in Group C

About the Author

Tyler Walter

Author & Editor

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