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CONCACAF Champions League Group Stage Kicks off Tuesday

On Tuesday evening, CONCACAF group stage action begins.  The sixteen remaining teams have been placed in four groups.  Group A consists of Toronto FC, Real Salt Lake, Cruz Azul and Arabe Unido. Group B includes the Columbus Crew, Santos Laguna, Municipal and Joe Public.  Group C is made up of the Seattle Sounders, Saprissa, Monterrey and Marathon, while Toluca, the Puerto Rico Islanders, Olimpia and FAS of El Salvador are in Group D.  The Mexican Primera Division and MLS each have four teams involved, while the Puerto Rico Islanders represent the USSF D2.  FSC tv analyst Brian Dunseth considers Group C this year’s group of death.

Tuesday night games feature Toronto FC hosting Cruz Azul, while the Puerto Rico Islanders welcome Honduran club Olimpia to Juan Ramon Loubriel Stadium, and Monterrey hosts Costa Rican giant Saprissa.  All should be very interesting contests.

Toronto FC makes its first appearance in the group of the CCL after elinimating CD Motagua in the prelimary round.  Toronto FC made its CCL debut last season, but weren’t able to get into the group stage, so this is real progress for the third year team.  I’m sure BMO Field will be packed with vocal fans Tuesday night as Toronto FC face Cruz Azul, who are on a tear.   While Toronto FC is in third place in the MLS Eastern Conference with a 7-7-5 mark, Cruz Azul are in great form, just defeating former CCL champion Pachuca over the weekend 4-1, and lead Group 3 of the Mexican Primera League with a 3-0-1 mark, having scored nine goals and only allowing three, and put a 9-2 aggregate hurting on Panamanian club San Francisco in the preliminaries.  Additionally, Cruz Azul has reached the CCL finals the last two years so Toronto FC will have their work cut out for them.

But Toronto FC is capable, especially playing the first group game before their enthusiastic fans.  Preki’s team is led on the field by MLS and international veteran Dwayne De Rosario, who leads the club with eight goals.  His experience and savvy play have changed the direction of the team in a positive manner.  To add offense, Toronto FC acquired former Spanish international Mista (Miguel Angel Ferrer Martinez), although neither he or Canadian international  Julian de Guzman have netted yet for Toronto FC.  Chad Barrett, who scored two crucial goals in the preliminary round, will be out due to injury, as will fellow frontliner Maicon Santos.  Goalkeeper Stefan Frei will have to come up big, with a lot of support from his backline, to get a result, and someone besides DeRo and team assist leader Dan Gargan will have to step up on the attack. 

Cruz Azul are considered by many to be the favorite to win the CCL crown this time around.  Their history in the tournament, plus their fast start in the league are logical reasons to see them as favorites.  Led by captain Gerardo Torrado, the Mexican international with over 100 international caps and 150 appearances for La Maquina provides veteran presence for Enrique Meza’s club.  Emmanuel Villa has scored 28 goals in 40 games for Cruz Azul, and Mexican international Fausto Pinto was with CCL champion Pachuca last season.  I can’t wait to see this matchup, which will be televised on FSC at 7:00 pm CDT.

The Puerto Rico Islanders face Olimpia at home Tuesday night.  The USSF D2 Islanders have historically been a good tournament team, so one doesn’t think of them exactly as Cinderellas, especially coming off their Saturday win over the USSF D2 league leading Austin Aztex that lifted the Islanders to the .500 mark in USSF D2 with a 7-7-7 record.  Lucky sevens, eh?  The Islanders in fact haven’t lost in USSF D2 in their last seven matches.  Forwards David Foley, Nicholas Addlery and Josh Hansen and midfielder Keon Daniel have provided scoring punch, and the team ranks 3rd in goals scored, fourth in corner kicks taken and second in shots taken in USSF D2.  The team ranks in the middle of the league in goals allowed, but regular goalkeeper Bill Gaudette is a veteran of cup play.  USSF D2 fans will be rooting hard for the Islanders to represent well.  As far as I know, this game will not be televised.

The Islanders’ opponents. CD Olimpia, have won 22 Honduran league championships and two CONCACAF Champions Cup titles.  Founded in 1912, the team is based in Tegucigalpa, and has six members of the 2010 Honduran World Cup team on their roster.  Olimpia is also the only team to beat a Mexican team in Estadio Azteca, and the only Honduran team to beat Boca Juniors.  Olimpia is coming off to a 1-0-1 start in Liga Nacional, defeating Hispano 2-0 and drawing with Victoria 1-1 while a man down.   Los Albos are managed by Carlos Restrepo.  The Puerto Rico-Olimpia tilt begins at 7:00 pm CDT.

Finally, Monterrey hosts Saprissa at 9:00 pm CDT.  Los Rayados of Monterrey share the city with another Mexican Primera League club, Tigres de la UANL.   Monterrey is making its first CCL appearance, after winning the Primera League Apertura tournament last December, defeating Cruz Azul 6-4 on aggregate.  Monterrey are undefeated in 2010 Apertura league play so far, winning three times and drawing once.  Managed by Victor Manuel Vucetich, the team’s defense is anchored by longtime veteran Duilo  Davino in the center and feature Mexican international Luiz Perez and 37 year-old Jesus Arellano, who has played over 285 games for the Rayados.

Deportivo Saprissa have a proud history not only in Costa Rica but throughout the CONCACAF region.  Founded in 1935, El Monstuo Morado (The Purple Monster) represented CONCACAF in the 2005 FIFA Club World Cup, finishing third whil being the first non-Mexican club to represent in that competition.  Located in San Jose, Saprissa has won 29 league titles.  Led by Roy Myers, the team is captained on the field by Victor Cordero, who has been with Saprissa for 18 seasons.  Saprissa is coming off a 2-0 loss to Santos in league play, but have the best record in the Costa Rica Primera Division.  Monterrey must be prepared to get a good result at home, as Estadio Ricardo Saprissa is an almost impenetrable fortress for visitors to succeed in.  The game will be televised on Telefutura.

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