Thursday, August 6, 2009

8/6/09: "The Group Of Death" -CONCACAF Group C Preview


The Mexican club Cruz Azul (also known as Los Cementeros) have been Champions of Mexico eight times, only beaten by Toluca in total Mexican league championships with nine. They have won the CONCACAF Champions Cup 5 times(three years in a row from 1969 to 1971) and twice in (1996, 1997). The Cement Machine nevertheless hasn't had much success in CONCACAF in between. Cruz Azul looks for another golden age in CONCACAF competition as they hope to build on their successful run last year to the CONCACAF Champions League final. Cruz Azul beat fellow group C member, the Puerto Rico Islanders, on penalties in the semifinals to get to the final against fellow Mexican side Atlante. But, a ticket to Dubai wasn't in Cruz Azul's future as the Cementeros lost on aggregate in the final 2-0 to the surprise Atlante.

Mexican international Gerraldo Terrado(pictured above) has 96 caps for their country and is the Captain and link up between the defense and the attack. He sort of plays a similiar game to O'Rourke, although 2-3 inches smaller.

Cruz Azul are in rebound mode after a horrible 2009 Clasura, where the team only picked up 13 points from a possible 51 finishing last place in the league of 18. Think NY Red Bulls of Mexico.


C.D. Saprissa are the outright kings of Costa Rica. Owned by Mexican billionaire Jorge Vergara (who also owns Chivas and Chivas USA), Los Marados over their history have racked up 28 national titles (6 in a row from 1972 to 1977). Saprissa also can boast the most appearances out of any club in the region in the CONCACAF Champions Cup/League final(7 total- 3 won, 4 runner up). Their home called La Cueva del Monstruo (The Monster's Cave) also isn't a joy to visit.

The Morados most prolific goalscorer is Alonso Solis(pictured below), the Costa Rican international has scored around 90 goals in 180 appearances for Saprissa. Another interesting player is former MLS-er Douglas Sequira who played with RSL and Chivas USA and who has also signed with Saprissa this season. Saprissa's team is stocked with only Costa Ricans, Jorge Vergara(a believer in nationalism) wants it that way as Chivas only has Mexicans and the same might be said some day about Chivas USA.

With the toughest crowd out of anyone in the group(I give us the nod not so far behind for second) and with Cruz Azul's horrible last season in Mexico, Saprissa has to be odds on favorites. Although, Saprissa are not Champions of Costa Rica either, finishing 3rd out of 12 teams last year.


Colin Clarke has turned the Islanders around, from nobodies with their highest finish in the USL being sixth before his arrival last year to finishing first in 2008, winning 15 out of their 30 games and tying 9 more(54 points on the year). That wasn't all though, Clarke also somehow got the finacially strapped Islanders all the way to the semifinal of last year's CONCACAF Champions League before eventually losing out to fellow group member Cruz Azul on penalties.

The Crew can see a lot of commonalities between their rags to riches story and the Islanders. Neither team has done much in their history on the field before 2008.

Fabrice Noel is the Islanders most prolific goalscorer with 21 in 45 appearances. The Islanders are co-captained by two Puerto Ricans Noah Delgado(with 116 appearances) and Petter Villegas(with 99 appearances. The Islanders get by in this tournament through their former MLS reject roster(including their coach) and a bend, but not break defense.

The Islanders also have something else on their side that the Crew don't, the confidence of being there before by getting far in this tournament.

Still they have to be the darkhouse of the "Group of Death." There's just too much quality in this group for Puerto Rico Islanders to repeat their run to the semifinals. But, that's just what the Islanders want you to think.


The Columbus Crew, the 2008 MLS Champions who look poised for a similiar cup run, are new to this competition. But, they have players experienced in tournaments(Guillermo Barros Schelotto in Copa Libertadores, Frankie Hejduk in the World Cup, Chad Marshall and Robbie Rogers in the Gold Cup, and newcomer Emilio Renteria who helped underdogs Caracas FC to a quarterfinal placing in Copa Libertadores last year). Players like Nigerian U-23 international Emmanueal Ekpo, Alejandro Moreno, Eddie Gaven, Gino Padula, William Hesmer, and etc. are nothing to shrug at as well. And, recently the Crew have proved their depth with great performances by Steven Lenhart, Jason Garey, and New Zealand international Duncan Oughton. They all have been through the tournament of MLS playoffs as well, and never looked very vexed on their march to doing the double with the Supporters Shield and the MLS Cup.

Many Crew fans hold the belief that this group is special and capable of some big things not only on the MLS scene, but the international scene. They have players that work for each other and that has been seen again this year (as the Crew didn't win their first 7, but rattled off 14 unbeaten to reclaim first place this month). The Crew have that right mix of youth and experience which I think will see them through the group stage.

One can also make the argument that the Crew have the most talent out of any team in Group C (Cruz Azul might have a little more, especially depth wise, but with their last place finish in the second half of their season-they are probably missing the cohesion), but the Crew definitely have more talent on their roster than the Puerto Rico Islanders and Saprissa(although, what may get Saprissa through is their home field advantage). But, the Crew also can boast a homefield advantage, as they are unbeaten in 19 in front of the Nordecke.

The Crew's will be led by their captain Frankie Hejduk and Argentinian/Crew/Boca legend Guillermo Barros Schelotto(pictured below). Guillermo has 66 appearances(with 22 goals and 19 assists).

How will the group stage go down for the Crew:
August 18 - vs. Puerto Rico Islanders 3-1 win
August 26 - @ Cruz Azul 2-1 loss
September 16 - @ Deportivo Saprissa 1-1 tie
September 23 - vs. Cruz Azul 1-1 tie (maybe 2-1 win
September 29 - vs. Deportivo Saprissa 2-1 win
October 20 - @ Puerto Rico Islanders 1-0 win

I see 11 points out of 18. The Crew need to take maximum points away from the Puerto Rico matches. The Saprissa team also is at a level comparable or slightly below the Crew in terms of talent as after Solis and a few older Costa Ricans the team doesn't have the variety that the Crew has with their internationals. The Crew need to get a win against Saprissa at home. The Crew also need to get a win or at least a tie against Cruz Azul at home. And, then hope for a miracle when on the road in Saprissa or Mexico.

Overall, I see the Crew qualifying in second behind Saprissa or Cruz Azul.


  1. Gino's Pirate BuddyAugust 7, 2009 at 8:42 AM

    Nice preview, feel like the group is even more interesting now since I didn't know much about Saprissa or Cruz Azul.

  2. Nice preview. Still, I think the Puerto Rico Islanders might surprise the Crew more than you expect.

    I expect Puerto Rico and Cruz Azul to advance.

  3. a only 2-1 loss at Cruz Azul... you are dreaming !!!