After a long break,
everyone's somebody's favorite tournament is back. The CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals start off tonight, and MLS fans in general should be pumped. This is the first time in the current format that two MLS clubs have gotten this far, and a very kind draw means that neither Real Salt Lake or the Columbus Crew will have to face a Mexican opponent until the final.
SB Nation's Soccer section has comprehensive coverage of the tournament , including a preview of CD Olimpia vs. Deportivo Saprissa by yours truly. Denz from RSL Soapbox has a very detailed preview up as well.
Complete TV listings can be found via CONCACAF (pdf)
Read on for my predictions and a little bit on each match up:
Real Salt Lake vs. Columbus Crew
At full strength and top form last season, RSL would have been solid favorites here. Since last season, they've added Arturo Alvarez (as depth !) and only lost Robbie Findley, who has been effectively replaced by pint-sized Brazilian Paulo Jr. The Crew, meanwhile, have had massive amounts of turnover in just about every part of the field. The replacements are, by and large, not as impressive as the players that were there in 2010. More important, however, is the Crew injury list. They'll be missing three starters, plus the back up for two of those players, plus some other guys. They've signed one-time DCU trialist Ray Burse Jr. to a short-term contract just so they can have someone in goal for this one; it's closer to something you see in your local indoor league than in the very best of regional soccer.
I'm not saying Columbus has no chance...but I kind of want to.
1st leg: Columbus 1:2 RSL
2nd leg: RSL 3:0 Columbus
Santos Laguna vs. Cruz Azul
Cruz Azul is scoring goals for fun, even by the "winning 4-3 is better than 1-0" standards of the Mexican league. They've got 15 goals in just 7 matches, with Tito Villa leading the charge with 4 goals. Santos, meanwhile, is looking somewhat less impressive. Despite being just 3 points behind Cruz Azul in the standings, they've got a -3 goal differential and sit 12th overall. Former head coach Ruben Omar Romano, often noted for leaving half or more of his shirt buttons undone on the sideline, was fired this weekend for flipping off angry fans after Los Guerreros had lost 2-0 to struggling Queretaro FC.
So, despite having both utter disdain for Cruz Azul and a strong interest in watching Darwin Quintero as often as possible, I'm going to have to go with my head here.
1st leg: Santos 2:2 Cruz Azul
2nd leg: Cruz Azul 4:2 Santos
CF Monterrey vs. Deportivo Toluca
Monterrey, despite being the defending champs in Mexico, have started off the season in indifferent form (they're only ahead of Santos on goal differential). Meanwhile, Toluca have only lost once in their 7 games, and have only given up 4 goals in that time (along wit Tigres UANL, the best defensive record in the league). In addition to form, Toluca also has the undeniable advantage of playing at an elevation of over 1.5 miles above sea level.
That said, I'm going with Monterrey. They're the better team on paper, they have more continuity throughout their team, and Humberto Suazo is the best forward (arguably the best player, full stop) on any CONCACAF club.
1st leg: Toluca 2:1 Monterrey
2nd leg: Monterrey 2:0 Toluca
CD Olimpia vs. Deportivo Saprissa
I wrote about this extensively in the earlier link (seriously, I may now be the #1 source of information on Olimpia and Saprissa in the English language). The one thing I'll add here is that I think this series will be the most stereotypically "CCL" of the four ties. By that, I mean look for bad calls, angry players, great goals, and bizarre incidents. If nothing else, it should be good theater.
1st leg: Saprissa 2:2 Olimpia
2nd leg: Olimpia 2:1 Saprissa