Friday, June 06, 2008

CONCACAF Champions League Draw Preview

The competition itself starts in late August, but the draw will be held on Wednesday, June 11. Eight teams automatically qualify for the group stage, while the others battle for the other eight places alongside them.

We've known for a while which teams get the byes to the group stage, but until recently it was unknown what the pots would look like for the preliminary round. It was revealed on the broadcast of Montreal vs Toronto qualifier (I wish CONCACAF would provide more information in a timely fashion.). That news allows me to do a full mock draw.

Group Stage Bye

CRC1 Saprissa
GUA1 Jalapa or Municipal
HON1 Marathon or Olimpia
MEX1 Atlante
MEX2 Santos Laguna
SLV1 Luis Angel Firpo
USA1 Houston Dynamo
USA2 DC United

I have little argument with the seeded teams here. It would be unfair to have more than two teams from Mexico or the USA even if they are the top leagues by far. Although it does hurt Costa Rica who would normally have two teams in the final eight of the Champions Cup, whereas they only get one here. Are they still going to have the UNCAF tournament? Maybe there's a way to involve that somehow, although that would upset the structure. The weakest spot by far is SLV1. When has El Salvador ever done anything in the Champions Cup? I personally would have given their group stage spot to the top Caribbean team, who previously were automatically in the final eight. I didn't expect them to upset that "balance" of 2 MEX, 2 USA, 3 Central American, and 1 Caribbean.

Meanwhile, the Guatemalan and Honduran leagues, like many in Latin America, have two championships per year, so the winners will have to play off to determine who is seeded where.

Preliminary Round Teams

Here are the two pots:

Pot A: CAN1, CRC2, HON2, MEX3, MEX4, PAN1, USA3, USA4
Pot B: BEL1, CFU1, CFU2, CFU3, GUA2, NCA1, PAN2, SLV2

Most of these are pretty obvious. Pretty surprising to see the three Caribbean teams in the bottom pot; Jack Warner's attention must be elsewhere. It's funny, this is probably the one time when I think that the Caribbean is not getting their due. Interesting to see Panama in the top pot; GUA2 is probably stronger. You have CRC2 and HON2 in the top pot, why not them as well? I suppose as champions they are more deserving. I'm sure a lot of people will complain about CAN1 getting into the top pot. Although Toronto is probably a stronger team than most of the Pot 2 representatives, I doubt that decision was made on footballing merit.

Let's go on to look at the actual teams:

Pot A

CAN1 Toronto or Montreal Impact or Vancouver Whitecaps
CRC2 Alajuelense
HON2 Marathon or Olimpia
MEX4 Cruz Azul
PAN1 San Francisco
USA3 New England Revolution
USA4 Chivas USA

Canada's rep still to be decided, though Toronto is certainly in the driver's seat after their away win to Montreal in the opener of the Canadian Championship.

Pot B

BLZ1 Hankook Verdes
CFU1 Harbour View
CFU2 Joe Public
CFU3 Puerto Rico Islanders
GUA2 Jalapa or Municipal
NCA1 Real Esteli or Ocotal or Walter Ferreti or Diriangen
PAN2 Tauro
SLV2 Isidro Metapán

There will be a total of 6 teams from American leagues in the tournament (25%), due to PR eliminating San Juan Jabloteh for the third spot in CFU. Coached by Colin Clarke, who's also coaching the PR national team, they certainly won't be pushovers and would probably not be the greatest draw for an MLS team due to Clarke's familiarity with that league.

NCA1 will be decided in the next few weeks, among those four teams. Real Esteli are the most likely qualifiers, since they won the first title of the year. If they win the spring title, they'll qualify automatically; otherwise there'll be a playoff.

Mock Draw

Preliminary Round

HON2 vs Harbour View
New England vs Metapan
Cruz Azul vs Tauro
CAN1 vs Joe Public
Chivas USA vs NCA1
Alajuelense vs Puerto Rico
San Francisco vs Hankook Verdes

I really don't see many chances for an upset. If they end up in Pot B, Municipal is probably the best hope for an upset. Whoever gets SF has a great chance too, though in this case they lucked out and received one of the two super easy teams (Belize and Nicaragua). That's who everybody wants here.

Group Stage

Now, for an explanation of how I did this. I assumed the Pot A teams would advance, first of all. I then took the 8 group stage bye teams and the 8 preliminary winners, and divided them into two groups of 4: MEX/USA teams and others. So each group would end up with one Mexican team and one American team, along with two others. Seems pretty obvious that's how it's going to go down. Oh, and I made sure no group had two teams from the same country.


Group 1: DC United, HON1, Cruz Azul, CAN1
Group 2: Atlante, GUA1, Chivas USA, San Francisco
Group 3: Houston, Saprissa, UNAM, HON2
Group 4: Santos, LA Firpo, New England, Alajuelense

Things to look for (as MLS fans):

Cruz Azul and Santos are probably the strongest teams in the entire tournament. It would be good to avoid them. So if you're a DC/HOU fan, you should hope to get UNAM instead of Cruz Azul. If you're a CHV/NE fan, you should hope to get Atlante instead of Santos. Atlante is probably the weakest Mexican team here.

For the other top seeded teams, Saprissa is the worst draw and should make their group a group of death. Meanwhile, Firpo is the lucky pick. The other two are meh. Among the final four teams, you definitely don't want Alajuelense. So yeah, you want to avoid the Costa Rican teams.

In this draw, Chivas got lucky while Houston got the shaft. If Alajuelense had gone to another group, then we could've said NE was very lucky.

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