CONCACAF Champions’ Cup: Preliminaries and Previews

UPDATE: And this one has to go up high.  To my shame and embarrassment, I failed utterly to see Amado Guevara’s name on Motagua’s roster.  And, yes, it’s there on the CONCACAF official site roster.  I have no excuse.  Guevara is suited up in #20.

It was a conspiracy, an act of collusion between my two East Coast partners on this site. We entered discussions as to who was going to cover what in this week of tournaments – e.g. Olympic qualifying and the CONCACAF Champions Cup – and, apparently, I lost. We played some game, Ryan had a number in his head, I was supposed to guess the number, I guessed wrong, blah, blah, blah. Anyway, I lost, so I’m covering the CONCACAF Champions Cup for Center Holds It. And I’m not happy about it.

OK, that’s a big lie. I volunteered. In truth, I wake up most days thankful the other two contributors tolerate my rambling and off-subject posts. Besides, Breton knows more about the players in Olympic qualifying than I do so it’s a good fit. I, on the other hand, have a lot of learning to do. After all, only two of the clubs in the 2008 CONCACAF Champions Cup come from Major League Soccer (MLS): DC United and the Houston Dynamo. That leaves six clubs, more or less, for me to figure out. That project begins below.

Before getting to that, CONCACAF’s official site posted a couple useful items: rosters each of the eight clubs will take into the quarterfinals. They also posted a tournament bracket, so we can all see who gets who now and in the semifinals to come. One thing that caught my eye there: assuming all three get past the first round, DC, not the Dynamo, gets Mexico’s CF Pachuca; here I thought there was some kind of rule. Again, assuming all goes as expected, Houston would get Mexico’s Atlante FC in the semis.

Rounding out the eight-team competition bracket are Harbour View FC (Jamaica), CD Motagua (Honduras), Deportivo Saprissa (Costa Rica), and CSD Municipal (Guatemala). I’ll get previews ahead of all the games, hopefully sooner than I did today. Ideally, future editions will gain from observations made during previous games. For now, though, I’m stuck with the web…and my gringo-specific/limited research skills. Opening day features just one game: CD Motagua versus CF Pachuca. I mentioned everything going according to plan in the previous paragraph; a big theme of these previews will be the odds of the smaller teams upsetting plans. What can we expect out of Motagua tonight?

Who is this Club Deportivo Motagua? First, let’s pause to thank that nerd for inventing Wikipedia….OK, done. The wiki entry dubs Motagua is “one of the most successful and renowned in Honduras.” Then again, it also contains some beautiful, Babelfish passages:

“The metropolitan club is one of the best of Honduras and Central America and already has accumulated many championships, being also an old acquaintance of the CONCACAF Champions’ Cup, where has participated in diverse opportunities although yet has not been able to arrive a final hostess; in 1986 had her but noticeable action al to achieve the fifth position.”

and:

“Pitifully in 1972-73 the national championship was declared nil, depriving him to Motagua to be judged the title that it had almost in the market, since carried an almost insurmountable advantage on its escort to few dates of the end.”

OK, Babelfish fun aside, one can learn a thing or two between the Wikipedia entry and links therefrom. Motagua has, in fact, won quite a few titles, eleven, by my count; and, down the years, they placed and showed plenty besides. Their fifth-place ranking in the current campaign may look like a falling off, but that’s one tight pack – we’re talking MLS tight. Probably nothing to worry about there.

If you want something to worry about, that comes with Motagua’s history in the CONCACAF Champions Cup. The club’s 12 appearances amount to a parade of beat-downs at the hands of Costa Rican and Guatemalan teams – if memory serves, Comunicaciones and Municipal for Guatemala and, generally, Saprissa for the Costa Ricans; this last bit means Motagua’s win over Saprissa in last year’s Torneo Interclubes de UNCAF must have tasted of the sweetest nectar. Motagua has even faced Yanqui opposition in the Champions Cup, losing to the LA Galaxy in the 2003 tournament and, incredibly, the New York PanCyprian-Freedoms in 1983. (Who says we only hit the world stage in 1994?) Anyway, you can read about Motagua’s international struggles here.

So, what players are likely throw a counter-punch in the face of that sorry history? Well, naming Motagua players to watch gets a little tricky. The official page of La Liga Nacional de Futbol Profesional (LNFP) seems a little light on links; if there’s a way to a team page from there, I can’t find it. Wikipedia’s entry contains a bunch of links to Motagua’s players on the squad, but, lacking context, they’re just names to me. What I can say is that Motagua’s Josimar Nacimento sits on five goals for the current campaign (see LNFP link and “Tabla de Goleadors”), good to tie him for third. The same player, incidentally, scored the winner against Saprissa in the Torneo Interclubes de UNCAF. For now, call him the danger man and we’ll see what we learn tonight.

MLS fans, at least the closer observers and Dynamo fans, are familiar by now with Pachuca. I think Houston played them more often than they played the Columbus Crew in 2007. To refresh fans’ memory, though, you may remember Pachuca from such lofty victories as last year’s CONCACAF Champions Cup final and their penalty kick victory over the LA Galaxy in the Superliga final; you may also remember them eating a big, nasty one in last December’s FIFA World Club Cup. OK, it wasn’t that bad – or at least I didn’t view as such at the time – but closer observers like Sideline Views’ Luis Bueno noticed cracks in Pachuca’s recent dominance before the World Club Cup and going into the Mexican Primera’s 2008 Clausura campaign. If memory serves, this was nothing huge, just players getting older and Pachuca’s front office failing to reload/keep up with the rest of the Primera. By way of hard data, the current standings for the Primera show Pachuca playing to a .500 record, a detail that makes their second place standing in Group 1 a little less impressive.

For all that, a middling team in the Mexican Primera shouldn’t struggle too mightily against a middling team in the Honduran LNFP. And names I recall from past viewings of Pachuca – Juan Cacho, Damien Alvarez, Gabriel Caballero, Andres Chitiva, Christian Gimenez – are not only still around, but their goals tell me they’re still contributing (see sidebar to current standings). And they’re producing in the Primera. With Motagua hosting the first leg, who knows? A crappy field, incompetent refs, bags of urine hitting Pachuca players: any of these could force a draw or even a loss. But Pachuca is pretty experienced on the international stage. I rate the likelihood of an upset pretty low here.

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Kovalenko Photo Swap (RSL People, I’m Looking at You)

Pursuant to the contents of the post below (see: “Beckham, Evil”) and a comment left by Martek , as well as the contents thereof, I just had an idea for a contest – or, perhaps more accurately, an exchange.

As noted in the comments, my wife is a fan of Dema Kovalenko – less for what he does on the field (of which, for the record, she approves; a tough lady, that one) than how he looks off it.  She would like nothing more than a big photo/poster of Dema to grace the Shrine to Soccer that stands next to our computer.  And it occurs to me I’d rather start collecting things like that than the fan-fare I collected in the past: specifically, team jerseys and some scarfs.

So, here’s the swap: I have quite a few team jerseys of varying age and, probably, quality.  A lot of them are Liverpool (about 4 or 5), but I’ve also got a couple AC Milan shirts (an old-ish Weah shirt and another one…can’t remember), an Ajax away (I think; I know it’s Ajax), an old (and, frankly, ugly) Arsenal away shirt, a Bayern Munich jersey (looks home), and old DC United jersey with the old, um, Weimar-esque badge.  There are a couple more besides (I think).  Sorry to be vague on details, but I never wear the things so don’t remember too well what they look like.

The Bottom Line: I would be happy to exchange a couple, three, or four of these jerseys for a photo of Dema, ideally autographed.  It should be decent quality and about the size of an album cover, but we’d take larger gladly.  I’ll give more shirts for better quality and will get into what the autograph will say in the event I get any takers – and assuming someone could talk Dema into signing such a thing.  If it helps pique interest, I could take photos of the shirts (some never worn, others worn once, some twice at most) and post ’em.  Oh, and contrary to what it says in the post below, the picture of Dema needn’t be either hot or buttered…truth to tell, I don’t think I could look at something like that.

So….any takers?  You can either comment below or email me, though any negotiations would happen over email.

My Daughter, Beckham “Evil”…Me, Awaiting Apology…

My wife and just moved into a place with a lot more wall area than the modest apartment we had left behind. Hating the empty spaces, she started pulling posters out of this Corbis images folder that fell in our lap a while back. One area she covered early was a computer nook tucked in the middle of the upstairs; out of consideration for my interests and hobby, she set up a “Shrine to Soccer,” and included in it an older image of David Beckham that looks quite a bit like the one below.

Before you get the wrong idea, my wife, in spite of not being wild about the game, knows more about soccer than 80% of Americans – if not a few more. Her decision to use Beckham’s image came down the fact she was going with a soccer theme and he’s a soccer player. Given her druthers, there’d be a big, hot, buttered Dema Kovalenko glowering over the computer, but Dema isn’t Beckham (and on a number of levels), so Corbis doesn’t photograph him, etc. etc. Besides, Beckham is easy on the eyes and, gosh darn it, I can’t think of anyone as nice who has that much license to be an asshole. So, Beckham it was in spite of the fact the photo, much like the one showing above, isn’t his best work…looks like something out of a cut-rate version of Playgirl…though not nearly as much as this one. Continue reading

One Main, Late Thought on LA Gals v. Hong Kong Union

Yeah, I actually watched this game in the wee hours of Saturday night.  I know this is almost absurdly late to post on any game, never mind a warm-up, and many of you have already read good write-ups on the game – for instance, Soccer America’s entirely deserved praise of David Beckham’s play or the LA Offside’s notes on promising contributions from Ely Allen and Sean Franklin (I second jen’s thoughts on Franklin, especially, though Allen’s not bad).

Given my tardiness, both comparative and real, I’ll only say I enjoyed the game enough, though LA’s difficulty with making more of their edge over Hong Kong surprised me more than a little; with a defense balanced between green (rookies/youngsters) and gray (geezers), they need that offense to fire cleanly and often.

Generalities aside, one thought stuck with me since Saturday: after being fairly impressed with Alvaro Pires play, particularly against Sydney FC, his limitations stuck out like a sore thumb wrapped in ten feet of gauze on Saturday.  He runs at players well enough and he can play a decent short pass, but after that…it’s pretty bad.  He put several hundred pounds too much weight on lofted passes, through-balls, etc.  In other words, anything other than a short, possession pass and Alvaro brought too little for a pro.  The only upside I see in him over Kyle Martino?  He’s healthy.  That’s it.  I’d pass on him and, so far, LA has.  We’ll see what they do down the road.

Olympic Qualifying, USA vs. Cuba: Tougher Than One Might Think

CUBA
No. – Name – Pos. – D.O.B. – Club
1 – Jose Manuel Miranda – GK – 22.08.1986 – Matanzas
2 – Erlys Garcia Baró – DF – 28.07.1985 – Ciudad Habana
3 – Yenier Bermudez – DF – 08.10.1985 – Cienfuegos
4 – Raicel Mazquia Pozo – DF – 17.09.1985 – Pinar del Río
5 – Yendry Diaz – DF – 06.05.1987 – Matanzas
6 – Alianni Urgelles – MD – 25.06.1985 – Guantánamo
7 – Liván Vasconcelos – MD – 03.04.1987 – Matanzas
8 – Francisco Alexei Carrazana – MD – 23.12.1985 – Cienfuegos
9 – Roberto Linares – AT – 10.02.1986 – Villa Clara
10 – Yordany Alvarez – MD – 24.05.1985 – Cienfuegos
11 – Enrique Villaurrutia – MD – 24.04.1985 – Cienfuegos
12 – Arael Arguelles – GK – 30.04.1987 – Cienfuegos
13 – Eder Roldan – MD – 17.08.1987 – Ciudad Habana
14 – Armando Coroneaux – MD – 02.07.1985 – Camaguey
15 – Juan Carlos Martinez – DF – 30.12.1985 – Villa Clara
16 – Loanni Cartaya Prieto – DF – 12.11.1985 – Ciudad Habana
18 – Yasnier Rosales – AT – 12.07.1987 – Granma
19 – Leonel Duarte – AT – 22.08.1987 – Ciego de Ávila

A lack of information on many of the players is easily overcome by taking a look at the Cuban national team and their results over the past couple of years.  A definite standout is Leonel Duarte, who has featured the most of the Cuban national team, scoring several goals at that level. His key is his versatility – he has featured in both the defense and offense all at the age of 20. Still waiting for his prolonged chance with the national team is prolific youth level goalscorer Roberto Linares Yalmicida who has the pace to give projected centerbacks Ianni and Nathan Sturgis (who we did see get burned a couple of times at last summer’s U-20 World Cup) significant problems.

Defender Yenier Bermudez saw some time in the senior squad’s Carribbean Round of Qualifying for last year’s Gold Cup. Between Bermudez and Yendry Diaz, the Cubans hold a little bit of experience in the back but nothing fully capable of stopping a target man as imposing as Altidore.

The last line of defense, Jose Manuel Miranda, is more than capable if he has the proper protection in front of him. Miranda has already been touted as a better younger version of the current national team keeper Odelin Molina.

Enrique Villaurrutia saw time in the midfield in Cuba’s 2-1 loss to Mexico during the Gold Cup, while Leonel Duarte started the contest and made an impression on the Mexicans. You might have seen the talented Osvaldo Alonso lining up for Cuba if he hadn’t of defected during 2007’s Gold Cup. Alonso was recently on trial with the Columbus Crew and looks to latch on with a USL or MLS team by the end of the preseason. Regardless, Cuba coasted through two rounds of qualifying beating Trinidad and Tobago, Grenada, and Bermuda among others along the way. Leonel Duarte scored 6 to make things relatively easy, but the key has been Roberto Linares Yalmicida who had 10 goals through qualifying. If Yalmacida and Duarte can mesh, they can exploit Piotr Nowak’s only projected weakness – his central defense. Therefore, in recap…

Players to Watch Out For…
Leonel Duarte (FW)
Roberto Linares Yalmacida (FW)
Enrique Villaurrutia (MD)
Jose Boudy Miranda (GK)

I’m sure everyone is only thinking, how many defections and with what MLS team will the defected end up???