Manuel Veth –
In our CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal preview we take a quick look at all the matches, and also the players to look out for.
We are about one week away from the quarterfinal of the CONCACAF Champions League. After an exciting group stage, there are just eight teams left to compete for the North American and Caribbean football crown, and a slot at the 2017 FIFA Club World Cup in the United Arab Emirates.
In terms of prestige, the competition is a far cry from the UEFA Champions League and the Copa Libertadores. But even without star players like Cristiano Ronaldo, an ambassador of XTrade FX brokerage, or big name teams from South America, there are going to be some fascinating matchups and players at the later stage of the CONCACAF Champions League.
Here is our CONCACAF Champions League Quarterfinal Preview:
Deportivo Saprissa vs Pachuca
The quarterfinal will kick off with Deportivo Saprissa vs Pachuca, on Tuesday February 21, at Estadio Ricardo Saprissa Aymá, in San José, Costa Rica—better known as Saprissa Stadium. Deportivo Saprissa is Costa Rica’s biggest club and, for visiting teams, Saprissa Stadium is a difficult venue in which to compete.
The national team has since moved to Costa Rica’s national stadium, located closer to the centre of the city. Saprissa, however, remained at their home ground. With 33 titles, Saprissa are Costa Rica’s record champion. The club won their last national championship in the fall of 2015. As is common in Central America, champions are usually crowned twice a season, and Deportivo won the first stage of the 2015-16 season, while Campeonato de Invierno, after beating Alajuelense in the 4-1 on aggregate (2-0, and 2-1), won the second stage. In terms of international glory, Saprissa lifted the CONCACAF Champions Cup trophy—the predecessor of the CONCACAF Champions League—on three occasions.
Pachuca, in the meantime, are one of three Mexican teams still left in the CONCACAF Champions League. Pachuca’s last major title dates back to 2016 when they beat Monterrey to win the Clausura playoffs, and were crowned Liga MX champion. Pachuca have also won four continental trophies, with the last title dating back to 2010 when they beat Mexican rivals Cruz Azul in the final of the inaugural CONCACAF Champions League. A founding member of the Mexican Primera División, Pachuca are one of Mexico’s most historic clubs.
Players to watch out for:
After spending ten years abroad in Switzerland and the United States, Álvaro Saborío has recently returned to Saprissa. The 34-year-old striker last played for DC United in Major League Soccer, where he scored six goals in 19 games, and has been identified as a player to look out for, in our CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal preview. An experienced competitor who has played 324 professional games, Saborío will be a key player for Saprissa when they are facing a strong Pachuca side.
Hirving Lozano will be the player to watch in Pachuca’s squad. The 21-year-old winger is one of the biggest talents in Mexican football at the moment. A fast trickster, Lozano is already on the radar of several big clubs in Europe, and could soon follow Chicharito, and Marco Fabián by joining a Bundesliga side. He is one player we have identified in our CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal preview to watch out for.
FC Dallas vs Árabe Unido
FC Dallas are one of two teams from the United States left in the competition. The club from Texas advanced to the quarterfinal after winning Group H, which included Suchitepéquez from Guatemala, and Real Estelí from Nicaragua. The first leg will take place on February 23 at Toyota Stadium in Frisco. Dallas, who qualified for the tournament after winning the 2016 Lamar Hunt US Open Cup, will try to gain a major advantage before traveling to Panama.
Árabe Unido may be the outsiders in this tie, but the CONCACAF Champions League has demonstrated in the past that MLS teams in particular have a tough time competing in Central America. Furthermore, unlike Latin American teams, MLS teams are still in preseason mode at this stage. The 2017 MLS season, in fact, will not kick off until after the quarterfinals of the tournament have concluded. MLS, therefore, has a similar disadvantage in international competitions as Russia and Ukraine have in UEFA competitions in Europe.
For Árabe Unido, this means that the Panamanians want to keep the score tight in the first leg, and then perhaps will use the heat and the loud atmosphere to their advantage in the return leg, which will be played at the Estadio Armando Dely Valdés in Colón. The first leg has therefore been identified by our CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal preview as the key to this tie.
Players to look out for:
FC Dallas signed veteran free agent Javier Morales in the off-season, and has been identified in our CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal preview as a player to look out for. The 37-year-old Argentine playmaker was previously with Real Salt Lake. Preston Wetherington from the World Football Index – North American Soccer Show believes that Dallas brought him in with his CONCACAF experience in mind. Morales has played over 20 games in the competition, and will be pivotal for getting Dallas’ attacking four going.
Roberto Chen will be Árabe Unido’s most important player. The 22-year-old Panamanian centre-back has recently returned to Panama after spending a year with Rionegro Aguila in Colombia. Before his stint in Colombia, Chen spent three years in Europe. Signed by FC Málaga in January 2014, Chen was sent out on loan to Zulte Waregem in Belgium, and Real Balompédica in Spain’s third division. In 2016, he spent half a season with his hometown club, San Francisco FC, in Panama before trying his luck in Colombia. Although still just 22, Chen will bring much needed experience to Árabe Unido’s backline.
Tigres UANL vs Club Universidad Nacional
The matchup of the two Mexican university teams is one of the more intriguing clashes of the quarterfinal. Tigres UANL are the current Liga MX champion after they beat Club América in the dramatic Apertura 2016 final. Owned by the Universidad Autónoma de Nueva León, which is located in San Nicolás de los Garza, a city in the Monterrey metropolitan area, Tigres may be the favourite to win this competition. The club has recently signed Eduardo Vargas from the Bundesliga club 1899 Hoffenheim. Vargas joins a squad that already includes the likes of Jürgen Damm, and André-Pierre Gignac.
Club Universidad Nacional, better known as Pumas, represent Mexico City in the competition. Like Tigres, the Pumas are owned by a university—the National Autonomous University of Mexico—and is located in the outskirts of Mexico City. Pumas have won seven national titles in Mexico and also lifted the CONCACAF Champions Cup on three occasions. But the last title dates back to the 2011 Clausura title, and Pumas fans feel that it is time for the club to collect fresh silverware.
Players to look out for:
Eduardo Vargas has been identified in our CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal preview as a player to look out for. The Chilean has had major success when competing for the national team, but struggled on the club level. After several disappointing stints with clubs in Europe, Vargas has now returned to Latin America to try his luck in Liga MX. A talented winger with plenty of pace, Vargas needs to prove that he is not a short-lived talent.
Nicolás Castillo is the Pumas player to watch for. The Chilean striker joined Pumas after spending 2016 on loan from Club Bruges at Universidad Católica in Chile. Castillo was on deadly form in Chile, scoring 13 goals in 12 games in the first half of the Chilean Primera División for Universidad Católica. At just 24-years of age, Castillo is a perfect example of how Liga MX has established itself as a prime destination for some of Latin America’s brightest talent.
New York Red Bulls vs Vancouver Whitecaps
Although this is technically an international fixture, New York Red Bulls vs Vancouver Whitecaps will have a bit of a preseason friendly feel to it. After all, both teams compete regularly against each other in Major League Soccer. But, while the New York Red Bulls represent the United States by having won the Supporters’ Shield in the 2015 MLS season—the trophy is given to the club with the most points during the regular season—the Vancouver Whitecaps represent Canada as national champions.
Lack of a Canadian national league means that Canada determines its national champion and representative to the CONCACAF Champions League, by holding a yearly tournament that includes Canada’s five professional football clubs—the Whitecaps, Montreal Impact, Toronto FC, FC Edmonton, and Ottawa Fury. The Whitecaps won the tournament in 2015 after beating Montreal Impact 4-2 on aggregate (2-2 and 2-0).
Players to watch out for:
New York Red Bulls are, of course, best known for their relationship with other Red Bull franchises around the world. The rise of RB Leipzig in Germany has now meant that New York Red Bulls have concentrated their focus on developing young players that one day could make an impact in the Bundesliga. That said, NYRB have also some experienced players in their squad. One of those players is United States national team midfielder, Sacha Kljestan. Kljestan spent five seasons with RSC Anderlecht in Belgium, and his experience will be invaluable in New York’s tie against Vancouver.
Vancouver, meanwhile, is still rebuilding after a somewhat disappointing 2016 season in which the club failed to make the playoffs. The club has recently signed Red Bull Salzburg forward Yordy Reyna, and the Peruvian will be key to stimulating Vancouver’s attack, which struggled at times last season. At just 23-years of age, Reyna is the sort of talent that can still develop into an effective player, and Whitecaps fans will be intrigued to see him in his first game in a Vancouver uniform.
Manuel Veth is a freelance journalist, and podcaster for WorldFootballIndex.com. He is also a holder of a Doctorate of Philosophy in History from King’s College London, and his thesis is titled: “Selling the People’s Game: Football’s transition from Communism to Capitalism in the Soviet Union and its Successor States”, which will be available in print soon. Originally from Munich, Manuel has lived in Amsterdam, Kyiv, Moscow, Tbilisi, London, and currently is located in Victoria BC, Canada. Follow Manuel on Twitter @homosovieticus.