Thursday, March 3, 2016

CCL Update - Final MLS Thoughts

In a word, I'm disappointed. Four chances (eight if you count both legs) for an MLS club to beat a Liga MX side and we went winless with four draws and were shut out in four of eight matches. And so, once again, the CONCACAF Champions League title will be raised by a club from Liga MX and the MLS drought continues. Here are my final thoughts for each of the four clubs:

LA Galaxy - Failed to score in either leg against Santos Laguna despite a "star-studded" roster which turned in an unremarkable performance. We knew there would be chemistry issues in LA with all of the new faces, but I think we thought the tandem of Gio dos Santos and Robbie Keane would be more effective. Same can be said of the central midfield duo of Steven Gerrard and Nigel de Jong.

Seattle Sounders - Seattle actually led on aggregate goals three times in their series with América, but couldn't sustain a lead at all. When they took a 1-0 lead on the road in the second leg, they conceded the equalizer a minute later and the go ahead goal just moments after that. Their three goals scored were by far the most by any of the four MLS sides and Seattle also managed to be the only MLS team not to get shut out in the quarterfinals, but their inability to hold a lead/play well with a lead is what ultimately doomed them.

DC United - For the second year in a row, Bill Hamid was unavailable to United in the knockout round of the CCL. Not to say he would've done any better than Andrew Dykstra, but from a confidence standpoint, DC United likely would have headed into the series on a higher note had he been there. If there's a bright spot for United, it was rookie Julian Buescher who scored a laser-beam long range strike in just his second professional match.

Real Salt Lake - Perhaps the most unlikely of MLS teams to succeed, RSL was a missed penalty kick away from overcoming a 2-0 deficit against Tigres. The addition of Yura Movsisyan looks to be a great one, and Juan Manuel Martinez and Joao Plata will provide additional support on offense for a team that lacked in that a year ago. Still, in big games you have to make big kicks and missing a penalty when down one is a back breaker no matter how you look at it, especially when it's missed by arguably one of the league's best on set pieces in Javier Morales.

Anyhow, despite the MLS's early exit, there is still reason for U.S. fans to follow the rest of the tournament. A pair of American left backs started both quarterfinal matches for their respective Mexican clubs and combined to pitch three shutouts in the quarterfinals with the one goal conceded being Julian Buescher's long range golazo for DC United. With left back a perennial question mark for the U.S., the 26 year old Jorge Villafaña (Santos Laguna) and 31 year old Jonathan Bornstein (Querétaro) could present some intriguing options for Jurgen Klinsmann moving forward. Villafaña has youth national team experience but has never been CAP'd with the senior team while Bornstein was CAP'd 38 teams between 2007 and 2011 and even scored a pair of goals including one during World Cup Qualifying back in 2009. Here's a look at how all of the American Exports performed in CCL action this week:

José Francisco Torres - Tigres UANL - Started vs RSL, 76 mins, 1 shot
Ventura Alvarado - América - Dressed but did not play vs Seattle
Jorge Villafaña - Santos Laguna - Started vs LA Galaxy - 90 mins
Jonathan Bornstein - Querétaro - Started vs DC United - 90 mins, 2 shots

The semifinals will kick off in two weeks with Santos Laguna taking on América and Tigres UANL taking on Querétaro. Regardless of what happens, an American will raise the CCL Trophy this April.

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