Night 3 – CONCACAF Champions League Prelim Qualifying – Leg 1

Danny Cepero

So tonight I was expecting to be seriously disappointed as the New York Red Bulls faced off with Trinidad and Tobago side W Connection in the first leg of Prelim qualifying for the CONCACAF Champions League.  The Red Bulls would not disappoint either, as they currently sit at the bottom of the MLS it was to be no shock that they would struggle in their match with W Connection.  The officiating was questionable as usual for CONCACAF, and the away fields were in horrible shape.  This should not faze the Red Bulls though as they play on one of the worst pitches in the MLS at Giants Stadium and their quality of play this season has left fans questioning how this team who made the MLS Cup last season can be so poor this season.

I watched two games on the night as NYRB was aired on FSC and Cruz Azul’s match was aired on Galavision right afterward.  The first match would not be as disappointing as expected, though the match would leave much to be desired going into the second leg next Wednesday.  The second match had excitement from the start, and I am starting to wonder if it is the quality of the teams outside the MLS or if it is just the Spanish announcer’s excitement about the game.  Either way the second match of the evening was more entertaining to witness than the first.  There was one other match on the evening, but it did not get any airtime, so I will add the stats in for those who have been following this series on the CONCACAF Champions League.

W Connection (T & T/ TT Pro League)  2-2  New York Red Bulls (USA/ MLS)

I had a hard time getting excited to watch the Red Bulls’ tonight, after seeing the train wreck that they produced on the weekend when losing to Colorado 4-0.  Tonight almost started out the same way as W Connection front man, Jonathan Faria found himself in on goal in the first minute, only to be called back due to an offside call.  From here the match progressed slowly and neither team looked especially dangerous.  Whether it was from the plane ride or just lack of passion due to the current season’s results, NYRB looked slow and played slow making both sides seem as if the match was part of a Sunday Pub League.  Only in the 40th minute did the match heat up, when W Connection sent a ball in from a corner that Juan Pablo Angel tried to clear, only to see it go off the post and fall to Faria, who finished the shot with power from point blank range.  Thinking this spelled disaster for the Red Bulls, I was curious as to what the second half would bring.  Would it be another train wreck, or would the Red Bulls finally reach down inside themselves and show the world that they do still know how to play?

The second half would see the Red Bulls come out strong, not that their pace was up any yet.  In the 48th Dane Richards would find himself on the wing with the ball and a man across the box, a nice ball found the foot of the new Austrian forward Ernst Oebster, who would put a good shot in on goal.  This shot should have found the keepers arms, as he was in perfect position, but a deflection from his defender put the ball over him and into the back of W Connection’s net.  Now this was amazing as the Red Bulls have been dying lately in all matches, but almost 10 minutes later, in the 59th, Alfredo Pacheco would put another shot on goal only to see it take a deflection off of another W Connection defender and past the keeper.  I think I say it all when I say that I was shocked by this.  New York up 2-1, and they are playing soccer?  Never thought they had a chance in this one.  Everything was looking good for the Red Bulls as Faria came up with an injury and had to leave the pitch for W Connection, all but taking out the only promising offense W Connection had shown in the match.  Somehow though, the Red Bulls screwed it up when midfielder Hughtun Hector got a ball at the top of the 18 and put it past Red Bulls’ keeper Danny Cepero and into the upper 90, equalizing for the T & T side.  The match would finish with this 2-2 result and we see yet another MLS team fails to capitalize against a smaller side.

All was not lost though in watching this match.  Though the only real strong point for the Red Bulls was Dane Richards, they do take the 2 away goals back with them to New York for the return leg next Wednesday.  Faria from W Connection though, looked good.  He was creative and quick, and although he looked a little raw, I am sure some MLS coach’s radars went up if they had not been already.  I look to see this kid make his way north sometime soon, even if it is just for a trial, the kid has talent and deserves a shot.  Richards for the Red Bulls though gets my man of the match in this one as he was the catalyst that brought the Red Bulls back in this one, the only player who seemed to make it out of first gear for the MLS side, looked dangerous and created the chances that brought the Red Bulls back into the match.

CONCACAF CAM VILLA

Herediano (Costa Rica/ Primera)  2-6  Cruz Azul (Mexico/ Primera)

Now this match is where the night got interesting.  I had never heard of Herediano, but I had heard of Cruz Azul and had high expectations of them going into this match.  The action in this match would be fast, technical, and challenges would fly in from everywhere before the match was over with.  Now I am not sure if it is just the region or what, but I have not seen a pitch worthy of this tournament yet, but this was the first match in which the officiating seemed to be above mediocre.  Being broadcast on Galavision, I would have to use my minimal knowledge of Spanish and my wife as reference to comprehend some of the announcing.  But the match kicked off and we were underway.

So the action in the match started quick, when Cruz Azul took a ball out of the midfield and made a pass to the left wing, before sending a beautiful cross into the box.  The cross managed to not go too high, but just high enough to clear the keeper and find the foot of Alejandro Vela, who had little more to do than tap the ball into the net, as he was unmarked at the far post.  The rest of the half would see action back and forth, but the majority of the play still belonged to Cruz Azul.  Neither side would be able to find another goal though before the half, leaving Cruz Azul up 1-0 going in for the break.

The second half would start out with a bang as Cruz Azul still held much of the possession and was looking to add to their lead.  In the 48th though, Herediano’s Eduardo Gomez would come in with a dangerous slide tackle that would earn him his walking papers with a straight red from the match official.  Adding insult to injury, a minute later Vela would find Javier Orozco, who took the ball with one touch and put it past Herediano’s keeper, increasing the lead to 2-0.  Not 10 minutes later Orozco would score again as a ball sent into the box was centered for an oncoming Orozco, who finished the shot with ease.  During the television replay, Herediano played a long ball over the top that found front man, Andy Herron behind the defense with an easy shot on goal, drawing one goal closer to Cruz Azul.

Play for the next 10 minutes would be back and forth as Cruz Azul tried to regain the advantage in the match, and in the 70th they would find that opportunity after earning a corner kick.  The corner would be sent high into the box before the big Cruz Azul front man, Emanuel Villa, rose to head the ball home past the keeper before being substituted, ending his night on a high.  Cruz Azul would not wait long before they added to their advantage when a ball crossed into the box was then headed back across, finding the head of a late arriving Orozco, to cap off his hat trick on the night.  As before, Herediano would strike back quick as a defensive blunder found the ball bouncing free to Jose Guity, who tapped the ball home into the empty net while Cruz Azul’s keeper was tied up with his defender.  After the goal in the 77th, one would think that Cruz Azul would slow down the game and finish it out by possessing the ball against the handicapped side of Herediano.  Not so, as Herediano pressed for goals they left themselves vulnerable in the back, and when Cruz Azul recovered the ball it was sent over the top and right into the stride of substitute Pablo Zeballos, who found himself in on the keeper for an easy goal in the 89th.  Moments later the final whistle would sound, as the referee did not even allow for any extra time or embarrassment on the part of Herediano.

This was an exciting match in which both sides looked strong at times.  Herediano was definitely the weaker of the sides, but if not for their bad luck in facing Cruz Azul to qualify, they looked a side with enough quality to make it through.  Javier Orozco gets my man of the match in this game as he finished his hat trick and was instrumental in the build up to some of the other goals.  I would not be surprised to see some of Cruz Azul’g big names out of the lineup for the return leg in this tie, as they lead 6-2 with 6 away goals in the bag.  I would watch out for this team if I were in the group stage with them though, they look tough and do not slow down once they get going.

The 3rd match of the evening was not televised so here are the numbers.

Olimpia (Honduras/Liga Nacional)  2-1  Arabe Unido (Panama/Liga Panamena de Futbol)

Olimpia: Jocimar Nascimento (48 pen.), Everaldo Ferreira (56)

Arabe Unido: Publio Rodriguez (18)

This looks to have been a close match, but I guess I will not know as it was not televised.

Tonight was a great night of soccer in the region.  While New York did not win, they do bring 2 away goals back home with them for the second leg, giving them the best MLS performance of the first legs.  Cruz Azul on the other hand made sure that they would have nothing to worry about in their home leg by taking a 4 goal lead on aggregate, with 6 in the away goal category.  All in all it was a great evening to watch soccer, so until next week we will just have the MLS to keep us busy.  So let’s enjoy the weekend slate of matches and meet back here next week for the second legs.

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