Tomorrow kicks off the Quarterfinals in the Champions League. The 8 teams left play home and away series starting tomorrow. A cool visual of the tournament is here. Quarterfinal matchups are as follows:
All games kickoff around 1:45 pm both days (all games). Fox Soccer broadcasts them and they are also available to stream at www.foxsoccer2go.com.
The return games will be played on April 9 & 10. The Draw for the Semis will be April 12.
SOCCERTHOUGHT PREDICTION: Final 4 teams will be comprised of 2 La Liga teams and 2 teams from the Bundesliga!
CONCACAF CHAMPIONS LEAGUE
While that is the UEFA Champions League (European), we have 2 MLS teams in the CONCACAF Champions League Semi-Finals (LA Galaxy and Seattle Sounders) who are pairing up against 2 Liga MX sides. Will an MLS team win the CONCACAF CL for the first time? (We had a couple teams win in the Champions Cup Era but the Champions League Era started in 2008). Real Salt Lake made the finals in 2010-11 but Liga MX has dominated. This is the first time we have had 2 teams in the semis. The Galaxy play Monterrey while Seattle plays Santos. Here is a great article covering the pairings.
Seattle v. Santos, Tuesday at 9:00pm on Fox Soccer.
LA Galaxy v. Monterrey, Wednesday at 9:00pm on Fox Soccer.
Today is the last leg of Match Day 5. With only 1 Match Day left, several teams are scrambling to qualify for the knockout round. Two teams from each group move on to a home and away aggregate scoring knockout competition. Yesterday, half of the games were played with tthe remaining being played now. Here is a summary of where things sit as of now:
With all teams in action today, Porto and PSG have all but wrapped up qualification to the knockout. Porto is good with 10 and PSG needs at least one point to get to 10. While Kyiv can get to 10, it won’t happen.
With all teams in action today, qualification is a three horse race between Schalke (8), Arsenal (7), and Olympiacos (6). If Shalke gets a result today at home against Olympiacos and Arsenal hosting Montpelier, they both should move on. Those games are on today. At halftime, Arsenal is tied 0-0 with Montpelier and Schalke and Olympiacos are tied 0-0.
Malaga is surprising all as they have already qualified for the knockout. With financial problems looming over their team, rumors of an inability to meet payroll, firesale of players, including the star Santi Cazorla to Arsenal, who would have thought they would be this consistent? Milan (5) is playing at Anderlecht (4) today with the winner gaining some separation for the final spot. In Matchday 6, Malaga hosts Anderlecht with nothing to gain. Anderlecht may benefit by playing against a weak Malaga team. On the other hand, Milan will host Zenit in a key match. Whoever gets the points today in the Milan – Anderlecht match will have the edge. Milan, of course, lacks some punch without Zlatan and Thiago, but still have plenty of talent to mix it up.
Milan and Anderlecht are tied at half.
Group D (GROUP OF DEATH!)
This has been the best group to watch. If you have a chance, Man City is hosting Real Madrid today. It is more than likely that Man City will fail to qualify. Failing to get a result against Real Madrid will seal their fate. On the other hand, the Group Leader (and favorite to finish on top), Borussia Dortmund are finally having some European success after years of consistency in the Bundesliga. Jurgen Klopp’s team is the only team to have defeated FC Hollywood (Bayern Munich) 5 straight times. My hope, Dortmund and Ajax move on with the whiners, Mourinho and Mancini left weeping.
Dortmund is rolling Ajax 3-0 at half and Real Madrid is up 1-0 at half.
Will the remaining Champions fail to qualify? Doubtful but possible. They are currently sitting at 7 and will host the Norwegian Champs in MD 6. On the other hand, Juventus is smarting from its poor form early as they may be playing the best soccer of the group. Their dismantling of Chelsea yesterday (3-0) with a 3-5-2 formation cost Matteo his job. Juventus will need something in its game in the Ukraine as Shakhtar are moving on. My prediction, Chelsea squeaks through again. Will they get Pep?
Bayern Munich and Valencia are through with 10 each — the only issue is seeding. While I picked Bayern to win it all, it must be said that they have not been the most impressive team from Germany.
Barcelona are through with 12 points even after losing to Celtic. The last spot is between Benfica and Celtic, both tied after 5 games with 7 points. All things being equal, Benfica goes through as the winner of the H2H as they defeated Celtic yesterday. On the plus side for Celtic, they host bottom dweller Spartak in MD6 while Benfica travels to the Camp Nou to play Barca. Edge – Celtic.
After 5 games, Manchester United is through with 12 points. Cluj and Galatasaray are tied with 7 each. While Man U is struggling of late, losing to Norwich City in the EPL and Galatasaray yesterday, they host Cluj in MD6 and while Galatasaray travel to Braga. Depending on the squad that Man U sends out, it seems the advantage to move on goes to Galatasaray. All things being equal, they hold the H2H over Cluj too.
Games are at halftime today. Check in and watch! And, Happy Thanksgiving!
While I added story lines for the UEFA Champions League yesterday (and their games continue today), I need to plug our MLS teams’ participation in the CONCACAF Champions League (CCL) that is also being played today. Similar in shape and concept to UEFA Champions League (and its former Europe Cup), CONCACAF has been crowning club champions in its region since 1962. The current form, CCL, was inaugurated in the 2008-2009 season.
The CCL features the top 24 club teams from CONCACAF’s three sub-regions: North America, Central America, and the Caribbean. The competition is played in two stages — the Group Stage (8 groups of 3) and the Championship Round (featuring quarterfinals, semifinals, and finals). The 8 winners of the groups advance to the quarterfinals. They are seeded 1-8 based on points (3 points for a win, 1 point for a tie). One plays 8 in the quarters, 4v5, 3v6, etc. Semifinal pairings are determined with the winner of 1v8 playing the winner of 4v5 and 3v6 winner playing 2v7.
Teams are assigned to the Groups by draw. Teams from the U.S. and Mexico cannot be drawn in the same group as well as two teams from the same country (unless one of them is a wild card entry). I presume the former rule is to ensure competitive balance for the later rounds since only one team from each group advances.
Atlante won the inaugural title in 2009 beating fellow Mexican side Cruz Azul 2-0 on aggregate. A year later, Pachuca defeated Cruz Azul for the crown on the away-goals rule (if aggregate goals are tied after home and away, the team that scored the most away goals is the winner). Monterrey has captured the last two editions, overcoming Real Salt Lake (2011) and Santos (2012) 3-2 on aggregate both times. No MLS team has won the title to date.
The winner of the CCL qualifies for the FIFA Club World Cup. Barcelona is the reigning Cup holder.
There are 5 MLS teams currently participating in the CCL. Toronto is in Group 1 and has played 2 games, winning one and losing another. RSL is tied atop Group 2 with Herediano, 6 points each after two matches. Our hometown Dynamo is tied atop Group 3 with Olimpia, each with 4 points. The Sounders top Group 4 with 6 points after 2 matches and the Galaxy are atop Group 5 with 6 points after two. Here are the complete standings (to date) and the tiebreaker rules courtesy of the Houston Dynamo.
Here is the website for the CCL. It has the tables, schedules, highlights, etc. What is great about the CCL is that you can stream it for free. Click here to register for free streaming. Just add an account. Tonight, you can watch the Galaxy play the Puerto Rico Islanders (7:00 pm) and the Sounders playing the Honduran squad Marathan (9:00 pm). Also, for Santos fans, they kickoff the same time as the Sounders against Aguila. Tomorrow night, the Dynamo host FAS from El Salvador in a big game. FAS has not registered a point so this is a game the Dynamo need to grab 3. As we are nearing the end of Group stage, pay attention and root for all of our MLS teams to advance to the next round.
Let me start by stating I am a recovered fantasy football (american version) addict. I am 5 years sober. When I was at my peak, I didn’t watch football, I devoured it. Simultaneously watching 3-4 games at once, I would watch each of my players perform, whether they be for the Dallas Cowboys, Cleveland Browns, or, yes, the Washington Redskins. As an addict, I should have known I had gone too far when, in a game between the Cowboys and Redskins, I rooted for Michael Westbrook (and celebrated with him) for catching a scoring a TD against my lifelong favorite team. Fantasy football ruined by football watching experience – it is hard now to even make it through the game. But, it is not the only reason that I do not watch football anymore.
Yesterday, I told my wife that I wanted to watch the Cowboys play the Seahawks. I have been uninterested in any professional game the last 5 years, to say the least. I would have never expected this years ago, but I am just one of many average fans whose only complete game they watch per year is the Superbowl. (And I like the commercials as much as the game!) I feel less of a man for even admitting to such. So…yesterday I tried watching. But I just couldn’t get into it. Start, stop. Commercial. Start, stop, huddle, penalty. I lasted about a half of a quarter before I retired to my room to continue my new passion – The West Wing. I am on Season 3. And, while I love The West Wing, I also enjoyed watching the Arsenal v. Southampton game from Saturday, even though I knew the result. No commercials. No huddles. Very few penalties (we call restarts). Beautiful shapes and geometric play by Arsenal. It was a pleasure and a breath of fresh air.
I cannot believe I just said that. I remember I used to be the one making fun of the soccer fans. I was puzzled as to how they could defend soccer against the modern-day gladiator, made for TV, NFL. But here I am. And my message to all of you….WATCH MORE SOCCER. As we are trying to alter the culture of soccer in our country, even from a play-paradigm, we need to watch more soccer. It is one of the big items missing. Even among our soccer volunteers and referees, very few of the ones I know are interested in talking about soccer, what is happening in the professional leagues or World Cup qualifying, or watching it. Our soccer IQ and that of our children can be raised immediately if we just watch the game more.
For coaches, if you want your kids to understand the game better, have them watch the game. Support your local college. Watch it on TV. We are dawning on the beginning of a golden age of televised soccer access — between ESPN3, FoxSoccerTV, FoxSoccer channel, we have access to MLS, EPL, La Liga, Serie A, World Cup Qualifying, etc. The great thing about soccer is, unlike our other sports, you can watch it 10 months out of the year. For parents of soccer players, sitting down and watching the game with your kids will help you better understand what it is that they are doing. Since many of our soccer players are first generation players, parents can catch up on the tube or computer.
So, back to the title…the wonderful thing about soccer is that it gives all year round. Like today! Today starts the group stages of the UEFA Champions League. Yes, it is European (no MLS teams), but it is a club tournament of the best teams from all the professional leagues in Europe (including Russia). So, if you are wondering how strong La Liga is (is it just Barca and Real Madrid), check out Valencia playing Bayern Munich tomorrow. How strong is Serie A (Italian premier league)? Well, their champion play Chelsea tomorrow too. What about La Liga and the EPL (English Premier League)? Their champs play TODAY!
The group stages comprise 32 teams in groups of 4. Each team will play each team in their group (home and away). They are mixed up so that EPL teams are not in the same group as other EPL teams, etc. They are also spread out according to a UEFA formula based on UEFA tournament success in prior years. Unlike American football or baseball, soccer is a sport played all over the world. So, beginning today, you can watch the best Danish club, the so-called Barcelona of Denmark, match up against the EPL, Croatians, and Serie A heavyweights. There are some fun story lines:
1.Can Chelsea repeat? Chelsea are the improbable returning champions. They won with a defensive, countering strategy, conceding possession to the Spaniards then the Germans in the final. They have reloaded with Eden Hazard, Marko Marin, Victor Moses, and Oscar ($87 mm pounds combined). Will the stregthening of their midfield line mean we will see a more creative, offensive Chelsea? Are they stronger than they were last season? In another great Round 1 match, Chelsea play the Italian champs Juventus tomorrow.
2.How good is Barcelona without Pep Guardiola? As you all know, Pep stepped down. So far, so good for Barcelona. They are 4 for 4 in La Liga, sit atop the standings, and also defeated Real Madrid in the first leg of the Spanish Super Cup under Tito Vilanova. They added Jordi Alba and Alex Song, a personal favorite, in the transfer window.
3.Who will miss the cut in the group of death? Group D consists of Real Madrid, Manchester City, Borussia Dortmund, and Ajax. So, the winners of the strongest three leagues in Europe all in the same group! You cannot ask for a better kickoff today than Manchester City traveling to Real Madrid. What a game. But, can the two-time consecutive Bundesliga champs parlay their domestic success into European success? Watch out for Dortmund – although they lost Kagawa, a magnificent player, to Man U, they added Marco Reus to an already deep squad. Reus, just 23, is already a German international. He scored in the Euros and looks poised to replace Podolski on the left wing for the national team. Just two teams from this group survive. Come on Dortmund!
4. Is the Danish teamNordsjaelland
the David in the tournament of Goliaths? They have been referred to as the Barcelona of the Denmark premier league. Roughly half of their team plays on the Denmark national team. Will they be the success story of the year? Follow them in Group E for your David v. Goliath storyline.
5. Is Arsenal stronger this year than last? Arsenal, while never lifting the Champion’s League Trophy, have always had success. When RVP left, people wrote them off. But, as we have seen the last couple of weeks, Podolski can score and Cazorla will be the Player of the Year in the EPL – unbelievable that he attracted so little attention in his signing. Their play the last two weeks at Anfield and at home against Southamption was magnificent. With Cazorla dictating the pace, angles, and geometry of the attack, look out. Arsenal travels to France today to play Montpelier, the returning French champion and the team for which Olivier Girourd, another Arsenal pickup and winner of the Golden Boot in France last season.
6. Will all of PSG’s purchases result in Champion’s League success? Surely you heard of all the purchases at Paris St. Germain in the offseason: Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva from AC Milan, Lavessi from Napoli, Lukas Moura from Sao Paulo, Gregory van der Wiel from Ajax – in total, $160 mm spent on transfers. They started the season with three draws but have won their last two. Will their retooling mean success? Are they the new European power?
7. How good is Bayern Munch? Real good. While they did not make all the big splash headlines of the other clubs, particularly the English and the Spanish, they did make a big signing: Javi Martinez for $40mm, the largest transfer fee in Bundesliga history. They didn’t need much. With arguably the best keeper in the world, Manual Neuer (26), and the formidable front line of Gomez (27), Ribery (29), Muller (23), Robben (28), Kroos (22), Schweinsteiger (28), and their backline anchored by captain Lahm (28), Boateng (24), Badstuber (23), Alaba (20), and Gustavo (25), they were already set. Add Martinez, who can hold at mid or support, and it may end up being the signing of the year (after Cazorla!).
8. What’s up in Russia? So, you thought the transfer season ended August 31 – that is if you set your calendar to EPL times. The Russians have a different date and Zenit St. Petersburg secured two of the hottest players, in their peak years (not as +30s), from the Portuguese Super Liga: Hulk and Axel Witsel for $57mm combined. While Witsel will not play this week, Hulk will and you can count on him to put it in the net. It is not odd to see big hames head East, it is odd to see them do it in their early 20s. Either of those players could have picked their team in the EPL.
So, there are just a few things to watch for. A full schedule of games kicks off today around 1:45 pm. Check out foxsoccer2go if you want to watch them all (except for the one on their main channel, foxsoccer, they black that one out). Some helpful links: