The CONCACAF Champions League groups have been released by the CCL organizers. The CCL will have a new format of 8 groups with 3 teams each (playing home-and-away series), where only the winner of the group makes it through to the Quarter Final round. There are some very interesting match-ups in the group stages, and the new format will make every game a key match.
2012-13 CONCACAF Champions League Groups
Santos Laguna (Mexico)
Toronto FC (Canada)
Aguila (El Salvador)
Analysis: This is the ‘group of death’, with defending Mexican champions, Santos, an always strong MLS side Toronto FC, and Aguila from El Salvador. I predict that Santos will win the group and move on to the Quarter Finals; their recent play in the last couple of years has been consistent and excellent.
Herediano (Costa Rica)
Real Salt Lake (USA)
Tauro FC (Panama)
Analysis: It would seem like Real Salt Lake should take care of this group. However, the Central American sides should not be dismissed, as they will be tough opponents when playing at home. If Real Salt Lake takes care of its home games, and gets a tie at either Herediano or Tauro, it should be enough to move on to the next round.
Houston Dynamo (USA)
FAS (El Salvador)
Analysis: This will be a group where Olimpia and Houston Dynamo will fight it out, while the Salvadorian side can play spoiler by surprising either of the two sides with an away tie or win. I predict that Olimpia will be the eventual winners, as the Houston side has been inconsistent in the MLS this season.
Seattle Sounders FC (USA)
Caribbean Qualifier 1
Analysis: Seattle and Marathon are still waiting for the Caribbean team that will fill up the group. The Sounders can be seen as clear favorites, however, they need to make sure to take care of things when they play at home. Furthermore, they need to win both games against the Caribbean side; this should be enough to take them to the next round.
LA Galaxy (USA)
Metapan (El Salvador)
Caribbean Qualifier 3
Analysis: Galaxy and Metapan are still waiting for the Caribbean squad that will play in their group. The star-studded Galaxy should have no issues making it through to the next round. The defending MLS champions will win the group easily.
Tigres UANL (Mexico)
Alajuelense (Costa Rica)
Real Esteli (Nicaragua)
Analysis: Tigres might seem to be the clear favorite to win the group, but Tuca Ferretti (Tigres’ Coach) has been known to field extremely weak teams in international tournaments. I suspect he will play with Tigres’ U-21 squad, and should thus face a difficult challenge from Alajuelense. I believe the Costa Rican side will win the group, and Tigres will be the only Mexican side not playing in the Quarter Finals of the CCL.
Analysis: Monterrey has won the past two editions of the CONCACAF Champions League, the organization really values this title, and always makes it a top priority. Monterrey’s level of play is simply too significant, and they should be able to brush aside Municipal and Chorillo.
Analysis: Chivas made it to the CCL due to a technicality in the Mexican Soccer League – Santos played back to back finals, so the extra spot was awarded to Chivas, because they had the most points in the Apertura 2011-. This Dutch version of the Chivas will want to redeem itself for its terrible level of play last semester, so I expect them to take the CCL seriously. Chivas will not struggle against Xelaju or the yet to be determined Caribbean side, and will win all of its matches.
Summary: The new CCL format will make all matches in the group stage extremely exciting, as a single misstep could lead a favorite team towards elimination. As is typical in the CCL, I predict that MLS and Mexican teams will make up the bulk of the teams playing in the Quarter Finals (7 out of 8 according to my predictions).