CONCACAF Champions League Draw: Because groups should be inspired by squagels

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CONCACAF held its group stage draw for this year’s Champions League, hammering home a harsh truth: This format is really happening.

Four-team groups? Oh, no. Not for you. You liked it? It’s the standard format for this kinda thing? Well, suck it, loyal CCL fan that’s keeping this tournament alive, and get ready for …

Three-team groups! That’s right. Three. Not four. It’s the squagel of groups! (Link features strong language.)

I alluded to this when talking about the horribly written LOST episode that is African World Cup qualifying, but when you cut down on the number of games and only let the top team go through, you’re begging for randomness to happen. And if we’ve learned anything from the U.S. Open Cup, nothing says legitimate, respected championship like inexplicable randomness.

There are fewer travel dates, there more teams are in group stage (all teams are in group stage), and each team is guaranteed a second home game (against at least one prominent team), so there are positives. The negatives? Other than inviting more aberrational results, shortening the principle part of the tournament, and doing so with a sneaking suspicion that reducing cross-hemisphere flights was a concern (and in fairness, things like that are a legitimate concern), there are no negatives.

There’s still going to be a tournament, a winner, and all the bragging rights that go with it. I really shouldn’t be such a curmudgeon.

Five Major League Soccer teams are in group stage. Toronto gets another shot at Santos in Group 1. Real Salt Lake got a relatively sweet draw in Group 2. Houston’s not quite as lucky, but Group 3 could have been worse. Seattle should be fine in Group 4, while who knows with LA Galaxy. Group 5 looks easy, but we shouldn’t overestimate this Galaxy team.

Group 1: Santos Laguna (Mexico), Toronto FC (Canada), Aguila (El Salvador)

Group 2: Herediano (Costa Rica), Real Salt Lake (United States), Tauro (Panama)

Group 3: Olimpia (Honduras), Houston Dynamo (United States), FAS (El Salvador)

Group 4: Seattle Sounders (United States), Marathon (Honduras), [Caribbean qualifier]

Group 5: LA Galaxy (United States), Isidro Metapan (El Salvador), [Caribbean qualifier]

Group 6: Tigres (Mexico), Alajuelense (Costa Rica), Real Esteli (Nicaragua)

Group 7: Chorrillo (Panama), Monterrey (Mexico), Municipal (Guatemala)

Group 8: Xelaju (Guatemala), Guadalajara (Mexico), [Caribbean qualifer]

Brazil’s Gremio wins Recopa Sudamericana in penalty shootout

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PORTO ALEGRE, Brazil (AP) Brazil’s Gremio has won the Recopa Sudamericana, beating Argentina’s Independiente 5-4 in a penalty shootout Wednesday night.

The two-legged final ended 1-1 on aggregate, with no goals scored after 120 minutes in the second.

The winners of last year’s Copa Libertadores overcame the holders of Copa Sudamericana after goalkeeper Marcelo Grohe stopped the last penalty of the series, taken by Independiente’s striker Martin Benitez.

The Recopa is played between the champions of South America’s two most important tournaments.

Independiente played most of the match down to 10 players after defender Fernando Amorebieta was sent off after 38 minutes.

The Brazilians made most of the pressure until the end of extra time, but failed to score.

Gremio also won the Recopa in 1996.

CCL wrap: FC Dallas disappoints; Club America struts (video)

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The CONCACAF Champions League returned Tuesday with Toronto FC’s 2-0 quarterfinal first leg win in Colorado, and a trio of ties began Wednesday across Panama, Costa Rica, and Honduras.

[ WATCH: Fred’s vicious free kick ]

Tauro 1-0 FC Dallas

Veteran striker Edwin Aguilar scored a big goal, and goalkeeper Oscar McFarlane did plenty of good things as the Panamanian side struck a wild first blow against its MLS visitors.

Here’s a random fact underscoring how remarkable of a failure this would be for FC Dallas: Only six of Tauro’s roster members have their own Wikipedia page.

Deportivo Saprissa 1-5 Club America

Cecilio Dominguez and Mateus Uribe each bagged a brace, and Renato Ibarra also scored as the tournament’s top team sauntered into and out of Costa Rica on Wednesday. Club America has been to seven CCL finals, and one every single one.

Motagua vs. Club Tijuana — 10 a.m. ET

Honduran hosts hope to have a leg to stand on — pun intended — once the tie heads to Mexico.

West Ham to friendly neighbors Dag & Red: “Will help save our club”

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English Conference Premier side Dagenham and Redbridge has seen better days, and is getting a hand from a Premier League pal.

[ WATCH: Fred’s vicious free kick ]

West Ham United will pay a visit to Dag & Red as part of the latter’s #SaveTheDaggers campaign, and the March 21 date will cost fans between $7 and $21 to see a top flight side at 6,000-seat Victoria Road.

Dagenham and Redbridge chairman Paul Gwinn said, “It really will help save our club.”

“So please come on down to the Chigwell Construction Stadium for an additional night of football. Bring a friend, or two, or more and we can use the gate takings to help get us back on track,” reads a press release.

Dag & Red was founded in 1992 and climbed as high as League One in 2011, and plays just 2.5 miles from West Ham United’s training ground. Newcastle’s Matt Ritchie and Dwight Gayle are among Dag & Red alums in the Premier League.

It’s a terrific gesture from West Ham, and is even more impressive in the United States where the growing club game is increasingly cutthroat (especially between non-synced leagues).

Angry Di Francesco extremely quotable after Roma loss

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AS Roma manager Eusebio Di Francesco absolutely roasted his charges after i Lupi tossed aside a Cenzig Under-inspired lead to fall 2-1 at Shakhtar Donetsk in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League Round of 16 tie on Wednesday.

Di Francesco had praise for Edin Dzeko, who assisted Under’s goal, as well as goalkeeper Alisson, but was mostly enraged by his side.

[ MORE: Recap + Fred’s vicious free kick ]

Rather than construct a narrative, we’re going to point out our five favorite selections from Di Francesco’s post-match talk.

4) “The difference was that in the first half we tried to hurt them while in the second we were looking to hold on – to what? I don’t know.”

— “To what? I don’t know” is hilarious. Di Francesco’s side has posted some serious wins this season, including killing off Chelsea 3-0 at home and coming back from 2-0 to draw the Blues at Stamford Bridge. He doesn’t preach sitting back.

3) “There were far too many schoolboy errors – even by players with a wealth of international experience.”

— Schoolboy errors!

2) “I saw two completely different teams out there today. There were lots of players I should have taken off after we conceded the first goal.”

— Again, one mistake by a number of players on Facundo Ferreyra is enough for Di Francesco. He’s not just happy to be here.

1) “I can’t imagine we’d get arrogant just because we’re winning an important game. It’s not as if Roma are used to reaching the final every year.”

— When you’re willing to essentially rip an entire club’s history — Roma’s been to just two UCL quarterfinals since losing the final to Liverpool in 1984 — you’re putting your footprints in new cement.