Javier Morales (L) and Alvaro Saborio (R) fly with teammates to Costa Rica for Real Salt Lake's opening match of 2012-13 CONCACAF Champions League.

Back so soon: New CONCACAF Champions League is at hand

3 Comments
source:
Javier Morales (L) and Alvaro Saborio (R) fly with teammates to Costa Rica for Real Salt Lake’s opening match of 2012-13 CONCACAF Champions League.

The dawn of CONCACAF Champions League typically means new challenges, both on and off the field. Between the lines, it’s different competition, mostly at a higher level, for a prize that’s becoming more coveted in North America. Off the field, it means fixture congestion and more travel. At the tournament’s onset, it’s the distance and time that’s on coaches’ minds.

This year, the congestion and travel has been lessened by format chance which will be more forgiving to teams’ pocket books and trainers. Too bad those changes also compromise the competition. I went into that before, and thanks to the magic of hypertext links, there’s no reason to trod on travelled trails. What matters in for space: There’s no preliminary stage; groups have three teams (instead of four); only group winners make the final eight. That makes for a lot less games, and with U.S. and Liga MX (the new name for Mexico’s league) teams distributed throughout the groups, everybody’s guaranteed to get a visit from a big team.

That also means we won’t see a U.S. versus Mexico match until the quarterfinals, at the earliest (though Toronto FC is grouped with Santos Laguna). Club-friendly it may be, but this new format isn’t so fan-friendly (or TV-friendly, for that matter).

Groups 2 and 7 start play on Tuesday, with the rest of the triads kicking off later this week. That means it’s time to get on board or move on. We’re on board.

Here’s the briefest of snapshots on each group along with its schedule and meaingless, practically blind picks (teams listed by pot from which they were drawn):

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

Santos Laguna beat Toronto in last year’s semifinal before being knocked off by two-time defending champion Monterrey. They have as much attacking talent as anybody in CONCACAF (perhaps more). Toronto’s defense may have improved against MLS competition, but the Guerreros will be playing on a whole other level. Aguila lost their main goal scorer from last season (Nicolas Munoz), a season where they gave regular CCL qualifier Isidro Metapan trouble on the domestic front.

Games: Aug. 1 – Toronto vs. Aguila; Aug. 21 – Santos vs. Aguila; Aug. 28 – Toronto vs. Santos; Sep. 19 – Aguila vs. Santos; Sep. 25 – Aguila vs. Toronto; Oct. 24 – Santos vs. Toronto.

Prediction: Santos, Toronto, Aguila

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

Real Salt Lake is favored in this group despite being the Pot B team. Herediano is a strong team but lost a valuable scorer (Jose Cancela) to Saprissa. Tauro is off to a hot start in Panama and has a potential match winner in 23-year-old forward Luis Renteria (11 goals in 21 appearances for Panama). This is a decent but not especially tough group for RSL.

Games: July 31 – Herediano vs. RSL; Aug. 21 – RSL vs. Tauro; Aug. 30 – Tauro vs. Herediano; Sep. 18 – Tauro vs RSL; Sep 25. – Herediano vs. Tauro; Oct. 23 – RSL vs. Herediano

Prediction: Real Salt Lake, Herediano, Tauro

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

Houston gets the team from whom they got Oscar Boniek Garcia. Unfortunately for Dom Kinnear, the Honduran powerhouse is still stacked with national teamers and one familiar face: Luciano Emilio. It’s unclear how big a part the D.C. United legend will play in the tournament, particularly since Brazilian attacker Cristiano has also been added. Both Houston and FAS are underdogs here, though the Dynamo have enough to get out of this group, if they play well.

Games: Aug. 2 – Olimpia vs. FAS; Aug. 22. FAS vs. Houston; Aug. 30 – Olimpia vs. Houston; Sep. 20 – Houston vs. FAS; Sep. 27 – FAS vs. Olimpia; Oct. 23 – Houston vs. Olimpia

Prediction: Olimpia, Houston, FAS

Group 4: Seattle Sounders (United States), Marathon (Honduras), Caledonia AIA (Trinidad and Tobago)

Caledonia finished fourth in Trinidad and Tobago’s league, getting in via a shootout in the Caribbean Club Championship final. They’re big underdogs. Having got through a very tough group last year, Seattle’s the favorite, especially having added Eddie Johnson and Christian Tiffert. The Sounders’ defense may be an issue (it’s hard to imagine them challenging for this title with that group), but Marathón doesn’t have the firepower to test it without the Sounders’ help.

Games: Aug. 2 – Seattle vs. Caledonia; Aug. 22 – Caledonia vs. Marathon; Aug. 30 – Caledonia vs. Seattle; Sep. 19 – Marathon vs. Seattle; Sep. 26 – Marathon vs. Caledonia; Oct. 24 – Seattle vs. Marathon

Prediction: Seattle, Marathon, Caledonia

Group 5: LA Galaxy (United States), Isidro Metapan (El Salvador), Puerto Rico Islanders (Puerto Rico)

Los Angeles doesn’t do well in this competition, and it’s unclear Bruce Arena cares. With the Galaxy having just pulled themselves into a playoff spot, their coach would probably prefer to be rid of the distraction. Isidro Metapan beat out then-MLS Cup champion Colorado for a knockout round spot last year, while Puerto Rico knocked out LA two years ago. Isidro has swiped Nicolas Munoz from Aguila, while Puerto Rico has lost coach Colin Clarke to the Carolina RailHawks.

Games: Aug. 1 – Isidro vs. Puerto Rico; Aug. 23 – LA Galaxy vs. Isidro; Aug. 29 – LA Galaxy vs. Puerto Rico; Sep. 19 – Puerto Rico vs. LA Galaxy; Sep. 27 – Puerto Rico vs. Isidro; Oct. 25 – Isidro vs. LA Galaxy.

Prediction: Isidro Metapan, LA Galaxy, Puerto Rico

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

Tigres’ stifling defense won them Mexico’s Apertura, though Lucas Lobos, Elias Hernandez and Damian Alvarez are more than capable of creating goals in this competition, even if Hector Mancilla has moved on. Alajuelense was last year’s tough luck team, going 4-0-2 but missing out on the knockout round when a tiebreaker sent them out of Group A with 12 points. Real Esteli are a high-powered team in Nicaragua, but that federation has never done real damage in this competition.

Games: Aug 1. – Tigres vs. Real Esteli; Aug. 22 – Alajuelense vs. Tigres; Aug. 28 – Real Esteli vs. Alajuelense; Sep. 18 – Real Esteli vs. Tigres; Sep. 26 – Alajuelense vs. Real Esteli; Oct. 24 – Tigres vs. Alajuelense

Prediction: Tigres, Alajuelense, Real Estelí

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

Monterrey is the two-time defending champion and have the region’s most balanced collection of elite talent. They’re off to a slow start in Mexico, though, and the Clausura final loss to Santos Laguna took away a little of their swagger. There’s nothing in this group that will test them, though. Chorrillo is also off to a slow start in Panama, while Municipal never finished above fourth in a qualification stage last year. Municipal also has a killer stretch from their second to third group matches: three games in six days, counting a domestic match against Xelaju.

Games: July 31 – Monterrey vs. Chorrillo; Aug. 23 – Chorrillo vs. Municipal; Aug. 29 – Municipal vs. Monterrey; Sep. 20 – Municipal vs. Chorrillo; Sep. 25 – Monterrey vs. Municipal; Oct. 23, Chorrillo vs. Monterrey.

Prediction: Monterrey, Chorrillo, Municipal

Group 8: Xelaju (Guatemala), Chivas (Mexico), W Connection (Trinidad and Tobago)

Like Monterrey, Chivas gets an easy group, though they’re less equipped to dominate it. They have star power (Marco Fabian, most notably), but they also have a series of recent disappointments, including losing in the first round of the Apertura’s Liguilla as a one-seed. Xelaju has no CCL pedigree but has Brazilian attacker Isreal Silva, who scored 31 goals last season. W Connection is Trinidad and Tobago’s champions. The Caribbean (the region out of which they qualified) failed to place a team in group stage last year, let alone the knockout round.

Prediction: Chivas, Xelaju, W Connection

John Terry still hopes to remain at Chelsea beyond this season

Chelsea v Sunderland - Premier League
Getty Images
Leave a comment

John Terry is a Chelsea legend.

It is the only team he’s every played for and even at the age of 35 the legendary captain of the Blues looks better than ever.

[ MORE: Wenger reveals bank talks ]

That’s why when he announced in January that the club wasn’t going to offer him a new deal and he’d likely be on his way this summer, fans of Chelsea reacted angrily and jumped to the support of Terry. He’s won four Premier League titles with Chelsea, a UEFA Champions League trophy, five FA Cup and three League Cups.

He is the most successful player in club history and despite his off-the-field issues, he is one of the greatest defenders England has ever produced.

Speaking to Soccer AM on Sky Sports in the UK, Terry revealed that he still believes he has a few years left in the tank and that he hopes it’s with Chelsea.

“I’ve got a couple of years left. Definitely I intend to keep playing, hopefully that’s at Chelsea, but if not it will be somewhere else,” Terry said. “I am definitely feeling good physically and I intend to play as long as I can. As a professional footballer you’re a long time retired, so I think not only for myself but for all of us we should get the most out of it and enjoy it while it’s there.”

With talk of a move to China, MLS or elsewhere in Europe, it seems like Terry still has his heart set on remaining on Chelsea.

The fact that he’s toned down his rhetoric in this interview suggests perhaps some headway has been made behind-the-scenes as Antonio Conte will arrive as Chelsea’s new manager in July following the 2016 European Championships where he coaches Italy.

Should Conte push for Terry to get a new one-year deal at Stamford Bridge?

Right now, Terry is still the best central defender Chelsea has. Despite his age and many believing it may be good for both parties to move on and for Conte to not have to worry about Terry’s huge influence in the dressing room, surely the Blues can’t just let a top-class center back walk free this summer?

Luke Shaw aiming to make Manchester United return this season

SWANSEA, WALES - AUGUST 30: Luke Shaw of Manchester United warms up with Bastian Schweinsteiger (R) prior to the Barclays Premier League match between Swansea City and Manchester United at Liberty Stadium on August 30, 2015 in Swansea, Wales.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Luke Shaw has been out-of-action for a half-year, dating back to a horrible injury in Manchester United’s UEFA Champions League defeat at PSV Eindhoven in September.

[ MORE: LVG says Leicester will have to earn title ]

Shaw, 20, is hoping that spell on the club sidelines will end before the end of this Premier League season, as the $45 million buy from Southampton continues to progress toward match fitness.

From ManUtd.com:

“I am back outside now, still with the physio but, day by day, I am getting better and fitter. I am just going to keep pushing now until the end of the season and see what happens. At the moment, my leg feels really great every time I go outside. There was a bit of aching at the start but now they are all gone. It is just back to hard work now and hopefully I will see the fans before the end of the season.”

It’s a good goal for the youngster, but there’s obviously zero need to rush things. With the FA Cup surely a tempting proposition as well, Shaw will also need to be reintroduced to playing in matches. Would Louis Van Gaal want to risk that during some pivotal encounters in the race for a Top Four place?

Red Bulls acquired defender Aurelien Collin from Orlando City

ORLANDO, FL - JULY 15:  Aurelien Collin #78 of Orlando City SC heads the ball during an International friendly soccer match between West Bromwich Albion and the Orlando City SC at the Orlando Citrus Bowl on July 15, 2015 in Orlando, Florida. Orlando won the match 3-1. (Photo by Alex Menendez/Getty Images)
Photo by Alex Menendez/Getty Images
Leave a comment

HARRISON, N.J. (AP) The New York Red Bulls have acquired veteran center back Aurelien Collin from Orlando City SC in exchange for a conditional fourth-round pick in the 2017 MLS SuperDraft.

The Red Bulls announced the deal for the 30-year-old Collin on Friday.

[ MLS: Red Bulls 4-0 FC Dallas ]

Collin, who is from France, was acquired by Orlando City ahead of its inaugural MLS campaign last season. Before that, he spent four years with Sporting Kansas City, where he won the 2013 MLS Cup and was named the MVP of the game.

Collin was named MLS Best XI in 2012 and earned three consecutive MLS All-Star appearances from 2012-2014. He has played professionally in France, Greece, England, Scotland and Portugal.

USMNT’s Tim Howard starts for Everton

U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard smiles during practice Thursday, Nov. 12, 2015, in St. Louis. The U.S. men's team is scheduled to play a World Cup soccer qualifying match against St. Vincent and the Grenadines on Friday in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
AP
1 Comment

Tim Howard is back in goal for Everton.

[ WATCH: Stream PL games via Live Extra

The U.S. national team legend, 37, returns for the Toffees and is named captain by under-fire manager Roberto Martinez.

Howard hasn’t played in a Premier League game for Everton since January 24 when the Toffees lost 2-1 against Swansea at Goodison.

Since then he has struggled with a calf injury and has been replaced by Spanish goalkeeper Joel Robles as Everton’s starting goalkeeper. In the past few months Everton’s manager Martinez has come under increasing pressure from the fans as they’ve continued to coast along in midtable and were beaten in the FA Cup semifinal by Manchester United last weekend.

[ MORE: How will USMNT line up this summer? ]

The New Jersey native has signed a deal with Major League Soccer’s Colorado Rapids — a contract which makes him the best-paid goalkeeper in MLS history — who he will join on July 1 as he return to the U.S. to finish out his career.

After spending 13 years in England with Manchester United and Everton, it seems like Howard will get a final chance to say farewell to Everton’s fans in the last three weeks of the season.

Despite criticism from sections of Everton’s supporters this season, Howard has been a fans favorite for most of his decade on Merseyside.

Below is the starting lineup for Everton as they face Bournemouth on Saturday at Goodison (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET on Premier League Extratime and online via Live Extra).