Los Angeles Galaxy v Seattle Sounders FC

CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinalists set tonight

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Following CONCACAF Champions League isn’t always easy.

The teams from our part of the world compete against clubs many of us know nothing about, sometimes in places that plenty of us couldn’t point to on a map.

The competition in its current incarnation has not been around for long, and the format is still being adjusted. Just this year, for instance, a substantial shift was made in group play format.

Plus, there is not a designated Champions League day or days, which is what we have in Europe for the UEFA Champions League (a.k.a., the Champions League that pretty much everyone is talking about when we mention Champions League). For CONCACAF there’s more of a “window,” which is why the final round of group stage matches has stretched over three nights this week, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

(Nor does it doesn’t help that the official CONCACAF web site’s standings aren’t updated consistently. This morning, for instance, the standings still haven’t been changed to reflect this week’s results, so of which were two nights ago.)

Tonight, the whole unwieldy thing gets a little easier to digest, at least. That’s because the group stage winners will be revealed and the quarterfinal matchups set.

The final two contests in group play will be decided tonight as Mexico’s famous Chivas hosts Guatemalan overachievers Xelaju and The Los Angeles Galaxy play in El Salvador against Metepan.

Seven of the final eight quarterfinalists are already set, although the order can still be affected by games tonight. The final berth comes down to tonight’s match in Guadalajara, where the tiny Guatemalan club needs a draw or a one-goal loss by any score that isn’t 1-0 to oust one of Mexico’s most historic clubs.

The Galaxy can improve its position (and perhaps avoid one of the tougher teams in the quarterfinals, saving the tougher opposition for a little later), but Galaxy manager Bruce Arena will count on a reserve squad to get the job done.

Here are the seven clubs that have already qualified for next year’s quarterfinals; a place in the FIFA Club World Cup goes to the eventual winner:

  • Santos Laguna, Mexico
  • Monterrey, Mexico
  • Seattle, MLS
  • LA Galaxy, MLS
  • Houston, MLS
  • Herediano, Costa Rica
  • Alajuelense, Costa Rica

Agent: “There’s no hatred” between Bale, Ronaldo

Gareth Bale & Cristiano Ronaldo, Real Madrid CF
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Gareth Bale doesn’t at all dislike Cristiano Ronaldo — or vice versa — despite what may seem a lukewarm on-field relationship between the two Real Madrid superstars, insists Jonathan Barnett, agent of Bale.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Instead, Barnett insists that the two men with very different personalities have a healthy relationship, and competition, that pushes each Galactico to be the best player he can be.

Barnett, on Bale’s relationship with Ronaldo — quotes from the Guardian:

“They don’t go out eating every night together, but it’s fine. There’s no hatred there. Gareth is a quiet guy. They’re complete opposites. But I think Gareth can learn a little bit from Ronaldo as well, interacting maybe a little bit. But he wants his own life and he lives it. Gareth is a great footballer, he doesn’t want anything more. He has some very good endorsements but his whole life is to be the best footballer in the world. I don’t think he wants to be the best model in the world or the best underwear seller. That’s not him.”

That’s a hilarious closing quote from Barnett, but he knows exactly how some folks are going to interpret it: “Bale thinks Ronaldo loves himself too much.”

[ MORE: Giroud: “I must harden myself” to unseat Walcott ]

There’s nothing better for the ultimate success of a team than healthy, friendly competition between teammates who are spectacularly talented as Ronaldo and Bale. The former will only be around to perform at his current level for so much longer, but at what point does the latter officially take the torch and supplant Madrid’s biggest star, and how accepting will he be of passing that proverbial torch?

Olivier Giroud: “I must harden myself” to unseat Walcott

Olivier Giroud, France
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Is it just me, or does the press really only ever get noteworthy quotes from players during international breaks?

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

I suppose it’s not surprising, given Premier League players get away from the mean ole British press, go back to their respective homelands and speak with journalists they’ve likely known since their early playing days, thus feel more comfortable opening up about key issues.

Anyway, today we have Olivier Giroud essentially calling himself out for having lost the starting striker’s job at Arsenal because he’s been outplayed of late by Theo Walcott. As discussed before, this is bad news for Giroud because he’s now falling down the depth chart for France with next summer’s European Championship on the horizon.

[ MORE: Aguero admits he wants Guardiola link-up ]

Giroud, on losing his place at Arsenal — quotes from the Guardian:

“At Arsenal, I am in competition with Theo for the striker position. But he is doing well at the moment, so there is no reason to change.

“Whether it was at Tours, Montpellier or Arsenal, I have never experienced a situation like this, I have often played from the start. I need to take positives and to harden myself mentally. It is something new for me.

“I was in [Walcott’s] place in previous seasons at Arsenal. I imagine what he must have been thinking. But I feel that the coach believes in me.”

Giroud goes on to cast into doubt his own confidence, stating in very certain terms he needs “to believe more in [his] abilities.” Giroud’s always come across as a bit of an existentialist, but it’s always strange to hear players publicly call themselves out — particularly their confidence — as if that’s not going to increase the pressure currently weighing down on them.

[ MORE: Rodgers reportedly chosen to take over at Aston Villa ]

The next eight months are going to be monumentally important in Giroud’s career, as the 29-year-old attempts to prove he’s worth keeping around at Arsenal and deserving of a place in the national team squad for next summer’s EUROs, which are to be played in France.