SANDY, UT - APRIL 27: Humberto Suazo #26 of Monterrey Mexico celebrates his goal against Real Salt Lake during the first half of the CONCACAF Championship game April 27, 2011 at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah. (Photo by George Frey/Getty Images)
After a four month break, the CONCACAF Champions League finally returns this week as the eight remaining teams kick off the quarterfinal round. Four of the quarterfinalists represent the Mexican Primera, with Morelia, Pumas, Santos, and defending champions Monterrey all looking to lift the trophy and earn a ticket to the FIFA Club World Cup. The quarterfinal round features a two-legged series, one match at home and one away. The round opens on Tuesday night with a showdown between two of the four Mexican clubs, as Morelia takes on Monterrey. On Wednesday night Santos faces the Sounders in Seattle, and the following night Pumas travels to El Salvador to take on Isidro Metapan. Below are brief breakdowns of the three quarterfinal match-ups involving teams from the Mexican Primera, along with game information and television broadcast schedules.
Monarcas Morelia vs. Monterrey
Morelia have to be considered one of the surprise teams in Mexico over the first half of the season. They may have been expected to be a playoff team, but no one outside of Tomas Boy expected them to be quite this good. This weekend's victory over Queretaro marked their fifth straight win, and puts them firmly in the top spot of the league standings. With grizzled veteran Miguel Sabah leading the way, this team has a great shot to win the Clausura 2012 title (after falling just short the last two seasons). They also look to be serious contenders for the CCL trophy as well, although Monterrey have have something to say about that.
One year ago, Humberto Suazo led the Rayados to the 2011 CCL championship. After returning to the squad in February, there's really no reason why he can't duplicate that perfromance this year. With Suazo back in the fold, along with his strike partner Aldo de Nigris, and wingers Cesar Delgado and Neri Cardozo, any opposing defense in CCL play will face a tough task. And that's not to mention the central midfield pairing of Jesus Zavala and Luis Perez, one of the best in Mexico. This Monterrey team has lifted several trophies before, and it would be foolish to count out their chances of making another run at the CONCACAF title in 2012.
Seattle Sounders vs. Santos Laguna
Seattle looked to have caught a break last week, when key Santos attacker Carlos Darwin Quintero went down with a leg injury. Quintero was ruled out for at least three weeks, and barring a miraculous recovery will miss both quarterfinal matches. What was supposed to be a blow to the Santos offense, though, instead may have somehow had the opposite effect. In their first game after the injury this weekend, a slightly new-look Santos squad proceeded to demolish San Luis by a 5-2 scoreline. With Herculez Gomez and Carlos Morales stepping into the starting lineup, Santos not only didn't miss a beat, but turned in their most impressive offensive performance of the year. The new lineup also seemed to reawaken striker Oribe Peralta. The Santos star had been stuck in a minor slump prior to this weekend's match, but broke out dramatically on Saturday with four goals against San Luis. You have to assume that Seattle will feature better defensive play than San Luis, because if not, this one could be over in a hurry.
Isidro Metapan vs. Pumas UNAM
Pumas have struggled so far through the first half of the Clausura season. An up and down start to the year has left them in eleventh place in the league table, and on the outside looking in at a Liguilla spot. Not coincidentally, this Pumas squad is also relatively young, and if nothing else the CCL matches will give the players some valuable international experience. On Thursday night, Pumas will take on Isidro Metapan in a tough road environment. Metapan is currently in first place in the El Salvadorian league, and will be a tough opponent, especially on the road. Any chance for success will hinge on how well the younger Pumas players perform under adversity. Pumas will also look to some of their veteran player on the backline, such as Dario Veron and Marco Palacios. The longer the defense can keep Metapan off the scoreboard, the better the chances for a Pumas road result. Any type of result in El Salvador on Thursday night will give Pumas a huge leg up as the action moves back to Mexico City next week for the return match.