Soccer  > General Soccer  > ANALYSIS: Points away prove precious in CCL
August 21, 2010, 02:12 PM
By Brian Dunseth Guest Analyst

When looking back at the past two versions of the CONCACAF Champions League, only four of 16 teams have pushed through to the quarterfinals without hitting double digits in points during the Group Stage.

The Puerto Rico Islanders ('09) and the Columbus Crew ('10) reached Championship Round with eight points each, while Comunicaciones ('10) and the Houston Dynamo ('09) went through with nine points.

And while there might be one or two teams that are fortunate enough to make it to the knockout phase following last-minute results, the common mindset of teams seems to be: "get three points at home and try to get any points on the road." At least for the time being.

The math and resulting mentality becomes pretty basic when looking to book your spot in the quarterfinals. If the recent trend of second-place teams is any indication of what it takes to qualify for the knockout phase, then the magic number that every team should be aiming for is 10.

Obviously things have changed dramatically from the Preliminary Round, a two-leg knockout crucible that focuses on winning games while scoring loads of goals. But playing in the Group Stage is a completely different animal and forces team to chance their approach.

Out of the eight games played in the first round, only one team lost at home and even that wasn't much of a surprise as Joe Public fell to Santos Laguna 5-3. (Santos routed another Trinidad side, San Juan Jobloteh, 6-0 in the Preliminary Round).

The results by Toronto FC, Columbus Crew and Real Salt Lake should be an early indication of how serious teams from Major League Soccer are taking the CONCACAF Champions League this year. The three recorded opening-day wins at home while the Seattle Sounders lost against Honduran powerhouse Marathon - on a disputed penalty kick - on the road at Estadio Olimpico.

Giant slayer Puerto Rico dropped two very valuable points at home after Olimpia walked out of Estadio Juan Ramon Loubriel with a 1-1 result, not good news for Colin Clarke's Islanders. While winning six of seven at home in the first year to reach the semifinals - and come within penalty kick shootout of the finals, it managed only four draws in as many games last year and finished last in Group C.

What happens in next week's second round of the Group Stage is anyone's guess, but here are a couple of games worth keeping a close eye on.

* Real Salt Lake at Cruz Azul: Can the Salt Lake based club be the first MLS team to record a win in Mexico? Not having an MLS league match at the weekend certainly helps!

* Toronto FC at Arabe Unido: How does Arabe Unido recover following a card-filled night in Salt Lake that saw two players get ejected? And can Toronto continue with the form they had during their win against Cruz Azul?

* Columbus at Santos Laguna: Santos Laguna has scored 11 goals in three games so far. How will the Crew backline hold up, and will they be able to end the match with 11 players?

Brian Dunseth is a former professional player who serves as a play-by-play announcer and analyst on CONCACAF Champions League TV partner the Fox Soccer Channel in the United States. He played 171 games in eight years in Major League Soccer from 1997-2005 and was the captain of the U.S. Olympic team that finished fourth at the Sydney Games.


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