CONCACAF’s bigwigs released the draw for the 2009/10 Champions League yesterday and Vancouver Whitecaps now know what will be waiting in store for them if they clinch qualification next week.
It’s not an entirely mouthwatering proposition.
Canada’s entry in the competition have to get through a qualifying round to get into the group stages and were in Pot A. With 8 potential opponents, including trips to Trinidad, Honduras and Panama, awaiting them, it somehow came as no surprise when the draw through up the most unglamourous and least box office friendly tie possible – another two legged match up with fellow USL-1 side Puerto Rico Islanders. Sigh.
Myself and many Whitecaps fans would be quite happy to see a long Champions League run, as opposed to more USL glory, if we had to choose, but the draw has thrown up a nightmare tie on so many levels.
The Caps will be playing against opponents that know them well. They have already played each other twice this season, with one win apiece, and a third game between them will take place in Vancouver just days before the first leg.
The Islanders are also not exactly box office gold. There will be little hype or buzz about the prospect of the teams meeting for a 4th and 5th time this season. There’s not going to be a huge rush of fans clamouring for tickets for this one! It’s become the Canadian equivalent of East Fife-Brechin City!
Forgetting the lack of exoticness and buzz about the game, the main worry in all of this is that the game is as equally as winnable as it is loseable. The Caps don’t do well historically down in Puerto Rico, but we do pretty well at Swangard.
The qualifying game is schedule to be played in the weeks beginning July 28th and August 4th.
If Vancouver can secure the victory, the will qualify for the group stages in Group C where future MLS foes and current MLS Champs Columbus Crew, Costa Rican side Saprissa and probably Mexican side Cruz Azul await them. The Mexcians were last season’s beaten finalist in the Champions League and have to go through a qualifying game against another Costa Rican side, Herediano, to claim their place in the group stages this year. A tough proposition, but nothing to fear and three mouthwatering home games to look forward to and three away games it may be better avoiding for various reasons!
Of course, all of these points will be moot if Toronto pull off the big victory they need in Montreal next Thursday. As unlikely as it looks that TFC can actually manage to score at least 4 goals in the game, word coming out of the Montreal camp is that they will not be fielding a full strength side in a meaningless game for them and risk injuries for the remainder of their USL campaign.
Smoke and mirrors? We have a nervy few days to wait and find out, but of course a second string Montreal team with players keen to impress and stake a regular first team spot will be a dangerous proposition in theory.
I can’t see many fingernails left by the end of the evening on June 18th.