There is justice in the world. With a win by Santos Laguna of Mexico over Municipal of Guatemala, the Columbus Crew has clinched qualification to the quarterfinal round of the CONCACAF Champions League before even playing their final game tonight against Joe Public of Trinidad. You may recall that Columbus was denied a win over Santos Laguna when Andy Iro changed a blood-stained jersey for a clean one without a number on the back. The fourth official approved it, the center referee waved him on, Iro scored, and then the center referee disallowed the goal for an illegal uniform. Well, Santos Laguna saved the Crew's tournament. If Santos had lost, and then the Crew had at least tied, Municipal could have eliminated group leader Santos. So, it was in Santos Laguna's best interest to win and they did, clinching the group regardless of what Columbus does tonight. Look for the Crew to rest their starters against last-place Joe Public.
The best triumph for the MLS was Group A, when Real Salt Lake defeated Cruz Azul 3-1. Both teams had already clinched advancement so they emptied their respective benches in Salt Lake City. RSL Brazilian forward Pablo Campos was pulled down in the box in the 32nd minute for a penalty, took the kick himself, and it was saved by Cruz Azul goalkeeper Yosgart Gutierrez. But the RSL benchwarmers had no trouble scoring on Gutierrez after that. Brazilian midfielder Paulo Araujo scored on both sides of halftime for RSL, making the score 2-0, and then Collen Warner scored another to take a 3-0 lead. Cesar Villaluz added a meaningless consolation goal for Cruz Azul, but Real Salt Lake wins Group A. Real Salt Lake backup goalkeeper Kyle Reynish managed to shut down CONCACAF CL leading goal scorer Javier Orozco, who played the entire game. Toronto FC also sent their fans off with a consolation win in their CONCACAF Group A finale over Arabe Unido of Panama, 1-0, on a goal by defender Nana Attakora off of a Nick LaBrocca free kick.
Group B featured Santos Laguna leading the group by only one point before the final game, with Columbus Crew in second place, and then Municipal. If Municipal had tied Santos in Torreon, Mexico, it would place the Crew in need of at least a tie tonight to advance. That didn't happen. Santos Laguna won 6-1. Oribe Peralta and Argentina's Daniel Luduena scored two goals apiece for Santos, one in each half for both players. So, Santos Laguna clinches first place in Group B with 13 points, Colubus Crew has 9 points prior to playing Joe Public tonight to clinch second, and Municipal is eliminated with 8 points.
The standings of Group C were never in doubt. Monterrey of Mexico had already clinched first place in the group, and they defeated Marathon of Honduras 1-0 in San Pedro Sula to eliminate Marathon and help Saprissa of Costa Rica advance regardless of their result. Sergio Santana scored the game's lone goal. Of course, Saprissa had already defeated Seattle Sounders 2-1 in Seattle, so they would have advanced no matter what. Nate Jaqua gave Seattle an early 1-0 lead by tapping in a Michael Fucito free kick, but it was not meant to be. Jairo Arrieta dribbled around Kasey Keller soon afterwards to tie the score, and the game would remain tied 1-1 for more than an hour. If the game finished in a tie, Marathon would still have a chance to eliminate Saprissa the next day, so Saprissa continued to attack hard. In the 87th minute, Kasey Keller misjudged a long shot from Saprissa substitute Josue Martinez, and Saprissa clinched a quarterfinal spot with a 2-1 win.
Finally, in Group D, the Puerto Rico Islanders had a chance to advance entering the final game, but would have to at least tie Olimpia of Honduras and get help from El Salvador's FAS defeating Toluca of Mexico. Neither of those things happened. Olimpia won the group by thumping Puerto Rico 3-0 at home on the strength of two goals by Roger Rojas. Puerto Rico would have had to win to eliminate Olimpia, since Toluca had already destroyed FAS 5-0 to move into first place over Olimpia by goal difference. Toluca's Chilean forward Hector Mancilla scored a hat trick, with his third goal coming in the 90th minute. Olimpia merely had to tie Puerto Rico to win the group. Toluca finishes second in Group D to Olimpia.
So, with one more meaningless Group Stage game remaining, the quarterfinals are already set. The first leg of the quarterfinal home-and-home series will be played February 22-24, 2011, and the second leg will be March 1-3. The pairings will be determined by random draw, with each first place team drawn against a second place team, so it is entirely possible that Real Salt Lake could play against Columbus Crew in the quarterfinal, or either Santos Laguna or Monterrey could play against countrymen Cruz Azul or Toluca.
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- Greed, Meet Corruption
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- CONCACAF CL Group Stage ends today
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