The early stages of the Concacaf Champions League are often rife with surprises. Liga MX and MLS clubs have been known to stumble on the road, where they must endure 90 minutes fraught with danger. They know it’s gonna be physical and chippy, and they will pick up knocks and bruises win, lose or draw.
Confident they can overturn any deficit in the return match at home, Liga MX and MLS clubs adopt the mindset of “escaping without injury is a victory.”
Add to that the obvious lack of motivation in facing a Central American or Caribbean club (Copa Libertadores, it ain’t), and humdrum performances are no surprise.
And that was the case with Pachuca on Thursday night.
Liga MX champs put on insipid display
Maybe the Tuzos were looking ahead to Sunday’s showdown with league-leading Monterrey in addition to the factors mentioned above. Whatever the case, Pachuca looked unimpressive in producing a scoreless draw.
Granted, playing a Honduran team in San Pedro Sula is no picnic.
And relying on notoriously inept Concacaf referees to monitor the rough stuff is a fool’s errand. But Liga MX teams tend to make things much harder on themselves by approaching the task with complacency (some might describe it as arrogance).
Pachuca was exhibit A in this regard, turning in a lethargic outing against Motagua. Sloppy passing, careless dribbling, poor fundamentals and a lot of standing around, overall a rather apathetic performance at the Estadio Olímpico Metropolitano.
Avilés Hurtado was turnover-prone, Luis Chávez had his share of errant passes, the normally precise Erick Sánchez was off his game. The Tuzos appeared to be playing at half-speed (just being overly cautious, or dare we adduce arrogance?) but such circumspection allowed a hustling Motagua side to create opportunities that the reigning Liga MX champs don’t usually concede.
Even so, Pachuca outshot their hosts 19-8, though Motagua produced the better chances.
The Tuzos will host “Los Aguilas Azules” in the second leg on March 16, and they’ll have to be careful to avoid a letdown post-Monterrey, or their Concacaf dreams just might get shattered early.
Mexican clubs fail to impress
The other three Mexican clubs participating in the Concacaf Champions League Round of 16 also underwhelmed, although León did come home from Panama with a win (one of only two road teams to collect 3 points this week).
The Esmeraldas enjoyed 67% possession but were anemic in attack. A nifty Elías Hernández effort along the baseline resulted in a loose ball at the top of the 6-yard box and fullback Iván Moreno capitalized for the lone goal of the match.
“La Fiera” hosts Tauro (on March 16) needing only a draw to advance to the CCL quarterfinals.
Heavily favored Tigres outclassed visiting Orlando City FC but failed to put the ball in the net. Now “los felinos” must travel to Florida for the March 15 return match and they likely will face the MLS team without All-Star André-Pierre Gignac who is prohibited from entering the United States because of Covid vaccination requirements.
In San Pedro Sula on Wednesday, a porous Atlas defense allowed four goals to a rampant Olimpia and the Zorros look to be an early casualty. “Los Rojinegros” will have to make up a 3-goal deficit in the March 14 rematch at Estadio Jalisco.
Other Round of 16 Concacaf clashes
The big surprise this week was Violette’s stunning 3-0 win over Austin FC. The host Haitians jumped all over the MLS squad, scoring twice in the first half then just 2 minutes after the restart.
In Costa Rica on Thursday, reigning MLS champs LAFC cruised to a 3-0 win over Alajuelense thanks to a hat trick from Denis Bouanga. (Yes, that was Giorgio Chiellini playing calcio in Central America).
On Wednesday, the Vancouver Whitecaps trounced Real España of Honduras (5-0), while El Salvador’s Alianza held Philadelphia Union – last season’s losing MLS finalist – to a scoreless draw in San Salvador.
Only three road teams scored and of those only LAFC scored more than once as hosts went 3-2-2 (with a 12-5 goal differential) in this week’s first-leg Round of 16 matches. … LAFC’s Denis Bouanga tops the CCL scoring list with 3 goals. Violette’s Miche-Naider Chery and Olimpia’s Jorge Benguche are next with 2 goals apiece.