The 2013-14 CONCACAF Champions League draw was conducted last night and the San Jose Earthquakes learned who their opponents would be when the tournament begins in August.
Well, they sort of learned.
The Earthquakes were drawn into Group 5 for the first round of the tournament along with fellow MLS side the Montreal Impact and a Guatemalan side to be determined. Why the uncertainty? With one of the country’s two berths already secured by powerhouse club Comunicaciones, the second entrant will be decided at the conclusion of the Guatemalan League’s playoffs later this month.
The eight-team Guatemala playoffs start this week, and with already-qualified Comunicaciones favored to win, the next best finisher will advance to the CCL. Some of the favorites for that honor include Heredia, which finished in second place in the regular season Clausura standings, and Xelaju, which competed in the CCL two of the past three years. One team that won’t have a chance to qualify is Municipal, the most decorated team in Guatemalan soccer. The perennial contenders finished a disappointing Clausura season second from bottom in the league table and will miss the CCL for the first time in four years.
Meanwhile, the Earthquakes are very familiar with their other Group 5 opponent, the Montreal Impact. Holders of the Voyageurs Cup as winner’s of last month’s Canadian Championship, a four team tournament that annually determines the country’s best team, the Impact are Canada’s lone representative in the CCL. Montreal beat out fellow MLS sides Vancouver Whitecaps and Toronto FC, as well as second division side FC Edmonton, to earn qualification into the continental championship.
San Jose and Montreal faced off once already this year, a heart-stopping 2-2 draw in early March at Buck Shaw Stadium, and now meet twice in a home and home series in the CCL tournament group stage. So why were two teams from the same league drawn into the same group when only one team will advance? Call it Canada’s fate as a federation that is smaller than those in the U.S. and Mexico.
With eight total groups in the tournament and each of the four Liga MX and U.S. based MLS entrants distributed one to a group, there were no restrictions as to the group in which Montreal could have been drawn. As such, the current Supporters’ Shield leading Impact would pose a difficult opponent for whichever top-eight side drew them in the group stage. Last night, that honor fell to the Earthquakes.
That the defending Supporters’ Shield holders will do battle with the current best team in MLS only adds to the intrigue of the draw as only one of the two teams can move on to the knockout round. Already labeled the “Group of Death” by some pundits, even before the mystery Guatemalan team has been determined, Group 5 should prove to be extremely entertaining when things kick off in August.