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MLS Roundup: Champions Cup teams struggling at bottom, table shifts after exciting weekend, and Champions Cup Final first leg preview



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This is the moment North American soccer fans have been waiting for; the CONCACAF Champions Cup Final is here. However, with more exciting MLS action coming up this weekend, Americans are spoiled for choice as we creep closer to summer.

CONCACAF Champions Cup

concacaf-champions-cup.jpgThis will be a good final, contested by two teams with rich histories in domestic and regional competition and stadiums that away teams do not enjoy traveling to.

Deportivo Saprissa will make their first appearance in the final since 2005, when they won it, one year after losing badly (5-1) at the same stage. When they managed to win, it was against a Mexican opponent, such as defending champions CF Pachuca, who will appear in the final once again this year. 2005 was also the last time there were no Mexican teams in the final — there has been at least one every year in the last decade except for 2004, when there were two Costa Rican teams competing for the Cup. Overall, all of these statistics point to one thing: an exciting final.

As for the first leg, which will be played in Costa Rica Wednesday night, the home side have the advantage. Home teams usually have an advantage, especially in competitions such as the Champions Cup, but Saprissa’s is a bit larger than usual. Saprissa have qualified for the Champions Cup four times in the new millennium, reaching the final twice. In that span, they have not lost a single match at home, even when they failed to advance.

concacaf-champions-cup-final.jpgWith that in mind, Pachuca has a good advantage in playing the second leg at home. That is not an unusual advantage either, but it is important when playing two legs against a team like Saprissa. If Pachuca can hold the Costa Ricans to a draw, or even just a one goal advantage, they have a real chance of bringing the Cup back to Mexico.

The key to this tie is goals. Both of the tournaments leading goal-scorers, with three each, will be involved in this match. Luis Montes of Pachuca and Armando Alonso of Saprissa have provided the knockout blows for their team in both the quarter final and semi final fixtures, both scoring what proved to be the tie-winning goal at each stage.

Major League Soccer

Sometimes, it’s hard to get excited about a domestic competition when there is a thrilling regional final tie in the same week, but the MLS is just heating up to the point that I will probably be excited about it even in the same week as the Champions League final in Moscow.

The table has shifted around a bit again. The key movers:
• Kansas City Wizards has overtaken Chicago Fire at the top by defeating them 1-0 in Chicago. This defeat also dropped Chicago to fourth.
• Toronto FC jumped four places after beating fellow newcomers to the mid-table, Réal Salt Lake.
• DC United dropped to the bottom after losing to Columbus Crew, who leaped to second.
• San Jose Earthquakes’ first win of the season gives them new hope and a place third from bottom.

houston-dc.jpgOne of the biggest stories of this young season is how the front-runners from last season have stalled at the beginning of the new season. Champions Cup semi-finalists DC United and Houston Dynamo lie on the very bottom of the table, with only three points each, and only one win between them. Chivas USA, my prediction to win the league and cup double (MLS style) currently sit in the last playoff spot.

DC play a surging Salt Lake side this weekend, Chivas play Los Angeles Galaxy in the Los Angeles derby, and Houston travel to Columbus to take on a high-flying Crew side. This weekend is important for all of the “top” MLS teams to get their seasons on track. There is plenty of time left, with MLS not even through its first month of play in 2008, but these are the points that the second and third placed teams will look back on and regret dropping.

Results: DC United 1-2 Columbus Crew (MLS), Toronto FC 1-0 Réal Salt Lake (MLS), Red Bull New York 1-1 New England Revolution (MLS), Colorado Rapids 0-2 San Jose Earthquakes (MLS), Los Angeles Galaxy 2-2 Houston Dynamo (MLS), Chicago Fire 0-1 Kansas City Wizards (MLS), Chivas USA 0-2 FC Dallas (MLS).

Kansas City Wizards 10
Columbus Crew 9
FC Dallas 8
Chicago Fire 7
New England Revolution 7
Colorado Rapids 6
Toronto FC 6
Chivas USA 4
Réal Salt Lake 4
Red Bull New York 4
Los Angeles Galaxy 4
San Jose Earthquakes 3
Houston Dynamo 3
DC United 3

Fixtures: Deportivo Saprissa v CF Pachuca (CCC), FC Dallas v New England Revolution (MLS), Toronto FC v Kansas City Wizards (MLS), Columbus Crew v Houston Dynamo (MLS), DC United v Réal Salt Lake (MLS), Chicago Fire v Colorado Rapids (MLS), Los Angeles Galaxy v Chivas USA (MLS), Red Bull New York v San Jose Earthquakes (MLS).

This week brings a regional cup final, a big city derby, and league minnows looking to stay on top. A trivia question for you this week: what was the only American club to make it to a domestic and regional cup final, and what year was it?