Concacaf Champions League: The Mexican Three

Now that the knockout rounds of the Concacaf Champions League are finally here, we get to see some intriguing Liga MX-MLS match-ups. For those unfamiliar with what these MLS teams are up against, here’s a brief look into the three Liga MX teams visiting the states for the first legs this week.

San Jose / Toluca

Toluca are currently in second place in the Liga MX table and have one of the more fearsome squads in the league right now. Pablo Velasquez and Isaac Brizuela are some of the young talent with  dizzying ability to beat defenders, make runs into difficult spots, and run circles around the even the most physical defenders. Brizuela has been brilliant in league play, and played an integral role in Mexico's performance over South Korea in January.

On the other end of the age spectrum, it's always wise to keep an eye out for Antonio 'Sinha' Naelson. Sinha is certainly past his prime, but can still create some magic in the midfield. He's a true creator with the ability to capitalize on any defensive lapses.

Wilson Tiago, Raul Nava, and Carlos Esquivel lifted Toluca past Puebla in a 3-0 win over the weekend, and even US National Teamers DaMarcus Beasley and Michael Orozco were no match for a determined home side who dominated from start to finish.

They have a solid goalkeeper in Alfredo Talavera as well. For those who get just as excited for great saves as they do about goals, you'll have a great time watching Chris Wondolowski go up against the 31 year old Mexican international.

The game will be a nice "warm up" for San Jose, who open their MLS season against Real Salt Lake at Buck Shaw Stadium on March 15.

SKC / Cruz Azul

Cruz Azul sit at the top of the table with 25 points in Liga MX. Until the weekend, they were the only undefeated team  through 9 weeks of play.

La Maquina is recently under new guidance of Luis Fernando Tena, who led Mexico's 2012 Olympic squad to a gold medal by defeating Brazil.

They picked up Marco Fabian from Chivas on loan at the beginning of the season, and Tena has been able to get the most out of a talented player who struggled in Guadalajara. He's scored four goals in 9 games this year since joining the team.  They also have Mexico international Jesus Corona in goal, and Ecuadorian Joao Rojas who has eight goals in 27 appearances for the team.

Other players to watch on this squad, assuming Tena plays most of his first team: Argentines Mariano Pavone (attacker), Christian "El Chaco" Gimenez (midfielder and naturalized Mexican, nicknamed “El Chaco after his birthplace in the province of Chaco, Argentina), and Mauro Formica (midfielder); in defense: Rogelio Chavez, Fausto Pinto, and Colombian Luis Amaranto Perea.

LA Galaxy / Tijuana

Probably the most evenly matched pairing will make for some great entertainment.

We all know Herculez Gomez is at the forefront of CONCACAF Champions League with his goal scoring charades, and it will be interesting to see how he does with either Fidel Martinez or Dario Benedetto (or both!) in whichever formation Cesar Farias decides to use up top.

In midfield, Xolos have an abundance of choices: Fernando Arce, Joe Corona, Richard Ruiz, Javier Guemez, Elio Castro (who can also play defense) and Juan Carlos Hernandez are all viable options. Tijuana's leading goal scorer is their defensive midfielder, Cristian Pellerano, and he's a handful.

Defensively, Edgar Castillo will most likely start for Tijuana at left back, but is known for his more attacking role down the left wing. Central defender and captain Javier Gandolfi is versatile in midfield and in attack, but mainly used as a defender. Juan Carlos Nunez and Hernan Pellerano (brother of Cristian) are the others in back. 22 year old American Greg Garza has been a rock in defense when he fills in for Castillo, and his strength and physical play would match up well with the power in some of LA's guys. 

Goalkeeper Cirilo Saucedo will be tested against Robbie Keane and Landon Donovan, and that’s not a bad thing. Another possible opportunity to see some excellent saves.

Tijuana has gone from winning a title and making a deep Copa Libertadores run under former coach Antonio Mohamed, to failing to make playoffs in the 2013 Apertura under Jorge Almiron.  Farias is a refreshing change. Up until recently, however, he’s been experimenting with a formation that plays solely down the middle and doesn’t allow for the wingers to play in their natural wide roles, which has affected the team. Their last game v. Chivas was the first one where we saw a shift in positioning that gave wingers more freedom, and it seemed to work well. US U-20 player Paul Arriola is a great example of a player who fares well on the wing and is best utilized in this role. 

Also worth mentioning: Xolos haven’t won a game on the road in over a year, so this game has other implications aside from a potential Champions League advancement for them. A win on the road, finally, would be nice. 

** photo is used under a Creative Commons license from Saint Huck



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