CONCACAF Champions League: Group 5 preview
Group 1 (HOU) | Group 2 (SKC) | Group 5 (MTL, SJ) | Group 8 (LA)
How they qualified: 2013 Amway Canadian Championship winners
Coach: Marco Schällibaum (SUI)
Best Finish: Quarterfinals, 2008-09 (as USL First Division team)
Outlook: The Impact have made clear their high regard for competitions like the Canadian Championship and CCL, and after running out of steam following a hot start to 2013, a diversion from MLS play might just be what the team needs.
Schällibaum spread the minutes out to some of his lesser-used players in the early stages of the ACC before bringing in something close to a first-choice lineup in the final, and it would be no surprise to see him employ a similar strategy in the opening games of the group stage, having already said that No. 2 goalkeeper Evan Bush will start the opener against the San Jose Earthquakes.
Though Montreal have had their issues with squad depth, the CCL could be the perfect place for them to try out some of their own new summer signings, namely new DP Hernán Bernardello and Adrián López (who will likely miss the opener). Should they prove an quick hit, the Impact will feel very good about rolling the dice and going for the quarterfinal berth.
San Jose Earthquakes
How they qualified: 2012 MLS Supporters' Shield winners
Coach: Mark Watson (CAN)
Best Finish: Quarterfinals, 2002, 2004 (Champions' Cup)
Outlook: San Jose have bounced back from a disappointing start to the season that saw the club part ways with Frank Yallop, having gone on a three-game winning streak in MLS play. The additions of Clarence Goodson and Jaime Alas, combined with a clean bill of health has given them newfound depth just in time for the CCL.
However, the stumbling start to 2013 means the Quakes will have to balance the rigors of CCL play in a tough group while also maintaining their suddenly revived playoff push. Like his counterpart in Montreal, Watson could use the competition to feature some of his team's new signings, such as Salvadoran winger Jaime Alas.
With San Jose opening with a pair of away games, picking up points in both contests will be paramount to their chances of advancing to the quarterfinals. If they can avoid a loss in the opener in Montreal, though, they will suddenly become group favorites.
How they qualified: Best runner-up in 2012-13 Guatemalan Liga Nacional
Coach: Juan Carlos Elías (ARG)
Best Finish: First appearance
Outlook: Heredia, making their first ever appearance in CONCACAF competition, hail from the steamy jungles of northern Guatemala and are based in the town of San José, with a population of less than 10,000.
They figure to be very much the underdogs in a group featuring two MLS sides, but no team should expect any comfort in their travels to Guatemala, with the heat and humidity sure to make things especially difficult for Montreal and the Earthquakes in their visits.
The squad itself is teeming with experience and boasts a fearsome attack – Heredia scored 44 goals in 22 games in the Clausura 2013, 13 more than the next best side – led by South American duo Charles Cordova (Colombia) and Igor de Souza (Brazil), with 21-year-old Guatemalan striker Robin Betancourth, who made his debut for the national team this year, also likely to factor in.
Barring a major shock, this will be a battle between Montreal and San Jose. Back when the groups were drawn, it seemed like Montreal were big favorites given their hot form and San Jose's struggles. Now, the tide seems to be shifting.
The opening game at Stade Saputo will likely set the tone for the whole group, and if Montreal come away with anything less than three points, it will be the Quakes' group to lose.
Roster depth has also been a big question for both teams this season, and the prospect of four more games in addition to their MLS run-in could put that depth to the test. The Quakes seem to have done the better job in adding useful pieces to their roster this summer, and that could prove the difference in Group 5.