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CONCACAF Champions League: Cruz Azul embark on title defense | Group 6 Preview

This is the preview for Group 6 as we approach the kickoff to the 2014-15 CONCACAF Champions League on August 5. For comprehensive CONCACAF Champions League coverage, bookmark this page.


Alajuelense (CRC) | HOW THEY QUALIFIED: 2013 Invierno winners | PREVIOUS BEST: Semifinal (2014)

Cruz Azul (MEX) | HOW THEY QUALIFIED: Non-finalists with best regular-season record in 2014 Clausura | PREVIOUS BEST: Champions (2014)

Chorrillo FC (PAN) | HOW THEY QUALIFIED: 2014 Clausura winners | PREVIOUS BEST: Group stage (2012)


DAVID AND GOLIATH

Cruz Azul begin their CCL title defense with the relatively easy draw of Group 6, which also features Panama’s Chorrillo and Costa Rica’s Alajuelense. La Máquina broke their 17-year major title drought in April with a 1-1 draw at Toluca after a scoreless draw in the opening tie back in April. Their last major title was the 1997 Invierno to top what was then known as the Primera División. They also won the 2013 Copa MX.

But Alajuelense are no minnows. The 2013 Costa Rican Invierno champions are making their fifth CCL appearance and last year advanced to the semifinals where they fell to Toluca, 3-0 on aggregate. Goalkeeper Patrick Pemberton and defender Jhonny Acosta were on Costa Rica’s roster at the 2014 World Cup, while forward Jerry Palacios suited up for Honduras.

That means Chorrillo, the Panamanian Clausura champions, making just their second CCL appearance, face some overwhelming odds.

Date/Time (ET) Home Away Venue
August 5 | 8 PM Cruz Azul Alajuelense Estadio Azul
August 19 | 10 PM Chorrillo Cruz Azul Estadio Maracaná
August 28 | 10 PM Alajuelense Chorrillo Alejandro Morera Soto
September 16 | 8 PM Cruz Azul Chorrillo Estadio Azul
September 25 | 10 PM Chorrillo Alajuelense Estadio Maracaná
October 21 | 10 PM Alajuelense Cruz Azul Alejandro Morera Soto

STAR POWER

Mariano Pavone, F, Cruz Azul: Sporting Kansas City know all too well what the Argentine striker is capable of after he recorded a hat trick to knock them out of the 2012-13 tournament with a 5-1 victory in the second leg of the quarterfinals. Pavone then went on to score Cruz Azul’s only goal, which proved to be the winner, in the championship tie against Toluca.

Jerry Palacios, F, Alajuelense: The Honduran international, a veteran of two World Cups with Honduras, made his return last year to the club where he spent the bulk of his time early in his career. He’s a veteran who is used to the international stage.
 

X-FACTOR

If Alajuelense expect to make a play to win the group, their opening game Tuesday against Cruz Azul would be the time to do it. The Mexican side has experienced somewhat of a CCL championship hangover, with just one win in its last 10 competitive matches. 

MLS/US CONNECTIONS

Columbus Crew defender and Costa Rican international Giancarlo González started his professional career with Alajuelense, where he won three titles and played there until 2012. And Alajuelense midfielder Álvaro Sánchez joined FC Dallas on loan for the 2009 season.

LA Galaxy Homegrown player Jose Villarreal recently returned to LA after his loan spell was completed at Cruz Azul. Argentine midfielder Hernán Bernardello spent parts of the last two seasons with the Montreal Impact before they sent him on loan to Cruz Azul in June.