MLSsoccer.com's preview of the CONCACAF Champions League continues with a look at Group B, where the defending MLS Cup champions will stake their claim to CCL success. The Colorado Rapids make their first appearance in the tournament after last year's surprising run in the MLS postseason, while Mexican power Santos Laguna are back for another shot after reaching the quarterfinals last year.
Salvadoran side Isidro Metapán are also back on the scene after edging the Puerto Rico Islanders during the preliminary round, and Real España are eager to make good in their second-ever appearance in the tournament. Group play in Group B opens on Aug. 17.
Location: Commerce City, Colo., USA
Home stadium: Dick’s Sporting Goods Park (18,000)
How they qualified: 2010 MLS Cup champions
Previous CCL appearances: None
Profile: The Rapids pulled off the upset last year by beating heavily favored FC Dallas for the MLS Cup. Now, head coach Gary Smith's team — which relies on a stifling defense, speedy flank play and bruising central midfield play — will see if their rugged approach can thrive at a bigger level. They enter the tournament in good form, with four wins and a draw in their last five.
Player to watch: Omar Cummings
Challenge Cummings to a foot race, and you will lose. The Jamaican international regularly leaves defenders in the dust and then punishes them by getting the assist or finding the net himself, something he's done 17 times combined in 2010 and 2011.
AD Isidro Metapán
Location: Metapán, El Salvador
Home stadium: Estadio Jorge Calero Suárez (8,000)
How they qualified: 2010 Salvadoran Apertura champions
Previous CCL appearances: 3 (2008-09, 2009-10, 2010-11)
Profile: With four first-division titles in the last seven seasons, Metapán are the most successful Salvadoran team in the last decade. Four-time participants in the Champions League — los Caleros edged the Puerto Rico Islanders in the preliminary round thanks to away-goals advantage to reach this year’s group stage — Metapán will hope this edition turns out fantastic for them.
Player to watch: Paolo Suárez
The team’s emblem, the Uruguayan midfielder — and brother of Liverpool star Luis Suárez — is known mostly for his passing skills, but he is no stranger to scoring. He has been a key part of los Caleros’ recent success.
Location: San Pedro Sula, Honduras
Home stadium: Estadio Francisco Morazán (20,000)
How they qualified: 2010 Honduran Apertura champions
Previous CCL appearances: 1 (2009-10)
Profile: Los Aurinegros find themselves in the Champions League for the second time in club history, fending off Olimpia — the nation’s most decorated club — in a nail-biter for the 2010 Apertura title. Real España will draw on their previous CCL experience — a last-place finish in the 2009-10 group stage — to mount a challenge against the continent’s big boys.
Player to watch: Kevin Hernández
A young ‘keeper seen by many as the future of the Honduras national team, the 25-year-old Hernández brings a sense of security between the posts far beyond his years.
Location: Torreón, Mexico
Home stadium: Estadio Nuevo Corona (30,050)
How they qualified: 2010 Mexican Apertura runners-up
Previous CCL appearances: 2 (2008-09, 2010-11)
Profile: Los Guerreros are no strangers to the Champions League. To make their third appearance — and second straight — in the tournament proper, Santos had to defeat CD Olimpia of Honduras. If their previous CCL experiences are any indication — semifinal and quarterfinal appearances — the Mexican club will be one to watch, particularly given their decent start to the league season (two wins, one loss, one draw).
Player to watch: Daniel Ludueña
A natural No. 10, El Hachita (The Little Axe) can slice and dice opponents with accurate passes and a cannon of a shot. With 54 goals for the Green-and-Whites, the Argentine-born naturalized Mexican stands fourth on the club’s all-time scoring list.