MLSsoccer.com's preview of the CONCACAF Champions League concludes with a look at Group D, where the two-time defending US Open Cup champions will try to improve upon last year's tepid continental performance. The Seattle Sounders make their second straight appearance in the tournament after last year's Open Cup title.
The Sounders face the stiffest of tests, as the defending CCL champs, CF Monterrey, loom as the group heavyweights. Joining them are Herediano, one of the oldest and most storied clubs in Costa Rica, and CSD Comunicaciones of Guatemala.
Location: Seattle, USA
Home stadium: CenturyLink Field (37,000)
How they qualified: 2010 US Open Cup champions
Previous CCL appearances: 1 (2010-11)
Profile: The Sounders became the model MLS expansion franchise when they won the 2009 US Open Cup, then doubled their fun a year later. Throughout their two-and-a-half years in the North American top flight they've been both consistent and stable, rarely going through prolonged droughts. Their attack has a distinct Latin American flair, and while they can struggle to find goals from the forward slots, their midfield attacks in waves to make up for it. They're at it again this year, currently third in the race for the Supporters' Shield.
Player to watch: Mauro Rosales
Rosales came to MLS very much under the radar for a player of his pedigree and talent. The 2004 Olympic gold medalist with Argentina, the former Ajax man has become the centerpiece of Seattle's offense, coming up with crucial goals and threading seeing-eye passes to the Sounders' all-angles attack.
Location: Monterrey, Mexico
Home stadium: Estadio Tecnológico (32,864)
How they qualified: 2010 Mexican Apertura champions
Previous CCL appearances: 1 (2010-11 - Champions)
Profile: Los Rayados are the region's best attacking team — no surprise for a side fielding both Humberto Suazo and Aldo de Nigris. As Monterrey showed earlier this year in the two-legged finals against Real Salt Lake, they're plenty comfortable playing away from the confines of home and they're more than willing to mix it up with big, physical opponents. What sets them apart, though, is how versatile and opportunistic they are in attack. They're off to a solid start this season in Mexico, winners of three of their first five games.
Player to watch: Humberto Suazo
The Chilean star stands just 5-foot-7, but is a giant in Mexico, with 66 goals in 120 appearances for Monterrey. He can find a goal from any spot in the attacking third, is clever off the ball and vicious in front of net.
Location: Heredia, Costa Rica
Home stadium: Estadio Eladio Rosabal Cordero (16,000)
How they qualified: 2010 Invierno runners-up
Previous CCL appearances: 1 (2009-10)
Profile: The Rojiamarillos find themselves in the spotlight once again after a brief hiatus, and after years of being overshadowed by their great Costa Rican rivals Deportivo Saprissa and LD Alajuelense. They don't have as much influence on the Costa Rican national team as those other two sides, but they have a solid, steady, veteran group wtih a few young attackers who are anxious to heat up and make some noise on the continental stage
Player to watch: Josimar Arias
Arias, a new acquisition, is a pure attacker in the traditional Central American mold. Tiny but rugged, and seemingly quicker with the ball on his foot than without it, he'll cause problems for bigger defenders, draw fouls and give his team a chance on set pieces.
Location: Guatemala City, Guatemala
Home stadium: Estadio Cementos Progreso (30,050)
How they qualified: 2010 Guatemalan Apertura champions, 2011 Clausura champions
Previous CCL appearances: 1 (2009-10)
Profile: The hottest and second-most successful team in Guatemala, los Albos are eager to become the first club from their country to leave a real mark in the Champions League. They're not very pretty to watch, and have been known to indulge in more than their fare share of gamesmanship. "Anything for the win" is the club's motto, and that's something their opposition best remember on any match day.
Player to watch: Rigoberto Gómez
The 34-year-old Gómez is that rarest of commodities in Central America: A one-club man. He's been with Comunicaciones since 1996, and would love to claim a few scalps from the bigger leagues in the region as his career enters its twilight stage.