This is the preview for Group 5 as we approach the kickoff to the 2014-15 CONCACAF Champions League on August 5. For comprehensive CONCACAF Champions League coverage, bookmark this page.
Portland Timbers (USA) | HOW THEY QUALIFIED: 2013 regular-season Western Conference winners | PREVIOUS BEST: Never competed
Olimpia (HON) | HOW THEY QUALIFIED: 2014 Clausura winners | PREVIOUS BEST: Quarterfinals (2013)
Alpha United (GUY) | HOW THEY QUALIFIED: 2014 CFU Club Championship Group 3 winners | PREVIOUS BEST: Preliminary Round (2011)
DAVID AND GOLIATH
The 2014-15 CONCACAF Champions League edition offers up the Portland Timbers’ debut in the competition in their fourth MLS season. By virtue of their regular-season MLS Western Conference championship in 2013, they were grouped with Guyanese side Alpha United and Honduran powerhouse Olimpia.
Olimpia, one of just two Central American sides to have qualified for all seven editions of the CCL (El Salvador’s Isidro Metapán are the other), are coming off the recent success of having advanced to the quarterfinals of the 2010-11 tournament. Alpha United have won the last five titles in the Guyana top flight and are making their second appearance in the tournament following their 2011-12 berth.
|August 5 | 8 PM||Alpha United||Olimpia||Guyana National Stadium|
|August 19 | 8 PM||Alpha United||Portland Timbers||Guyana National Stadium|
|August 28 | 10 PM||Olimpia||Alpha United||Nacional Tiburcio Carías Andino|
|September 16 | 10 PM||Portland Timbers||Olimpia||Providence Park|
|September 23 | 10 PM||Portland Timbers||Alpha United||Providence Park|
|October 21 | 10 PM||Olimpia||Portland Timbers||Nacional Tiburcio Carías Andino|
Diego Valeri, M, Portland Timbers: Having joined MLS ahead of the 2013 season, this will be Valeri’s debut in the Champions League as well as his first international club competition of any kind. The 2013 MLS Newcomer of the Year, Valeri is a big reason why the Timbers are in CCL in the first place and his performance will go a long way in determining whether Portland are able to advance out of their group.
Noel Valladares, goalkeeper, Olimpia: The leader of the team, Valladares is also the Honduran national team’s starting goalkeeper who wore the armband in all three of their group-stage matches of the 2014 World Cup.
Based on experience, Olimpia should be considered the favorites in the group. While Portland feature plenty of star power, one major handicap will be their travel schedule, which features a nearly 6,900-mile trip to the South American country of Guyana, the longest group-stage trip any team faces in this year’s tournament. Following their Aug. 16 MLS match at the New England Revolution, the Timbers will catch a flight to Georgetown for their CCL opener three days later before returning to Portland for an Aug. 24 league match against the Seattle Sounders. And their trip to Olimpia is sandwiched between league matches against Real Salt Lake and FC Dallas in the last full week of October.
Luis Garrido, who signed with Olimpia in 2008, was recently acquired on loan by the Houston Dynamo, meaning the Honduran international and one of Olimpia’s most important players, who started two games in the recently completed World Cup, will be out of the picture in CCL.
Alpha United striker Gregory Richardson, a Guyana international, was signed by the Colorado Rapids in 2009 and made just one appearance with the club. He then signed with the NASL’s Carolina RailHawks and played two seasons there, scoring 10 goals in 33 appearances. Alpha United striker Kithson Bain, a Granada international, also briefly played for the RailHawks in 2011.
CAN THE TIMBERS WIN IT ALL?
First, Portland must think about getting out of their group, which means taking down an extremely CCL-seasoned Olimpia side that features three players who played for Honduras at the World Cup. Olimpia head coach Hector Vargas, who guided Victoria in last year’s CCL, told CONCACAF.com that it’s the team’s goal to advance out of their group.
But there’s no doubt that Portland have the talent to not only win their group but also made a deep run – even if it is their CCL debut. In addition to star playmaker Valeri, Portland recently signed two new Designated Players in forward Fanendo Adi and defender Liam Ridgewell. This not only gives them the talent to compete with Mexican giants but also the depth to manage an extremely tough schedule.