MLSsoccer.com's preview of the 2011-12 CONCACAF Champions League begins with a look at Group A, which opens play Aug. 16. The group is highlighted by the reigning MLS Supporters' Shield champions, the LA Galaxy, but Mexican side Morelia are a likely choice to win the group or at least advance to the quarterfinals.
The group also boasts a strong Alajuelense side from Costa Rica and the Honduran club Motagua, who reached the group stage this year after they were bounced from the preliminary round in 2010.
Location: Alajuela, Costa Rica
Home stadium: Estadio Alejandro Morera Soto (17,895 capacity)
How they qualified: 2010 Invierno, 2011 Verano Champions
Previous CCL appearances: 1 (2008-09)
Profile: A traditional power of Costa Rican soccer, Alajuelense — or “La Liga” to their fans — have won 26 Primera División titles, just three less than rivals Saprissa. The Rojinegros first try at Champions League glory in 2008-09 ended in a preliminary-round upset at the hands of the Puerto Rico Islanders. After winning two straight domestic titles and off to a 3-0-1 start to their domestic season, Alajuelense have loads of confidence as they make their CCL return.
Player to watch: Jonathan McDonald
The 24-year-old striker has just recently earned his first call to the national team. He has proven he has a nose for goal, leading his team with seven goals last season and with three in four games already this season.
Location: Carson, Calif., USA
Home stadium: The Home Depot Center (27,000)
How they qualified: 2010 MLS Supporters' Shield winners
Previous CCL appearances: 1 (2010-11)
Profile: One of the most decorated and popular clubs in MLS, the Galaxy find themselves in the Champions League a second time after being upset by the Puerto Rican Islanders in the preliminary round of last year’s edition. Currently the top team in MLS, David Beckham, Landon Donovan & Co. have an efficient, devastating counterattacking style that could prove particularly effective on the international scene.
Player to watch: Landon Donovan
The US international isn’t only the team’s captain, but he’s the driving force on offense for the Galaxy. Despite missing a handful of league games due to Gold Cup duty with the US, Donovan is second in MLS lead in goals with 11.
Location: Morelia, Mexico
Home stadium: Estadio Morelos (41,500)
How they qualified: 2011 Mexican Clausura runners-up
Previous CCL appearances: None
Profile: The 2010 SuperLiga champions are looking to make a big splash this year when they kick off their debut in the Champions League. Despite getting off to a poor start in the Mexican Primera División (1-0-3), Monarcas are optimistic of earning some hardware this year. In the preliminary round of the CCL, they blasted Hiatian side Tempête 7-0 aggregate to send a message to all future opponents that they’re in it to win it.
Player to watch: Miguel Sabah
Part of a solid striking corps, it’s Sabah who’s the go-to man up top. Able to find the open man as easily as he can turn and put one past the ‘keeper, Monarcas will rely on the Mexican international for offense.
Location: Tegucigalpa, Honduras
Home stadium: Estadio Tiburcio Carías Andino
How they qualified: 2011 Honduran Clausura champions
Previous CCL appearances: 1 (2010-11)
Profile: In their second Champions League appearance, the second most successful club in Honduras has already gone a step further than they did last year. In the 2010-11 season, the Blue Cyclone were eliminated in the preliminary round by Toronto FC; however, this year, Motagua took out Salvadoran side Municipal in the prelims to reach the group stage.
Player to watch: Amado Guevara
The most capped player in Honduras history, Guevara is a pure playmaker. El Lobo (the Wolf) — who had a long, successful stint in MLS — is smart, cunning, and can strike at a moment’s notice. He is, hands down, the engine that powers Motagua.