This is the Group F preview as the 2015-16 CONCACAF Champions League gets underway on Aug. 4-6. For comprehensive CONCACAF Champions League coverage, bookmark this page.
Seattle Sounders | HOW QUALIFIED: 2014 US Open Cup champion, 2014 Supporters’ Shield winners | PREVIOUS BEST: Semifinals (Most Recent: 2013)
Vancouver Whitecaps | HOW QUALIFIED: Best 2014 MLS record of any Canadian team | PREVIOUS BEST: First appearance
Olimpia | HOW QUALIFIED: 2015 Clausura champions | PREVIOUS BEST: Quarterfinals (Most Recent: 2011)
DAVID AND GOLIATH
It may be hard to classify any team as the David in this group. You’ve got two MLS teams: One (Seattle) just about landed a first-ever treble after winning the US Open Cup and Supporters’ Shield last year but falling just short of an MLS Cup after losing in the Western Conference championship series; and another (Vancouver) currently leading the West and very much in the running for this year’s Shield. But that’s not to say Olimpia are in for it; the Honduran champions boast one of the toughest home venues to play at in the tournament, where they knocked off the Portland Timbers last year to win their group.
This may very well be the toughest group of the lot.
|August 6 | 10 PM||Vancouver||Seattle||BC Place|
|August 19 | 10 PM||Seattle||Olimpia||CenturyLink Field|
|August 26 | 10 PM||Olimpia||Seattle||Estadio Tiburcio Carias Andino|
|September 16 | 10 PM||Vancouver||Olimpia||BC Place|
|September 23 | 10 PM||Seattle||Vancouver||CenturyLink Field|
|October 22 | 10 PM||Olimpia||Vancouver||Estadio Tiburcio Carias Andino|
Clint Dempsey, Seattle Sounders: Considering the nature of their group, Seattle Sounders head coach Sigi Schmid may not have the luxury of resting his stars much. So the US national team star will likely be thrust right into action in his first CCL tournament. Although the Sounders hit man is no stranger to CONCACAF tournaments, having featured in five Gold Cups for the USMNT while picking up the Golden Boot in the latest edition, this will be his first taste of CCL action.
Pedro Morales, Vancouver Whitecaps: Last year’s MLS Newcomer of the Year may be in the midst of an up-and-down, injury-plagued year with just four goals and four assists. But he was the straw that stirred the Whitecaps' drink last year and one of the most experienced players in confederation tournaments on their young roster. He led Croatian side Dinamo Zagreb to three straight UEFA Champions League appearances from 2008-11.
In the group stages of the 2014-15 tournament, the Portland Timbers came into their last match on the road against Olimpia having won their first three matches and holding a two-goal advantage over the Honduran side on differential. Portland came away with nothing to show for it after Olimpia ran away with a 3-1 victory to take the group. Olimpia once again have the priviledge of hosting the group’s final match against Vancouver on Oct. 22 on their home grounds, in what is sure to once again be a raucous, hostile environment, with the luxury of knowing just where they stand and what they need to advance.
The list of Olimpia players to have played or are playing in MLS is long. The Houston Dynamo currently have three former Olimpia players on their roster alone. Dynamo midfielder Boniek Garcia started his professional career there, playing from 2004-06… Dynamo midfielder Alex Lopez came up through Olimpia’s youth ranks, playing with the first team from 2010-13… Dynamo’s Luis Garrido is still on the books at Olimpia, where he signed in 2008, currently on loan since last season… Former Olimpia players to have played in MLS include Samuel Caballero (Chicago, 2005), Mauricio Castro (New England, 2008-10), Arnold Cruz (D.C. United, San Jose, 1997), Saul Martinez (Miami, 1999), Ramon Nunez (Dallas, Chivas USA, 2004-07; Dallas, 2013), Alex Pineda Chacon (Miami, New England, LA, Columus, 2001-03), Hendry Thomas (Colorado, FC Dallas, 2012-14)
CAN SEATTLE OR VANCOUVER WIN IT ALL?
One of new Seattle general manager Garth Lagerwey’s main messages coming into his first year at the helm of the Pacific Northwest giants was success on an international level. He welcomed Liga MX side Club Tijuana into town for a friendly early this year, saying it would be a tune-up for the level of competition in the CCL. Now that it’s finally here, Seattle are enduring possibly their worst stretch they came into MLS in 2009, having recently lost a seventh league match out of their last eight to none other than Vancouver. In early June, with stars Clint Dempsey, Obafemi Martins and Co., hitting on all cylinders, the answer of whether Seattle could win CCL would be 'Absolutely.' Now? Seems like a stretch.
Vancouver, meanwhile, being the team on the distributing end of the 3-0 rout on the at CenturyLink Field on Saturday, pose a different story. They’re deep in the attack with players like Cristian Techera, Kekuta Manneh, Nicolas Mezquida, Pedro Morales and Octavio Rivero having made an impact in the league in not very much time. They also feature veteran leadership in important spots, with a backline of Kendall Waston, Pa Modou Kah, Jordan Harvey and Steven Beitashour, and midfielder Mauro Rosales, a Goalkeeper of the Year candidate in David Ousted and a head coach in Carl Robinson who has instilled quite a bit of fight in the group. After seeing fellow Canadian club Montreal Impact catch lightning in a bottle in the last campaign, the Whitecaps might be feeling even better about their position.