This is the Group G preview as the 2015-16 CONCACAF Champions League gets underway on Aug. 4-6. For comprehensive CONCACAF Champions League coverage, bookmark this page.
Real Salt Lake (USA) | HOW QUALIFIED: 2014 MLS Supporters’ Shield fourth-place; top-three teams qualified via other means | PREVIOUS BEST: Runners-Up (Most Recent: 2012-13)
CSD Municipal (GUA) | HOW QUALIFIED: 2015 Clausura runners-up | PREVIOUS BEST: Group Stage (Most Recent: 2014-15)
Santa Tecla (SLV) | HOW QUALIFIED: 2015 Clausura Champions | PREVIOUS BEST: N/A (First Appearance)
DAVID AND GOLIATH
While Real Salt Lake are certainly the favorite, Group G is a bit up for grabs, with a somewhat down Claret-and-Cobalt roster facing off against two solid Central American sides in Municipal and Santa Tecla. RSL certainly have the most talent of the three, but a tricky schedule – the Utah side opens up the group with two road games – could make things very interesting against Salvadoran champs Santa Tecla and back-to-back Guatemalan runners-up Municipal.
|August 4 | 10 PM||CSD Municipal||Real Salt Lake||Estadio Mateo Flores|
|August 20 | 10 PM||Santa Tecla||CSD Municipal||Estadio Atletico Las Delicias|
|August 25 | 10 PM||CSD Municipal||Santa Tecla||Estadio Mateo Flores|
|September 15 | 10 PM||Santa Tecla||Real Salt Lake||Estadio Atletico Las Delicias|
|September 24 | 10 PM||Real Salt Lake||Santa Tecla||Rio Tinto Stadium|
|October 20 | 10 PM||Real Salt Lake||CSD Municipal||Rio Tinto Stadium|
Javier Morales, Real Salt Lake: Kyle Beckerman and Nick Rimando may be full US national teamers, but Morales is the man that matters most for RSL. The Argentine is aging like a fine wine, turning in one of the best seasons of his marvelous MLS career this year at age 35. Javi Mo has five goals and nine assists in 16 games in 2015 for the Claret-and-Cobalt, who have never been shy about playing their stars in CCL group action.
Carlos Ruiz, CSD Municipal: After spending over a decade abroad, Ruiz returned to his boyhood club last year, signing with Municipal in February 2014. The move has sparked a bit of a renaissance for the 35-year-old, with El Pescadito scoring 33 goals in 57 matches for the Guatemala City club, helping them to runner-up finishes in the 2014 Apertura and 2015 Clausura. After nearly leaving Municipal this summer, he’ll need to bounce back from Guatemala’s disappointing Gold Cup and continue his fine club form if Municipal are to sneak into the knockouts.
You probably noticed that only one team in Group G – Santa Tecla – is completely lacking in Champions League history. It’s for good reason. Santa Tecla has only been in existence for eight years, debuting in the Salvadoran second division in 2007 before earning promotion to the Primera in 2012. They rose quickly in the top flight, winning the Clausura 2015 to qualify for this year’s CCL. It’ll be a very tall order for them to escape the group stage, but consider qualifying a solid first step for an ambitious young club looking to grow in the region.
The aforementioned Carlos Ruiz has a long, decorated history in the US, racking up 88 goals – tied for 10th in MLS history – in 182 regular season appearances across parts of nine season in the league. Best known for winning the 2002 MLS MVP award with the LA Galaxy, Ruiz isn’t the only player in Group G with American connections.
Newly-appointed Municipal head coach Mauricio Wright, a defender in his playing days, played three seasons in MLS (1999-2001) for the San Jose Clash/Earthquakes and New England Revolution, registering 77 regular-season appearances in total.
Santa Tecla attacker Edgar Alvarez – brother of former San Jose Earthquake and Real Salt Lake midfielder Arturo – and goalkeepers Derby Carillo and Nicholas Hagen all were born or raised in the US, with Carillo playing a memorable role in amateur side Cal FC’s cinderella run in the 2012 US Open Cup and Hagen coming up in the FC Dallas academy.
CAN REAL SALT LAKE WIN IT ALL?
Though they have a proud history in the competition, winning CCL will be a tough task for RSL. After seven-consecutive seasons with at least 15 wins and 50 points, the Claret-and-Cobalt are having a bit of a down year in 2015 and are in danger of missing the playoffs for the first time since 2007. Still, with Morales, Beckerman, Rimando and talented forwards Joao Plata and Sebastian Jaime in the fold, this team has the talent to make some noise. They’ll need to stay healthy, sort out their defensive issues and likely make a big addition or two if they want to repeat that magical 2010-11 run.