July 28, 2009

Insert snazzy theme music here

The 2009-10 CONCACAF Champions League kicks off tonight with the qualifying round. MLS looks to redeem itself after its poor collective performance last year, while the Puerto Rico Islanders try to find another Cinderella slipper to reach the semifinals. Toronto FC plays in its first international competition as Canada's representative.

DC United, who struggled mightily last year with fixture congestion, injuries, and poor play, is in the qualifying round thanks to its US Open Cup win. They host L.A. Firpo of El Salvador tonight in Washington. The winner of the series will join Group B, which includes Toluca and Marathon of Honduras.

Pachuca is also in action tonight against Jalapa of Guatemala in their qualifying series. Los Tuzos shouldn't face too much of a test.

Toronto hosts last year's darlings Puerto Rico in what looks to be the best match up of the qualifying round on Wednesday. Thursday sees New York travel to Trinidad to face W Connection, trying to salvage something out of a horrible season so far.

For all the criticism of CONCACAF, the Champions League is something that they're getting right. Great tournament last year, loads of fun to watch, and something that is only going to benefit MLS and American players.

Did you see how the USMNT JV squad fell about mentally after Mexico took the lead on them on Sunday? It's tournaments like this, where players can get experience in big games in difficult situations, that will change that. The world's elite do not learn how to play internationally at the national team level, they've already learned it at the club level.

CONCACAF's Champions League will raise the level of all of its national teams over time.

My predictions for the qualifying round:

San Francisco (Panama) OVER San Juan Jabloteh (Trinidad)
Pachuca (Mexico) OVER Jalapa (Guatemala)
W Connection (Trinidad) OVER New York Red Bulls (USA)
Olimpia (Honduras) OVER Arabe Unido (Panama)
Cruz Azul (Mexico) OVER Herediano (Costa Rica)
DC United (USA) OVER L.A. Firpo (El Salvador)
Real Espana (Honduras) OVER Liberia (Costa Rica)
Toronto FC (Canada) OVER Puerto Rico Islanders (P.R.)

Catch the games with MLS or USL teams on Fox Soccer Channel. Most of the other games are on one of the secondary Univision networks (Galavision, Telefutura).

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