Concacaf Champions League

Liga MX sides prove their dominance in CONCACAF semifinals

The CONCACAF Champions League (henceforth shortened to CCL) semifinal this year featured two different ties between an MLS side and a Liga MX side. This is the first semifinal in four years to feature two MLS sides in the semifinal stage. The 2012/13 semifinal featured LA Galaxy and Seattle Sounders FC losing out to Monterrey and Santos Laguna respectively. Of the 14 CCL finalists since the tournament’s reformatting in 2008, only two have hailed from the MLS (one Canadian team and one US team), and the others have hailed from the Mexican Liga MX.

The first of the two ties featured MLS side FC Dallas, and Liga MX side Pachuca. Given Pachuca’s higher seeding in the tournament, the first leg took place at Toyota Stadium in Frisco on March 15th, giving home advantage to Pachuca in the second leg. Both teams fielded full strength sides, showing the importance of the competition to both teams. FC Dallas are yet to begin their regular season, having only just finished their pre-season friendlies, while Pachuca are into the second half of their regular season, leading to a difference in momentum between the two teams.

FC Dallas established an early precedent for dictating the tempo of the game, meaning that Pachuca would have to score from a set-piece or on the break. Pachuca made sure to break often, and they had many well put-together moves throughout the game, although couldn’t capitalise on any of them. Pachuca scored right out of the gates, thanks to the boot of Argentinian striker Franco Jara. After this goal, FC Dallas tightened up for the long-haul and played from deep for the rest of the game. FC Dallas fashioned together several chances which proved largely ineffective in the many set-pieces that they earned. At the close of the first half, Maximiliano Urruti slotted one in past the Pachuca keeper after a deflected shot by Christian Colman. Kellyn Acosta scored an excellent free kick in the 58th minute to secure victory in the first leg for FC Dallas.

The second leg took place at Estadio Hidalgo in Pachuca on April 4th, and visitors FC Dallas entered with an entirely different game plan. From the onset of the game, FC Dallas were constantly aggressive, and played very close to the line of legality in their physicality. Pachuca scored first in the 38th minute once again thanks to Franco Jara, while FC Dallas’ physical style of play seemed fruitless in stopping Pachuca’s offensive players. Though heavily marked for the entirety of the game, Pachuca’s Hirving Lozano managed to extend Pachuca’s lead to 3-2 on aggregate thanks to a deft finish in the 80th minute. FC Dallas were given a ray of hope in the form of a goal from Christian Colman in the 86th minute. Should things stand as they were, the game would have gone into extra time as the teams were even 3-3 on aggregate, with one away goal to each. Hirving Lozano exercised his revenge for the 90 minutes of fouling and heavy marking as he netted his second goal in the second minute of extra-time to seal FC Dallas’ defeat and secure Pachuca a place in the final.

The second tie featured Liga MX side Tigres UANL, and MLS side Vancouver Whitecaps FC. Being the higher seeded team, Vancouver would travel to Estadio Universitario in San Nicolas de los Garza, Nueva Leon, for the first game on March 14th. They would then play the second leg at home at BC Place in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada on April 5th.

UANL started the game determined to play their way, and Vancouver seemed powerless to stop them. Vancouver took only two total shots in the entire match and seemed destined to play defensively the entire game, as UANL maintained possession for the majority of the match. The first goal of the game came in the 66th minute in the form of an unfortunate own goal from a poor block by Vancouver captain Kendall Waston. UANL would extend their lead to 2-0 after an excellent volley by Eduardo Vargas after a series of deflections in the penalty area.

Given that Vancouver were incapable of tucking in an away goal, the second leg would prove to be even more difficult as they would need to score three goals just to send the game to extra time if UANL were to score. The second leg took place at BC Place in Vancouver, and it was Vancouver who saw the early sign of hope as Brek Shea scored in the third minute after a brief goalmouth scramble. That would prove to be the last real chance for Vancouver as UANL settled back into their dominant form of the previous game. It wasn’t until the second half that UANL scored from a deftly curled top-corner shot by André-Pierre Gignac in the 63rd minute. UANL would seal the game in the 84th minute after a well-placed shot by Damián Álvarez following a threaded pass across the goal mouth by Javier Carmona to send them up 2-1, and 4-1 on aggregate.

With the conclusion of this CCL semifinal, MLS sides have once again come up short when tested by Liga MX sides. FC Dallas had arguably the best chance of progressing into the final, but their change in style really played into the hands of the more technical and pacey Pachuca players. These results see an all Liga MX CCL final, and with Pachuca being the higher seeded of the two teams, the first leg will be played at Tigres UANL’s home ground Estadio Universitario on April 14th, with the second leg at Estadio Hidalgo in Pachuca on April 26th.

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