By Jacob Klinger
After Santos Laguna's 3-1 win against Toronto FC at BMO Field last night, the Mexican defending CONCACAF Champions League crown-holders took full control of Group 1.
Barring a severely improbable combination of Toronto beating Santos away on the last match day while making up five goals of differential, only the Unites States MLS contingent looks likely to advance to the quarterfinals.
In the three-team home-and-away round robin group format of this year's Champions League the slightest of upsets in any one game only makes a greater impact on the group as whole. As always, there is plenty still in the balance. Below you will find each American-based MLS team's path to controlling its destiny in reaching the quarterfinals of the competition.
Los Angeles Galaxy
Last week's 5-2 home win over Metapán (El Salvador) appeared to place the Galaxy in the Group 5 driver's seat. Not so. Tonight's opponents, the Puerto Rico Islanders shocked L.A. 5-3 on aggregate in their last pairing. They met at the Home Depot Center where the Islanders shattered the Galaxy's hopes of advancement with a 4-1 win.
Avenging that defeat tonight would do more than practically eliminate the Islanders. If the Galaxy win and results hold - the Islanders are in abysmal form - a three-point gap over Metapán with two match days remaining should do the trick. Tricky road matches follow this evening's fixture, but tonight's is no walk-over, especially considering Bruce Arena's squad may be without David Beckham, Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane.
The Sounders already have control of Group 4. A win against Caledonia AIA (Trinidad & Tobago) on the group's opening match day combined with Marathón's (Honduras) draw away to Caledonia gives Seattle just a small amount of breathing room. Yet Caledonia's Larry Gomes Stadium lies in stark contrast to Seattle CenturyLink.
That said, a win on the road tomorrow night, no matter how ugly, should allow Sigi Schmid's side to distance themselves from Marathón enought that the last match at San Pedro Sula only demands a draw.
With perhaps the toughest draw of the four American teams in the competition, the Dynamo go to Tegucialpa, Honduras to battle Olimpia for the top spot in Group 3. Both teams are on three points through one game. A point would give Houston a steady-ish lead as the Dynamo already beat FAS in El Salvador. Olimpia are not nice hosts though, and Houston may very well find itself on a goal difference-saving campaign.
Anything less than a shellacking gives Houston the chance to move on with a more favorable remaining schedule.
Real Salt Lake
The 2011 finalists do not resume Champions League play until Sept. 18. Then, they will have all to play for. Salt Lake technically tops the group on goals for with Herediano (Costa Rica) in second with a game in hand. Herediano beat Jason Kreis' team 1-0 in Heredia to take control of Group 2.
Though Salt Lake is out of continental action for a few weeks, group bottom-feeders, Tauro FC (Panama) hosts Herediano tomorrow night at Estadio Rommel Fernández. It is the second game for both teams and anything but a Herediano victory gives Real every chance to take control of the group when it pays a visit to Panama City later next month.
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