Steve Davis: CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal preview

With the departure of veteran stalwarts, Columbus needs the likes of Robbie Rogers to become more consistent.

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The CONCACAF Champions League’s chief imperfection may be the awkward gap separating group play and quarterfinal action, which begins this week.

Twenty-four teams from the United States, Mexico, Canada, Central America and the Caribbean began competing for the regional crown last summer. Next came the 16-team group stage, which wrapped up in October. Now it’s on to the quarterfinals, the “knockout phase,” where eight teams meet in four elimination series starting this week.

So the possibility always exists that a team undergoes significant turnover in the four-month interim — which is precisely what has happened to the Columbus Crew.

Columbus is one of two MLS sides remaining in Champions League, now facing an uphill climb as a bunch of new faces oppose reliably steady Real Salt Lake. Still, the prize at the end is a spot in the FIFA Club World Cup.

Here is a look at all four quarterfinal matchups:

Columbus vs. Real Salt Lake

First leg: 8 p.m. Tuesday, Real Salt Lake at Columbus

Second leg: 10 p.m. March 1, Columbus at Real Salt Lake

The contrasts are stark. Real Salt Lake is perhaps the most stable of MLS teams, getting set to punch away in 2011 with pretty much the same core that won MLS Cup two years and ago and made such a fashionable account last year. Meanwhile, a roster in serious flux couldn’t possibly come at a worse time for Columbus.

Gone are longtime Crew staples Guillermo Barros Schelotto, Frankie Hejduk, Brian Carroll, Adam Moffat and Gino Padula — essentially the heart of the side that captured MLS Cup 2008. Others are gone, too, like forwards Jason Garey and Steven Lenhart. Plus, the Crew is dealing with injuries to Eddie Gaven, Danny O’Rourke, Shaun Francis and Dilly Duka. All are likely 2011 starters when healthy, but their status remains in question for Tuesday’s first leg. Coach Robert Warzycha admitted that age-related roster turnover was further complicated by the expansion draft and by the league’s re-entry draft.

“There were more changes than we anticipated,” Warzycha said. “I’m not saying that’s good, I’m not saying that’s bad. We just have to do what we can.”

So several players need to graduate this year from JAG status (“Just a guy”) to game-breaker status, and fast. That means names like Robbie Rogers, Emmanuel Ekpo and Andy Iro, men long on potential but still short on full arrival. The time is here especially for Rogers, who is just 23 but already entering his fifth season at Crew Stadium. He has just two goals and five assists over 42 regular season games in the last two years, hardly enough for a primarily offensive presence.

Warzycha said Rogers has been more of a “track star” much of his career, and he wants the fringe U.S. international winger to become more of a “soccer player.” Tuesday would be a great place to start.

Either way, the Crew will make things tough, especially in Ohio, where game time temperatures in the high 20s, possible snow flurries and a frozen or bumpy field could hammer RSL’s possession game. With good servers for Columbus hitting balls to Chad Marshall and Iro, set-piece plays and determined defense seem the home team’s best way forward.

The more technical Real Salt Lake may not be at its tiptop best so early. Still, Kyle Beckerman, Will Johnson, Javier Morales and Andy Williams could easily overwhelm a lesser-tested Crew midfield, where the important holding position looks highly unstable.

Real Salt Lake’s players were bitterly disappointed at last year’s first-round MLS playoff elimination. A longer march through this year’s postseason and a spot in the FIFA Club World Cup would surely help atone for this confident group.

“This year, there’s so much out there for us to win, it’s real easy to keep everybody motivated,” Beckerman said last week after a preseason workout in Arizona. “It had to be intense right from the start. Most of the time, when the preseasons are longer, you can take the first two or three weeks and ease into it a little bit. This gave us something meaningful to look forward to right off the bat. For me, I was looking forward to it. It was a good change.”

Cruz Azul (Mexico) vs. Santos Laguna (Mexico)

First leg: 10 p.m. Tuesday, Santos at Cruz Azul

Second leg: 8 p.m. March 1, Cruz Azul at Santos

Five-time CONCACAF champion Cruz Azul has things moving in the right direction once again, currently second among six teams in the Group 3 of the Mexico’s Clausura. That includes a 2-1 win over Atlas on Saturday. Emanuel Villa is the danger man of the moment, striking for his team-leading fourth goal of the spring campaign Saturday. The Argentine has scored at a rate of about once every two matches since coming from Derby County in 2009.

As always, Gerardo Torrado is the Cementeros’ heart and soul; He’s been a holding midfield staple for the Mexico City side since 2005.

Santos (3-3-1 in the Clausura) travels to Estadio Azul in Mexico City off a hugely disappointing loss at home to Querétaro on Saturday. Queretaro had previously captured all three points in only one game of six.

To make matters worse, Argentine coach Ruben Romano was sacked Monday after he criticized the team’s fans for jeering his players. Newspaper photos had shown Romano making a finger gesture as he was leaving the pitch and facing the stands at the end of the Querétaro match.

Toluca (Mexico) vs. Monterrey (Mexico)

First leg: 8 p.m. Wednesday, Monterrey at Toluca

Second leg: 8 p.m. March 2, Toluca at Monterrey

Perhaps the Guerreros of Santos Laguna weren’t the only ones guilty of peeking ahead to this week regional competition.

No team was in better form than Toluca going into the weekend, undefeated in six matches with just one goal conceded in the Clausura before Sunday’s 3-2 loss at Necaxa. Plus, Toluca has a big match ahead this Sunday at famed Club America.

Still, this represents huge opportunity for Toluca, based in Mexico’s eighth largest city. A club from Mexico will definitely be in the Champions League final, given the bracket breakdown. A place in the FIFA Club World Cup would certainly be a grand day for Toluca and its popular midfielder Sinha, who has appeared 49 times for Mexico.

Monterrey is mid-pack in its Clausura grouping. But Chilean striker Humberto Suazo and inform setup man Dario Carreño can certainly make a difference. Suazo has five goals in seven matches this year, although the Chilean injured his shoulder against Tigres on Saturday and could miss Monterrey’s next two games.

Saprissa (Costa Rica) vs. Olimpia (Honduras)

First leg: 8 p.m. Thursday, Olimpia at Saprissa

Second leg: 8 p.m., March 3, Saprissa at Olimpia

These are the power brokers of their respective countries, so it’s odd that both have fallen on some hard times lately in domestic play. The Costa Rican giants didn’t even qualify for their country’s playoffs last year, although they did successfully negotiate Champions League group play.

Olimpia has won just once in its last five in the Honduran Primera division going into Monday’s match with rival Marathon.

Meanwhile, Saprissa’s Mexican manager Juan Manuel Alvarez made things sound downright dire when he told a Honduran newspaper that his team is lacking even the simplest of elements at the moment. Still, Champions League offers an escape hatch of sorts for both clubs; the winner here faces an MLS side in March that could be distracted by its league season, which opens about the same time.

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Real Madrid & Barcelona Set For Copa del Rey Clash

Copa del Rey Alfonso XIII in FC Barcelona's Museum
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Barcelona & Real Madrid avoided each other in the semi final draw for the Spanish Copa del Rey setting up the prospect of a meeting in the final, with the winner potentially taking the Spanish Double of League & Cup.

Barcelona have the slightly easier task against La Liga strugglers Almeria who have probably over exceeded their expectations in reaching this stage, despite having had a fairly easy passage to this stage. Still they have been in entertaining matches having beaten Real Sociedad 5-3, Mallorca 8-6 and Deportivo 4-2 all on aggregate.

Real Madrid will play mid table Sevilla who are having a poor season by recent standards and the Cup probably is their only chance at Silverware this season and possibly of Europe too, so they will be fired up for this game. However it is hard to see them losing especially with the prospects of a Barca clash awaiting.

The first legs are scheduled for 26/01/11 and the second legs a week latter on 02/02/11.

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Steve McClarin Given The Dreaded Vote of Confidence after Wolsberg’s Cup Shock

In 2009 Wolfsberg were Bundesliga champions and after leaving FC Twente on a high after delivering them the Dutch title one could have expected Steve McClarin to go on to great things with Wolfsberg. However things are not going according to the script as Bundesligaas two side Energie Cottbus emphatically knocked Wolfsburg out of the German Cup in their own stadium. 

Things began badly as Niles Petersen to put the visitors ahead from a corner in the 1st minute and things continued to go down hill as Jiayi Shao doubled Cottbus’ advantage on 40 minutes.  Petersen scored his second just before half time to complete an embarrassing fiirst half for Wolfsberg.netted a close-range strike on 55 minutes to pull one back but the hosts never looked likely to get back into the game and Cottbus it was who advanced to the quarter-finals.

Edin Dzeko

If Steve McClarin survives he will probably be resigned to losing his star Striker Edin Džeko who is reportedly the target of several English Premier League clubs.

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Airbus UK Win Big Welsh Premier League Cup Tie

Airbus UK Broughton F.C.
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In the nights big game in the Loosemores Welsh Premier League Cup Airbus UK beat Newtown 4-2 in the quarter final 1st leg. Leading 3-1 at half time Airbus  managed to maintain their 2 goal advantage over their opponents who are currently one place ahead of them in the Welsh Premier League. They will now be slight favourites to progress to the Semi finals.

The second Leg at Newtown AFC is scheduled for Tue 7th September 2010 kicking off at 7.30pm

The reported Attendance was 130.

Other Welsh League Cup Results

Bala Town 2-2 Prestatyn Town

Carmarthen 0-0 Aberystwyth

Haverfordwest 2-1 Neath
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Miracle at Bloomfield Road

Blackpool fc logo
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In a football world of big wages and equally big egos it came as a breath of fresh air to see one of the smallest clubs in the Championship, Blackpool make it to the big time thanks to a thrilling 3-2 win over Cardiff in the Championship Playoff final.

The last time Blackpool played in the top division football was very different and despite the reward of around £90m for going up the odds are that they will come straight back down. However if they are careful they should no be able to secure the future of the club by renovating the ground and investing in a youth scheme which will allow them to build a foundation for future success.

Lets hope they don’t get dazzled by the big time and end up making the mistakes of Portsmouth and Hull both of who gambled their new found wealth and lost.

Whatever happens it is great to see that a small club can still dare to dream and the premier league in 2010-11 will be a brighter place and not just because of Blackpool’s somewhat garish Tangerine shirts.

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List of British Domestic Cup Winners in 2009-2010

Sporting Fingal FC crest
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The following is a list of the Main British Domestic Football Cup competition winners in 2009-10:


FA Cup – Winners Chelsea Runners Up Portsmouth Score 1-0

League Cup – Winners Manchester United Runners Up Aston Villa  Score 2-1


Scottish  Cup – Winners Dundee United  Runners Up Ross County Score 3-0

League Cup – Winners Glasgow Rangers  Runners Up St Mirren  Score 1-0


Welsh Senior Cup – Winners Bangor City  Runners Up Port Talbot Town  Score 3-2

Northern Ireland

Irish Cup- Winners Linfield Runners Up Portadown Score 2-1

League Cup Winners Glentoran  Runners Up Coleraine  Score 2-2 (Glentoran won 4-1 on Pens)

Republic of Ireland

FAI Cup – Winners Sporting Fingal Runners Up Sligo Rovers Score 2-1

No major shocks apart from Sporting Fingal’s excellent result. They were only formed in 2007 so to win the FAI cup so soon is a great achievement. They will play in the Europa League in 2010-11 season.

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Bayern look to complete stage two of their Treble quest

Panoramic view of the Olympic Stadium in Berlin.
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Today will be the 67th  German Cup final which will take place at the magnificent Olympic Stadium in Berlin (right). The final will be contested by Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich and the current Cup holders Werder Bremen, who have won the cup on six previous occasions.

If Bayern do win the cup it will set them up for a chance of the famed Treble as they hav Inter Milan to play in the Champions League Final on Saturday May 29th.

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