Breaking Down CCL Possibilities For Portland

May 28 draw in Miami will determine Portland’s group, opponents in the 2014-15 event
by Ray Marcham   |   Friday, May 23, 2014

Green Logs - a column on the Portland Timbers & the Portland soccer scene

The 2014 Portland Timbers Continental Tour gets its itinerary next week.

The draw for group stage of the 2014-15 CONCACAF Champions League takes place next Wednesday in Miami, and the Timbers will find out not only who they will be playing, but likely dates for when their group matches will take place. It’ll be the first time that Portland will be taking part in the region’s biggest club tournament. Group matches will happen in August, September and October, with the 8 group winners advancing to the knockout stage in the spring of 2015.

At this point, it’s probably easier to know who the Timbers won’t be playing in the CCL, but the possibilities of where Portland could travel for group matches are numerous and varied.

Portland is in Pot B in the CCL draw, which means they would not be able to play other teams in that grouping, at least in the group stage. The other clubs in Pot B are Mexican giants América and Cruz Azul (who are also the defending CCL champions), Costa Rica’s Deportivo Saprissa, Honduran side Real España, Isidro Metapán of El Salvador and the Canadian champions (either Toronto or Montreal).

The Timbers also can’t be drawn against any other US-based club at the group stage. That eliminates Sporting Kansas City and New York as possible group stage opponents, as well.

So that leaves 6 clubs in Pot A and all 8 clubs in Pot C that Portland could end up being drawn against. The possibilities of where the Timbers will go, and who will be coming to Providence Park, are interesting to say the least.

The clubs that Portland could be drawn against in Pot A are the champions of Mexico (León), Costa Rica (Alajuelense), Honduras (Olimpia), Guatemala (CSD Comunicaciones) and Panama (Tauro). Also in Pot A is the second place team in the recent Mexican Clausara season, Pachuca. The Central American clubs are veterans of the CCL, but León and Pachuca haven’t been in the CCL for a while, and may be vulnerable.

Where it gets real interesting, with travel and with quality, are the possibilities in Pot C. The Timbers could end up in the Caribbean or in Central America, with a wide range of facilities (including one familiar from the USL days) to play in.

The Central American clubs in Pot C include CSD Municipal of Guatemala, Nicaraguan champions Real Estelí, Panama’s Chorrillo FC, either FAS or CD Dragón from El Salvador and tentatively, the champions of Belize, Belmopan Bandits (whose stadium has to pass a CONCACAF inspection before they are approved to host CCL matches).

The 3 group winners in the 2014 CFU Caribbean Club Championship also are in Pot C. They are Jamaica’s Waterhouse FC, Guyana’s Alpha United and Puerto Rico’s Bayamón FC (who play in the former home stadium of the USL’s Puerto Rico Islanders).

There’s one geographic quirk in that group. While Guyana is in South America, all of its sporting associations are with the Caribbean (along with its eastern neighbors, Suriname and French Guiana). This is especially true with Guyana’s most popular sport, cricket.

Looking at the travel possibilities, and remembering that CCL matches are held during the week, one can see that the Timbers are really going to be challenged. While the travel to locations in Mexico and some of the larger cities in Central America and the Caribbean could be tolerable, getting to some of the smaller cities and countries could become an adventure.

The conditions that the Timbers will face will also be tricky. León (5,955 feet) and Pachuca (8,000 feet) play at altitudes that make Denver and Salt Lake City almost seem like sea level. Tropical summer conditions will be an issue anywhere in Central America and the Caribbean.

And the field conditions usually are not the best, especially in stadiums that don’t see the national teams playing. But the Timbers could also easily play on turf, as artificial fields have become more common in Central American stadiums that are used a lot and/or see plenty of rain during the tropical wet season.

The size of the stadiums to be used in the CCL also varies. Some are quite large, with capacities much bigger than Providence Park (like the stadiums in Mexico and Honduras). But some stadiums are very small, holding as few as 5,000 people in some cases. A few clubs, like Tauro, will be playing their CCL matches in stadiums larger than where they usually play their home matches to try and get bigger crowds to attend.

In a week, the Timbers will know who they will be playing in the CONCACAF Champions League. They will know where they will have to travel to, the first stages of how the ticketing will likely go for any members of the Timbers Army who will want to travel, and the type of conditions they would have to prepare for. It’s one of the rewards of the strong 2013 season that Portland had.

But the CCL will also test the Timbers’ depth, their fitness (especially if there are long travel days involved), their ability to adjust to field conditions, different styles of play and their ability to block out crowds who will throw whatever they can (sometimes, literally) to try and disrupt them. These, truly, are not friendlies.

It may be the greatest challenge that the Timbers have yet faced in their history. But unless the club’s form improves, it could also be a very short adventure.

But just getting to have this adventure is a big deal for Portland. And the itinerary will be known next week.

NEXT UP: May 24 – Portland Timbers vs. New York Red Bulls, Red Bull Arena, Harrison, NJ. 7:00 p.m. EST, ROOT Sports NW, MLS Live.

Ray MARCHAM

Nationality:
USA
College:
Washington State
Club Domestic:
Portland Timbers
Club Foreign:
Arsenal
Cascadia native and a fan for as long as he can remember, Ray was brought up on the old NASL. Learned to love MLS. Wanted to play like Clive Charles. Then like Tony Adams. Only dreams, of course.
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