Honduras, Guyana Now in Portland's CCL future

Portland drawn with Olimpia, Alpha United in the tourney’s group stage
by Ray Marcham   |   Friday, May 30, 2014

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

The Portland Timbers’ continental adventure now has definite destinations.

It’s just the when that has to be determined.

The heart of Central America and the edge of South America will be where the Timbers will be heading in the group stages of the CONCACAF Champions League. They were drawn with Honduras’ Olimpia and Alpha United of Guyana as part of Group 5 in the CCL in a ceremony in Miami on Wednesday night. A match schedule will be set up over the next couple of months.

It was vastly different paths that Olimpia and Alpha United took to get to the Champions League. Olimpia qualified as the 2014 Clausura champions in Honduras, while Alpha United was made the CCL as one of three group winners in the CFU Club Championships.

Of the 2 clubs, Olimpia is obviously the best known. A regular in the CCL, the Lions are one of the 2 major clubs in the Honduran capital, Tegucigalpa. Only once in the last 30 years has Olimpia finished out of the top 3 in the Liga Nacional, and they have won the last 3 Clausura (closing) and 2 of the last 3 Apertura (opening) titles. Their home stadium, the 35,000-capacity Estadio Tiburcio Carías Andino, has hosted many important matches not just for Olimpia, but for the Honduran national team since it opened in 1948.

Olimpia has had significant success at the continental level, as well. They won the old CONCACAF Champions Cup twice, in 1972 and 1988, while making the finals in 1985 and 2000 (when they lost to LA Galaxy). But the last time they made it to the CCL knockout stage was in 2011, when they lost to Saprissa of Costa Rica in the quarterfinals.

This will be the third straight year that Olimpia has been in a group with an MLS club, and they haven’t done well. In 2012, they finished second to Houston in Group 3, drawing with the Dynamo in Tegucigalpa but losing in Houston. In 2013, Olimpia finished second behind Sporting Kansas City, drawing with the eventual 2013 MLS Cup champs at home and losing at Sporting Park. So if there’s hope for the Timbers in getting out of Group 5, they have to at least repeat what Houston and SKC did to Olimpia over the past two years.

As opposed to Olimpia, Alpha United is very much an unknown club outside of the Caribbean. But they are the dominant club in Guyana, winning the last 5 season titles and having gone unbeaten in all 15 matches in the 2013-14 Super League season. They qualified for the CCL by winning their group in the 2014 CFU Club Championships, where they knocked off Harbour View of Jamaica and Defence Force of Trinidad & Tobago in a round-robin tourney in Harbour Town’s home stadium.

Alpha United, nicknamed “The Hammer”, plays their important matches at Providence Stadium, located outside of Guyana’s capital, Georgetown. It is best known around the world as a cricket stadium, and it was one of the main stadiums for the 2007 Cricket World Cup and the 2010 ICC World Twenty20 championships. It is also the home stadium for Guyana’s national soccer team.

The only other appearance that Alpha United in the CCL was in 2011-12, when they faced Herediano of Costa Rica in the Preliminary Round. They lost 10-2 in a 2-leg series, losing 8-0 in Costa Rica before holding Herediano to a 2-2 draw at Providence Stadium (listed attendance: 600). They are the only club from Guyana to qualify for the CCL, and since the preliminary round was eliminated from the CCL in 2012, this will be Alpha United’s first appearance in this stage of the competition.

Portland will be the second Cascadia club to play in the CCL, with Seattle making it as far as the semifinals in 2013. While a schedule for the Timbers’ trips to Honduras and Guyana haven’t been set, the 4 group matches will likely happen in August, September and/or October (based on past schedules). That means oppressive heat and humidity will be in store for the Timbers when they hit the road, much like Houston or Dallas. And while Alpha United fans may be just happy to see an MLS club in town, Olimpia’s supporters will likely give Portland the harsh “welcome” that greets any club visiting Central America.

Of course, that no MLS club has won the CCL in its current format will be brought up. In that sense, history will work against the Timbers.

It will also mean more stress on the roster, especially if a deep run in the US Open Cup takes place. The Timbers join in the USOC on June 17, when they play Orlando City U-23s in the 4th Round at Providence Park, and the hope of a run to at least match the semifinal appearance in 2013 is strong.

Portland will also be in the midst of a tough run to try and make the MLS playoffs, which their slow start has made a bit harder than some expected. The signing of former Columbus defender Danny O’Rourke will help the depth in the back line, badly needed for the CCL.

The CCL group is now known to the Timbers. Trips to Tegucigalpa, Honduras and Georgetown, Guyana are being planned. For the first time, Portland will see the highest level of club soccer in the continental region. The Timbers Army will be planning treks abroad for the first time. It’s an exciting day to be a Timbers supporter.

The adventure of the great unknown awaits.

NEXT UP: June 1 – Portland Timbers vs. Vancouver Whitecaps, Providence Park, Portland, Oregon. 9 p.m. EST, ROOT Sports NW.

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.
RAY'S SPONSORS