June 1, 2016
By Brian Trusdell
Soccer News Net Contributor
Try, try again
The CONCACAF Champions League draw once again gave hope, or cause to groan, to MLS clubs with regard to the league's international aspirations.
The random selection of opponents saw MLS clubs matched up against three teams that will make their debut in the North, Central American and Caribbean club championship and one of the four teams outside of North America that has reached the semifinals.
It's also the fourth straight year a U.S. MLS club has been paired in the same group with the Canadian MLS entrant. It's an interesting coincidence since – because CONCACAF switched from a format of 16 teams in a preliminary round with four groups of four teams, to an eight groups of three teams format in 2012-13 – one of them will be eliminated in the group stage.
That's the fate of Sporting KC and Vancouver, which were put together in Group C with Central of Trinidad, playing in the continental championship for the second straight year. Central won only one of four games last year and was eliminated from the group that was won by the LA Galaxy.
Portland was placed in Group B with Costa Rica's Saprissa, which has qualified for the sixth time and reached the semifinals in 2011, and Dragon of El Salvador, which in May won its first Salvadoran league title in 63 years.
The Red Bulls were grouped with Antigua of Guatemala, which in the fall won its first Guatemalan title since it was founded in 1958, and Alianza of El Salvador.
The last MLS team to get matched up was Dallas, which was put in Group G with Real Esteli of Nicaragua, which has gone 0-11-5 in five previous appearances and been outscored 25-6. The other team in the group is Guatemala's Suchitepequez, which finished fourth in the 1993 CONCACAF Champions Cup.
This past year was the first time four MLS teams reached the quarterfinals since the Champions League was started in 2008. And none made it any further.
As disappointing as U.S. MLS teams' performances in the CCL have been, with no team other than a Mexican club winning the title, at least it's better than all of Central America. Sixteen of 32 U.S. teams that have entered the CCL have reached the quarterfinals (50 percent), three have reached the semifinals and one the finals.
Of the 96 Central American teams to qualify, 15 have reached the quarters (22 percent), four have made it to the semis and none to the finals.
Taking advantage of down time
If U.S. MLS teams aren't taking advantage of the league's down time created by the Copa America Centenario window, at least Canada's are.
This week will see Montreal, Vancouver and Toronto start their attempts to qualify for the 2017-18 CCL, playing in the first leg of the Amway Canadian Championships semifinals. The second leg will be played next week while MLS is on a two-week break.
Canada wasn't invited to the Copa America, limiting the number of players called from the clubs to the various national teams.
Defending champion Vancouver is facing the Ottawa Fury, which beat fellow NASL club FC Edmonton in the preliminary round.
Toronto and Montreal resume their eastern rivalry in the other semifinal.
The winners will meet in the finals the last two weeks in June.
MLS teams will enter the U.S. Open Cup in the fourth round on or around June 15, three days before the league schedule resumes.
And then there were three
Atlanta United FC may have wanted to borrow its naming conventions from England, so far it isn't taking any of its players.
It announced this week that it had added a third man to its roster, 18-year-old Ghanaian striker Jeffrey Otoo. That gives the MLS expansion club players in three different positions, albeit none that are household names.
According to an Atlanta release, Otoo, who has scored 21 goals in 13 appearances for the Ghanaian second-division club Charity Stars FC since joining the club in December, will play the rest of the season with the Charleston Battery, AUFC's USL affiliate.
He joins 23-year-old Greek-born goalkeeper Alex Tambakis, who signed as the club's first signed player in January, and 27-year-old midfielder Junior Burgos, the second player signed about a week later. Tambakis has been playing with Charleston since the beginning of the season and Burgos, who played with the Atlanta Silverbacks, has been playing with the Tampa Bay Rowdies.
The first player signed by MLS was Tab Ramos, who was assigned to the New York-New Jersey MetroStars (Red Bulls). New York City signed David Villa as its first player and Orlando made Kaka its first designated (third overall) player signed.
Atlanta appears to be building its roster more...slowly.
Picking up where the other Kamara left off
Whatever confusion Columbus created by acquiring Norwegian-born Ola Kamara in February, then apparently alleviating by trading Kei Kamara last month, may have been recreated with the new acquisition's most recent exploits.
Ola Kamara scored three goals to pace the Crew to a 4-3 win over Salt Lake on Saturday and win his first designation as Player of the Week. The game was only Kamara's third start – all since his namesake got into on-field spat with Federico Higuain during a 4-4 draw with Montreal and was subsequently traded to New England.
Kei Kamara has won POTW three times in his career. The only link between the two is that Kei is from Sierra Leone, while Ola's family fled the country as a refugee and had their son born in Norway.