• Wednesday Nov 14, 2012

    Xelaju and Herediano look to go distance

    GUATEMALA CITY -- Two teams from the Central American region are through to the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals, making for an impressive sum, even if in some ways it wasn't an overly prolific group phase for Central American clubs on the whole.

    The defining images this year, though, will be the scenes of triumph surrounding successful bids to advance by Costa Rica's Herediano and Guatemala's Xelajú, each of which obtained tickets to the quarterfinals with scrappy efforts away from home on the final match day.

    A sterling group phase saw Herediano endure Group 2 without a loss and turning in a solid all-around effort under difficult conditions in Utah, securing a scoreless tie with 2010/11 finalist Real Salt Lake.

    Xelaju pulled off what was perhaps an even more unlikely feat by going to Estadio Omnilife in Mexico and scoring a priceless away goal late, ending the first round even with Guadalajara on points, but advancing on away goals scored in head-to-head matches between the pair.

    The survival of Central America's representatives came down to the wire. At the end of the day, having a pair of teams through to the quarterfinals makes for solid representation from the region.This is particularly significant given that the last edition of the CONCACAF Champions League saw only one Central American side advance to the knockout phase.

    In 2011-12, El Salvador's Isidro Metapan earned a quarterfinal berth, but then fell to Pumas, leaving Central America without a presence in the semifinals.If last season's lone quarterfinal entrant marked a bit of a lull for the area, the high water mark under the current group format came in 2009, when Comunicaciones, Arabe Unido and Marathon all made the quarterfinals, only to be eliminated in that round.The previous year, Marathon advanced from the region.

    Two years ago, two Central American teams also made the quarterfinals.Saprissa and Olimpia faced off in the first elimination round, assuring regional representation in the semifinals for what would be the most recent time to date.

    In 2013, Xelajú and Herediano will both be looking to update that record by progressing to the semis.For the Costa Rican side, there is plenty of precedent for success in the CCL.Saprissa was in the semifinals as recently as that 2010/11 campaign, and also made the 2008 final of the then Champions Cup, nearly adding to a regional title won in 2005.

    Where Xelajú is concerned, the Quetzaltenango side has already matched the point of reference for Guatemalan clubs -- Comunicaciones' 2009/10 quarterfinal run.The Cremas' quarterfinal appearance and subsequent loss to eventual champion Pachuca marks the furthest advancement for a Guatemalan club since the continental championships moved to the group stage format.

    In attempting to improve upon those performances, neither Central American team will have it easy this time around.In the home-and-home playoff series to kick-off in early March, Herediano will face 2011 MLS champion LA Galaxy, while Xelajú is faced with an equally stiff task in being matched against two-time defending CCL champion Monterrey.

    Opponents will underestimate the Central American teams at their own risk.As the remaining representatives of a region looking to continue a tradition of excellence in international play, both proud clubs can be expected to provide solid challenges to the region's giants come 2013. Getting this far has proven that Central America's CCL entrants are certainly up to the task.

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