By Dylan Butler
Santos Laguna has its place already set. Others are still scrambling.
With "Los Guerreros" already assured of the Group B title in CONCACAF Champions League, the Colorado Rapids, Isidro Metapan and Real Espana are separated by just two points and all are still alive for the second quarterfinal berth from the group heading into the final round of matches.
Santos, which sits atop the group with 10 points, hosts Colorado, which is second with seven points, on Wednesday, while Metapan, which is third with six points, is home for five-point Real Espana on Thursday.
A win in Torreon for the Rapids would clinch their ticket into the knockout stage, although the Americans can also clinch a berth with a Metapan-Real Espana draw. Metapan makes its way into the quarterfinals with a win against Real Espana and a Santos win or draw against Colorado.
Real Espana takes second in the group by beating Metapan and a Santos win or draw against Colorado.
Rapids coach Gary Smith knows his team's destiny is in their own hands.
"We have the opportunity through 90 minutes of football on Wednesday to qualify for the quarterfinals of the Champions League, which is something I think all the players would like to achieve," Smith told MLSsoccer.com. "It's been a long hard road. There's been some difficulties and some stresses involved, but it comes down to 90 minutes of football."
Colorado will be without captain Pablo Mastroeni, who suffered a concussion, and midfielder Jamie Smith, who has a calf injury. However, Smith has everyone else at his disposal.
"We've got a very competitive team," Smith said. "It might be slightly different to the usual set up, but it's one that can win a game of football and get us through to the next round."
Colorado, which played Real Salt Lake to a 0-0 draw Friday night, clinched a berth in the MLS Cup playoffs over the weekend.
Santos, which defeated Colorado 4-1 at Dick's Sporting Goods Park on September 13, are atop the Mexican Apertura table following a 3-2 win against Toluca on Saturday, its fifth consecutive domestic victory.
While Smith is likely to utilize a first-team squad, Santos coach Benjamin Galindo said he'll go with a younger team Wednesday.
"The whole squad is motivated. Everyone wants to play and that's good for us," Galindo told EFE. "We continue to work with the same idea, try to sort as soon as these are the objectives."
Although domestic matches in El Salvador were postponed because of heavy storms on the weekend, Metapan chairman Adan Salazar said Thursday's Group B encounter with Real Espana will be played as scheduled.
"Suspending it is almost impossible. It's like if we had wanted to suspend the national team game last Tuesday, he told La Prensa Grafica, referring to El Salvador's 4-0 victory over the Cayman Islands that pushed "Los Cuscatlecos" to the brink of advancing in World Cup qualifying. "It's the same situation, we have to play.
Real Espana, which defeated Olimpia 2-0 last Wednesday, is second in the Honduran Apertura, one point behind Marathon.
Metapan beat Real Espana 2-1 in San Pedro Sula on September 13, but Real Espana coach Mario Zanabria is quick to caution that revenge is not the main motivation Thursday night.
"We are thinking about winning this game because we know the possibilities, believe in miracles, but first we must accompany the result on Wednesday [between Santos and Colorado] and then play with us," he told Diez.hn.