The quarter-finals of the 2007 CONCACAF Champions Cup kick into high gear on Wednesday and Thursday. The oldest and most prestigious club competition in North, Central America and the Caribbean will pit the the region's best in a hunt for bragging rights and, more importantly, a place at next year's FIFA Club World Cup.
The first round of home-and-away ties began back on 13 February with a tremendous shock result, perhaps paving the way for a shake-up in the formbook of the 45-year old competition. Chivas of Guadalajara - one of the most successful in all of Mexico - were beaten by Trinidadian minnows W Connection FC 2-1 at their Manny Ramjohn Stadium in Marabella, Trinidad on Tuesday.
After being reduced to ten men and losing their No1 goalkeeper inside the opening twenty minutes, the Marabella-based minnows rallied back fready rom an Omar Bravo goal down and won the day thanks to two strikes in the last ten minutes from Earl Jean and Jose Luiz Seabra. With the win, W Connection become the first Caribbean participant to win a Champions Cup encounter since San Juan Jabloteh of T&T routed the Chicago Fire in 2004. It was also the first time that Chivas - inaugural Champions Cup winners back in 1962 - lost to Caribbean opposition since Haiti's Racing Club Haiten beat them in the final back in 1963.
Before the second leg of the Chivas tie with W Connection on 28 February, another six sides from all corners of CONCACAF will battle it out for superiority in their respective first leg clashes.
The second Mexican club in the competition, Pachuca CF, will take on Deportivo Marquense of Guatemala in their first leg on 22 February at the Estadio Hidalgo in Pachuca. The Guatemalans are taking part in their first-ever Champions Cup after finishing third at the 2006 UNCAF Club Championship. Having never won their domestic championship, the Leones will be long shots to triumph over powerful Pachuca, who are the oldest club currently taking part in the Mexican first division. Having won the domestic title on four occasions and the Champions Cup in 2002, the men from Mexico will be considered hot favourites, especially after becoming the first CONCACAF team to win a South American title - national or club - when they took the Copa Sudamericana in 2006.
All hope for MLS men
The USA send two sides to the Champions Cup quarter-final stage: DC United, who finished the regular Major League Soccer season with the best record and Houston Dynamo, who won the top flight laurels outright by beating New England Revolution in the MLS Cup final.
Led by recently crowned Canadian player of the year Dwayne De Rosario and towering US striker Brian Ching, the Dynamo - the first team from Texas take part in a Champions Cup - will fancy their chances against Puntarenas FC of Costa Rica. However, as they are currently in their off-season and playing the first leg in hostile territory on 21 February at the Estadio Miguel Lito Perez, they are likely to have their work cut out. Puntarenas, also debutants at this stage, will be buoyed by winning the Central American club championship last year and also having reached the final of last year's Costa Rican League campaign.
DC United, one of only two Major League Soccer sides to have won a Champions Cup (1998), will be without the services of young American phenom Freddy Adu, who was traded to Real Salt Lake at the close of last season. However, Tom Soehn's men - led by the orchestrations of Christian Gomez and Jaime Moreno - will be hoping for the best against Honduras giants Olimpia , the only Honduran side to have ever captured a CONCACAF Champions Cup crown (1972 and 1988). United will surely also be boosted by the fact that they are the American side to have participated in the most Champions Cups (seven), but Olimpia's Lions are the most successful team in Honduras with 20 domestic titles to their name and they will be keen to show their teeth.
The quarter-final second legs will take place later in February and the semi-finals will be contested in March. The final series will be played in a home-and-away format in April of 2007 to decide the champion of CONCACAF and the region's representative at next year's FIFA Club World Cup.
CONCACAF Champions Cup quarter-finals:
2/13/07 W Connection FC (TRI) 2 - CD Guadalajara (MEX) 1
2/28/07 CD Guadalajara (MEX) - W Connection FC (TRI)
2/22/07 Pachuca CF (MEX) - Deportivo Marquense (GUA)
2/28/07 Deportivo Marquense (GUA) - Pachuca CF (MEX)
First leg: 13-15 March
Second leg: 03-05 April
First leg: 17-19 April
Second leg: 24-26 April