The CONCACAF Champions League group stage went down to the wire as the eighth and final team to advance to the quarter-finals was left unsettled until the last matchday. Los Angeles Galaxy were the club to clinch that final place in the knockout round, defeating a winless Motagua side 1-0 to finish second in Group A.
Meanwhile, with Mexican clubs claiming the title in all three of the competition’s seasons to date, their dominance in the region has yet to subside. All four Mexican clubs - Morelia, Santos Laguna, Pumas UNAM and Monterrey - finished atop their respective groups.
With only two teams from each section assured a place in the next round, the final week of group stage action proved especially tense. Join FIFA.com as we review all of the drama.
Perhaps the most tightly-contested group, the top two finishers were left undetermined until the final match of the group stage, which was played between Motagua and LA Galaxy. Tension was abound as Morelia had come from behind to defeat Alajuelense 2-1 to leave each side deadlocked at the summit of the pool with 12 points each, and Galaxy with an opportunity to usurp Alajuelense on goal difference with a victory over lowly Motagua on the final matchday. And a depleted Galaxy side did just that. Despite the notable absence of Robbie Keane, the MLS leaders clinched a 1-0 victory through a first-half Juninho goal and found themselves completing the last-eight line-up, while Morelia finished top of the group.
Leaders Santos Laguna entered the final week of group play with nothing to worry about as they had already booked their place in the next round. However, Colorado Rapids, Isidro Metapan and Real Espana all entered the final phase in a hotly-contested race. Santos still played their part in creating a nervy finish, though, as they defeated Colorado Rapids to put the MLS side’s fate in jeopardy. Rapids were made to wait, knowing only a draw between Metapan and Real Espana would ensure their quarter-finals place. But Metapan had other ideas in mind, becoming the first El Salvador side to make their way past the group stage with a thrilling 3-2 defeat of Honduran club Espana.
Everything was wide open in Group C come week six of group play, with just one point separating Pumas, FC Dallas and Toronto FC. Dallas had opened the competition with a splash when they became the first MLS team to win in Mexico, defeating a young Pumas side back in August. However, a poor run of form troubled the club in the final stretch, and they ultimately lost out to Toronto, who became only the second Canada-based club to reach the quarter-finals stage, their predecessor being Montreal Impact three years ago. The two MLS sides met in a do-or-die match and while history had favoured hosts Dallas, Toronto ran out comfortable 3-0 winners to finish second in the pool. Pumas, on the other hand, enjoyed an easier route into the last eight, needing only a draw against Tauro in their final match to ensure their place. However, Carlos Cacho’s header sealed a 1-0 win for the group leaders to condemn their Panamanian opponents to certain elimination.
While Seattle Sounders entered the final week having already booked their place in the next round, their final match against Monterrey proved crucial in determining the group’s first-placed finisher. Sounders, who had finished bottom in their group just last season, defeated the reigning champions in the first leg of their tie in August, but Monterrey abandoned their poor domestic run of late to see off the USA side 2-1 and stamp their place at the summit with 12 points. And with that result so too came the elimination of Comunicaciones as Monterrey held a better head-to-head record over the Guatemalan side and needed only a point from their match with Sounders to go through. Herediano, meanwhile, were already eliminated prior to week six, but nonetheless made the most of their final fixture as they strolled by Comunicaciones in a 4-1 victory. Jorge Barbosa notably bagged a brace in the game to bring his tally up to a tournament-leading six.
3 – Since the CONCACAF Champions League was established in its current form just three years ago, three Mexican clubs have ultimately gone on to win the title: Atlante (2009), Pachuca (2010), Monterrey (2011).
What they said
“We knew it was a very important match for both teams. It was very even and very well fought, particularly at midfield. The midfielders and defenders faced off a number of times. We knew we would not retract, and that based on individual talent, we knew someone could make a difference.” Monterrey coach Victor Vucetich
Have your say
Which of the eight teams through to the quarter-finals will advance to the next stage: Morelia, LA Galaxy, Santos Laguna, Metapan, Pumas, Toronto, Monterrey or Seattle Sounders?