It will be a battle of CONCACAF heavyweights when American outfit New England Revolution take on LD Alajuelense of Costa Rica in Bermuda on 22 February in the first leg of the 2006 CONCACAF Champions Cup quarter-finals.
MLS outfit New England Revolution will be hoping the tropical climes of Hamilton, Bermuda do them well as they take on historic Costa Rican powers LD Alajuelense in the first-leg of their CONCACAF Champions Cup quarter-final on 22 February. With a score of players currently in top form and doing their impressive all to sneak into Bruce Arena's squad for Germany 2006, the Americans will want to make sure their three-month lay-off without a competitive match will not hurt them too much as they take on La Liga - currently struggling for goals but still soaring strong in the Costa Rican Clausura.
The Revolution have yet to win an MLS championship in their 10-year existence, most recently losing out to Landon Donovan's LA Galaxy in last year's MLS Cup (the one-off 'Cup final' game which decides MLS' champion) after being one of the strongest teams in the US top-flight over the course of the 2005 'regular season'. Led by US internationals Taylor Twellman, Clint Dempsey, Steve Ralston, Pat Noonan and Matt Reis, the Revolution - like their LA counterparts - now face Costa Rican opposition in the quarter-final round of the CONCACAF Champions Cup.
The first leg will take place in Bermuda - site of New England's pre-season training camp - on 22 February. Foregoing traditional home-field advantage due to weather concerns and pitch condition in the middle of a hard New England winter, the club - based just outside of Boston in Foxboro, Massachusetts - will also need to quickly find some chemistry considering the Alajuelense clash comes five weeks before the start of the 2006 MLS season. Despite some players' lack of match fitness, head coach and former Liverpool standout centre-back Steve Nicol is hoping for the best in Bermuda.
"What we want is to look forward and try and get better and get in good condition for this game on the 22nd. The only thing that is important is to get through the first three weeks up to the 22nd, get there with no injuries and in good condition," the Scot recently remarked about the game that will be the first Champions Cup contest played in Bermuda since 1991 when Dandy Town Hornets (BER) defeated the Brooklyn Italians (USA).
"You start again in the preseason and you get nothing for what you did last year or the year before. The only thing you do is take confidence from last season, but if you don't put the hard work in, you won't do anything. You have to work as hard as you did the previous years," Nicol went on to add.
The coach is sure to be calmed a bit by a recent 8-0 hammering dished out by his boys against Bermuda's under-20 national team, and the five-goal performance put in by ever-improving midfield dynamo Dempsey.
The winner of the Champions Cup will go on to emulate last year's champion, Deportivo Saprissa, with a spot at the FIFA Club World Championship next year. Despite the long off-season (the last time the Revs played a competitive match was back in November 2005) Nicol will be bolstered by fine recent performances put in by Twellman, Dempsey and Noonan at the US national team camp.
In the last two US friendlies in California Dempsey looked a power in the centre of midfield while Twellman grabbed a stunning four-goal haul, including a hat trick against Norway.
Goal-shy Alajuelense in transitionKnown by their throngs of fans simply as La Liga, Liga Deportiva Alajuelense are the most-decorated team in Costa Rican history with 24 league titles to their name. They will be keen to keep up their tradition of success in the CONCACAF Champions Cup as they became the first Costa Rican team to win the competition back in 1986 before repeating the dose in 2004.
With a long and storied history dating back to 1919 and a comparable reputation to that of archrivals and San Jose super club Saprissa, Alajuelense are considered one of the major forces in Central American football and have never been relegated, spending 86 consecutive years in the Tico top flight.
The side have a brand-new head coach in former national team assistant to Bora Milutinovic, Rolando Villalobos, who took over from Javier Delgado last week. And with a score of national team players in the squad like Wilmer Lopez, Rolando Fonseca and Erick Scott and former youth international and talented standout Yosimar Arias, La Liga will be no pushovers after qualifying for the Champions Cup as winners of the UNCAF Club Championship in October of last year.
Two of Alajuelense's players, Carlos Hernandez and defender Luis Marin, both stared for the Costa Rican national team in a recent friendly win over Korea Republic and more than a few of the team's stars are expected to head to Germany with Alexandre Guimaraes' Tico team come June.
Minor Diaz currently leads the attack as La Liga are currently in a three-way tie for first-place in their section of the Clausura championship. However, with only 8 goals so far, Alajuelense will be hoping to get back among the goals in Bermuda.
The second leg of the Champions Cup quarter-final will take place on 8 March at Alajuelense's Estadio Alejandro Morera Soto in Llano de Alajuela. Unlike its sister competitions in other continents, the CONCACAF Champions cup employs a pure aggregate format with road goals counting no more than those scored at home.