Oct 16, 2007

Copa Sudamericana Primer: Sizing Up The Quarterfinalists

With all this talk and debate about who belongs where in the top 25 worldwide soccer club list, I thought it would be a good time to take a look at the Copa Sudamericana. The "UEFA Cup of the Americas" is the second-biggest club competition in Latin America (the Copa Libertadores is #1) and also the only time MLS teams have a chance to play Latin America's best in a competitive setting (sadly, the lone MLS representative, DC United, was eliminated in the Round of 16). Unlike European club competitions, the Sudamerica is currently at a fairly advanced stage, with three of four quarterfinals having already completed their home legs. The tournament barely receives any press coverage from English-language media in the U.S. and even less from Europe. I suppose the Europeans have their own leagues to worry about, while the U.S. market is served by Spanish-language media. That leaves non-Spanish-reading idiots like me out in the cold. A shame, because this is probably some of the best soccer being played in this hemisphere. All the more reason to take a closer look at where things stand today:

Quarterfinal #1: Vasco da Gama (Brazil) vs. Club América (Mexico)

Outlook: After losing 2-0 at the Azteca, the Brazilian side face an uphill battle when the teams face off in Rio de Janeiro Oct. 24. But they were faced with an identical situation in the Round of 16 (down 2-0 from the away leg) and advanced thanks to a last minute goal by Leandro Amaral (30 year old dude who apparently played with Fiorentina once?)
Domestic League Form
: Vasco is seventh in the Brazilian league. America is third in a tough Grupo 3 in Mexico's Apertura.
Vasco player you may have heard of: I'm not sure if Romário (yes, that Romário) is still with them. Wikipedia says so. He certainly doesn't have any appearances in a while.
América players you may have heard of
: Guillermo Ochoa is currently Mexico's starting goalkeeper, Argentine midfielder Federico Insúa played last season at Borussia Mönchengladbach and has been capped for the national team. José Antonio Castro was on last summer's world cup team that lost to Argentina in the Round of 16 (in my opinion the best match in an otherwise lackluster tournament. Castro was one of the better players on the pitch that day).
Others to watch
: Vasco full back Luizão is 20 and played all games for Brazil's U20 team at this summer's world cup. He apparently is under contract at Switzerland's FC Lucerne, who earlier this summer loaned him to Vasco two weeks after his arrival (that's Swiss hospitality for ya).

Quarterfinal #2: Chivas de Guadelajara (Mexico) vs. Arsenal (Argentina) Outlook: Chivas, the top-ranked non-European club in So-So's top 25, is in the driver's seat after their scoreless draw in the first leg that was played in South America. Return leg will be played Oct. 25. I'm not sure of this, but Arsenal appears to have some kind of deal with Barcelona, like a farm team almost? Maybe somebody else can shed some more light on this.
Domestic League Form: Chivas have hit their stride and lead their Apertura group. Arsenal are 15th (not a typo) in Argentina. Which means they really shouldn't have a chance. But they play the games for a reason.
Arsenal players you may have heard of
: Aníbal Matellán played for Schalke, Getafe and Gimnastic. Forward Leonardo Angel Biagini spent nearly a decade for various teams in the Spanish top flight.
Chivas players you may have heard of: Omar Bravo, Ramon Morales and Alberto Medina are "el tri" regulars.
Players you're likely to hear of soon: Patricio Araujo captained the Mexico Under 20 side at the world cup this summer and has also been capped for Hugo Sanchez' side. Chivas reportedly declined a $3 million offer from Ajax Amsterdam for his services. You'll be seeing him in Europe eventually. Omar Esparza, another guy from that U20 same team, features in defensive midfield for Chivas. For the Argentines, Alejandro Gomez is a 19 year old midfielder who was part of the team that won the U20 world championships, though he didn't appear to play much. He is used mainly as a sub now too, but seems to figure in every game and actually scored a goal in the last round against Goias, which if I'm not mistaken proved the difference in their match up. If he keeps it up you could see him in Europe before too long.

Quarterfinal #3: Sao Paulo (Brazil) versus Millionarios (Colombia)
Outlook: Millionarios stunned the heavily-favored (and So-So top 25 regulars) Brazilian side in the first leg, and take a 1-0 lead into Bogota, which oh by the way is nearly 9,000 feet above sea level.
Domestic League Form: Sao Paulo are likely to win the Brazilian league. They have a nine point lead with seven games remaining. The Colombians are way down in 12th place in their league.
Sao Paulo players you may have heard of: Miranda (isn't that a girl's name?) played at Sochaux last season. Aloiso spent four years in France; two at St. Etienne and two at Paris St. Germain, scoring 24 goals in four years. His goal against Boca proved the difference in the last round of the Sudamericana. Neicer Reasco was the starting left back for Ecuador's world cup team. Diego Tardelli (if you're old enough to recognize the name, yes he is named after Marco Tardelli, who was his dad's favorite player, or so Wikipedia tells us) spent the last seasons at Real Betis and Eindhoven. He'll be back. He's only 22.
Millionarios player you may have heard of: Gonzalo Martinez played in Italy for about five years (Udinese, Napoli, Reggina).
Players you're likely to hear of soon: Sao Paulo center back Breno is 18 and plays regularly. Millionarios goalkeeper Jose Fernando Cuadrano is only 22 and has already been capped for the national team. Defender Gustavor Rojas is an U20 international (I don't think they even qualified for last year's world cup, did they?) and Alex Diaz, another defender, is 18.

Quarterfinal #4: Defensor Sporting (Uruguay) versus River Plate (Argentina) Outlook: For some reason they haven't played the first leg of this one yet. Instead they'll play Oct. 25 at Montevideo and Oct. 30 at Buenos Aires. Luckily they don't have to go far. Figure River as the heavy favorites.
Domestic League Form: Defensor are second, River a disappointing seventh. Although they've begun to show signs of life, beating arch rival Boca Juniors in their most recent game.
Defensor player you may have heard of: Williams Martinez played for West Bromwich Albion in 2005-06. Yeah, that's it.
River player you may have heard of: Ariel Ortega, of Valencia/Sampdoria/Parma/Fenerbahce fame, not to mention the Argentina national team where he is capped 80-some-odd times.
Players you're likely to hear of soon: River's got a bunch: 19 year old middie Marcelo Burzac is being hailed as "el nuevo Juan Roman Riquelme" by the Argentine press. My spanish is probably as good as David Beckham's, but even I can figure that one out. 21 year old midfielder Augusto Fernandez, said to be on his way to Arsenal (in London, not Argentina) and Andres Rios is just 18 but has three goals in five games this season, including one against Brazil's Botafogo in the last round. Let's not forget Sebastian Sciorilli, 18, another midfielder (though I don't think he's played much--or at all--this season), Juan Antonio, 19, and Emmanuel Martinez, 18, although here too it doesn't look like they see much action. For Defensor, you've got 19 year old Damian Suarez, a regular starter in defense this year. Like I said, this one looks like a mismatch.

What happens next?
The tournament is all bracketed out, with the Chivas-Arsenal winner facing the America-Vasco winner and Millionarios-Sao Paulo winner matching up with River-Defensor victor. I think we'll see Chivas and River in the final. But that's just one man's opinion.


  1. Lets remember that Defensor Sporting has been a staple for the last few years in international club cups on a latin american level.
    The first leg was unbelievably postponed because of the super clasico between River-Boca!!! Just crazy...

  2. who are Defensor's star players though? I could barely find anything on any of them.