NEW YORK – Four more Central American sides guaranteed themselves places in next year’s CONCACAF Champions League, winning their league crowns to join Honduras’ Real Espana and six teams already qualified from Mexico and the United States.
Titles for Alajuelense in Costa Rica, Metapan in El Salvador, Comunicaciones in Guatemala and Tauro in Panama – three of them on penalties — brought to 11 the number of clubs that have secured spots in the 24-team field. All four have played previously in the Champions League.
Alajuelense won its 25th Costa Rican league championship and returned to the Champions League for the first time since the inaugural season, when it was ousted in the Preliminary Round by the Puerto Rico Islanders.
An 89th-minute goal by Pablo Gabas equalized 1-1 for Alajuelense, which then subdued Herediano on penalties 4-3 on Sunday for the title. The deciding second leg came a week after Herediano was held to a 0-0 draw at home by Alajuelense.
Also on Sunday, Metapan outlasted Alianza 4-3 on penalties after a 0-0 draw to win a fourth split-season Salvadoran championship in five tries, sending it back to the Champions League for a third straight year. The club, founded in 2000, has won five of the last eight Salvadoran titles.
In Guatemela City, Rolando Fonseca scored his second goal with five minutes remaining Sunday and Comunicaciones prevailed over Municipal 4-3 on penalty kicks after a 2-2 draw. Fonseca’s goals, his first of the playoffs, forged a 3-3 aggregate draw and eventually sent the finals to the tiebreaker.
Comunicaciones, a quarterfinal loser to eventual champion Pachuca in this past season’s Champions League, claimed its 23rd Guatemalan title and first since the 2008-2009 Apertura.
On Friday, Marcos Sanchez scored his first goal of the season just before halftime to give Tauro a 1-0 victory over San Francisco and its first Panamanian crown since the 2007 Apertura. The victory ended the league domination by San Francisco and Arabe Unido, who had won the last six titles between them, and put Tauro in the Champions League for a third time.
All four sides are guaranteed a place in the Preliminary Round, which begins with the first leg July 26-28. They will claim a place directly in the Group Stage by winning the second-half season title in their respective leagues next year or finish with the best overall record of the two split-season winners.