Concacaf Champions League returns tonight – feel the #CCLFever

Long ago, before writing about Nashville SC became high-enough volume to fill a whole site, I talked a lot more about soccer around the country, region, world, galaxy, etc. These are those posts.

Screen Shot 2018-04-26 at 6.24.45 AM
i still think this is funny; do not care if nobody else does

Toronto FC came painfully close to being the first-ever team from Major League Soccer to win Concacaf Champions League in its current format (Los Angeles Galaxy won in 2000, when it was the “Champions Cup”), and it’s been since 2005 that any team from outside Mexico won the confederation’s club championship.

Can teams from the United States and Canada fare better this year?

The amounts (and types) of data we have on some of the Central American and Caribbean teams make it tough to predict, but I’d recommend taking a look at American Soccer Analysis‘s preview for an overview of what the numbers say. Largely, they agree with the conventional wisdom: Clubs from Mexico, United States/Canada, and Costa Rica (approximately in that order) dominate the competition, with Panama an occasional contender as well – though the squad representing Los Canaleros this year, Independiente, is not a particularly strong one within the cohort.

So, who is participating, and what are their prospects? The first leg of a two-legged Round of 16 begins tonight, and continues for the next two days. The second legs are next Tuesday-Thursday. All games stream in the U.S. on Yahoo’s streaming platform (including the app):

Round of 16

Tonight:

  • Toronto FC @ Independiente (Panama) • 7 p.m. CST
    • Second leg 7 p.m. next Tuesday
  • Tigres (Mexico) @ Saprissa (Costa Rica) • 7 p.m. CST
    • Second leg 9 p.m. next Tuesday
  • Houston Dynamo @ Guastatoya (Guatemala) • 9 p.m. CST
    • Second leg 7 p.m. next Tuesday

Wednesday

  • Santos Laguna (Mexico) @Marathon (Honduras) • 7 p.m. CST
    • Second leg 7 p.m. next Wednesday
  • New York Red Bulls @ Atletico Pantoca (El Salvador) • 7 p.m. CST
    • Second leg 7 p.m. next Wednesday
  • Monterrey (Mexico) @ Alianza (El Salvador) • 9 p.m. CST
    • Second leg 9 p.m. next Wednesday

Thursday

  • Toluca (Mexico) @ Sporting Kansas City • 7 p.m. CST
    • Second leg 9 p.m. next Thursday
  • Atlanta United @ Herediano (Costa Rica) • 9 p.m. CST
    • Second leg 7 p.m. next Thursday

The prospects

Obviously, the mechanism through which teams qualify is not a simple “who is the best?” proposition: Houston Dynamo and Toronto FC didn’t make MLS playoffs last year (qualified through the US Open Cup and their performance in 2017, respectively), which is one of the reasons MLS teams have historically not done super-well in the competition. However, the first round should provide some winnable matchups – as is the design of the competition, attempting to get later-round matchups between MLS and Mexican teams, generally considered to be among the stronger in the region.

The top of the rankings within Concacaf are dominated by Mexican teams, so avoiding one of those in the first round should be favorable for MLS teams. Only Sporting Kansas City takes on a Liga MX team in the first round, with Atlanta United taking on one from the next-best league in Costa Rica. Those are probably the two teams best-equipped to do well in a competition like this, so that’s a good thing. Toronto, Dynamo, and Red Bulls are more in upset-avoidance mode than worrying about a level match.

Assuming favorites hold, each surviving team would be due for a squad from Mexico (or fellow MLS team) in the second round, so the going gets tough quickly.

So is this the year?

I’d say it’s likely a team has never been as well-composed to compete in this competition as Atlanta United, but there’s the small matter of not knowing what they’ll be with a new manager and the loss of a guy (Miguel Almirón) who was transferred for over $20 million to a Premier League club. Adding the South American player of the year certainly eases the pain there, but it’s an untested variable to the system. Will ATL UTD continue to be a dominant team, or fall by the wayside despite what should remain a massive wage bill?

Toronto FC’s one-year blip (with tons of injuries, and even the demoralizing loss in the final of last year’s edition of this competition) is not guaranteed to remain only that length. New York Red Bulls – like Atlanta – are adjusting to the loss of a guy (US International Tyler Adams) who hasn’t missed a beat since moving to Germany. SKC has had a hard time getting over the hump from being consistently very good under Peter Vermes to ever putting together that great team. Houston Dynamo… probably aren’t very good.

The best hope for an MLS team comes in the form of Atlanta United, but they’d better hope that it all comes together quicklty in the Frank de Boer era.

2 thoughts on “Concacaf Champions League returns tonight – feel the #CCLFever

  1. I was gonna get on here and ask if Beasley was still playing for the Dyanmo and decided it was “a bit much” -_-

    Like

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