The CONCACAF Champions League has not been a happy hunting-ground for MLS teams. But so far this season, it has been rather smooth sailing.
It has been said many times before. It will be said many times again. Major League Soccer teams do not perform well in the CONCACAF Champions League.
There is a justified obsession with MLS sides competing in the regional tournament. The league wants to be respected on a more global level. What better way to do that than to consistently challenge those teams that play in the best league in the region, Liga MX.
Teams have come close. Toronto FC were a penalty shootout away from conquering CONCACAF. Real Salt Lake and Montreal have made it to the final. Last year, Sporting Kansas City made it all the way to the semi-finals, before being outclassed. But never has an MLS team won the CCL.
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This year, however, the league was boasting its strongest line-up of teams. The Seattle Sounders were superb last year and added a DP central midfielder, Los Angeles FC are the best team in league history and, in Carlos Vela, might have the best player in the entire competition, while Atlanta United and New York City FC have complete rosters with high-end individuals who can win games. And then there is the Montreal Impact who have a knack for competing in the CCL.
This week, the second legs of the Round of 16 ties will be completed. And as of writing, on Wednesday night, it has been so far, so good for all MLS teams involved, and not just because they have all qualified for the quarter-finals, but because a couple have looked good doing so.
Atlanta United dispatched with Motagua with consummate ease on Tuesday night. More importantly, Gonzalo ‘Pity’ Martinez came to play, and if he gets anywhere near his South American Player of the Year form from 2018, he could inspire the Five Stripes to a deep run.
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Then New York City FC were excellent against A.D. San Carlos. Bar some rather tired defending in the second half of the first leg, Ronny Deila’s side controlled the tie from start to finish and were excellent in the second leg, even if the scoreline only reads 1-0.
And then Montreal did what they always do: they scrapped their way to an unlikely victory against a superior team. Saprissa were frustrated by Thierry Henry’s defensive organisation and the Canadians ushered their way into the next round.
Admittedly, none of these teams have played Mexican competition, and the only MLS team facing a Liga MX side in the first round, LAFC versus Club Leon, is 2-0 down after the opening leg. But the results have been very positive for MLS teams in the CCL thus far. You can only beat the team you are playing, and the more teams in the quarter-finals, the greater the likelihood one might sneak into the final.
Will this be the year that an MLS team finally conquers CONCACAF? Probably not. Leon look excellent, Cruz Azul flew through too, and Tigres are still in the competition somehow. But the early results have been very positive, and for now, that is all you can hope for.