What's going on with CONCACAF Champions League? A primer on North America's top tournament
North America’s annual club championship will resume Tuesday, with three MLS teams standing at the quarterfinal stage, vying to become the first team from the USA or Canada to triumph in the CONCACAF Champions League.
So how did we get here?
For you first-time CCL watchers, the top four US MLS teams (usually the MLS Cup winners and runners-up, US Open Cup winners and Supporters’ Shield winners) plus the Canadian Championship winner, enter a group stage that stretches from July-October. This time around, three MLS teams – the LA Galaxy, Houston Dynamo and Seattle Sounders – made it through the group stages, along with three Mexican and two Central American teams.
From here on out, the play is much like you’d expect in the UEFA Champions League or any other knockout tournament – home-and-home series with the winner decided on aggregate goals. The one notable difference in format is that the final is decided, like the rest of the series, over two legs, as opposed to the one-off game that takes place in Europe.
And just how big would an MLS win in this competition be? In his annual state of the league address and the media sessions conducted throughout opening weekend, MLS Commissioner Don Garber stressed MLS success in the CCL (and the Club World Cup berth it brings) as one of the cornerstones of his vision to become one of the top leagues in the world by 2022.
Some fans with an astute memory may point out, "Hey, the LA Galaxy and D.C. United have both won this thing before!"
True, they have both won the CONCACAF Champions' Cup (D.C. in 1998, LA in 2000), which was replaced by the CCL in 2008, but circumstances were much different back then. The final stages of both tournaments were both played entirely in the home cities of the winning teams against a much smaller field and all series consisted of just one game, while LA didn’t even have to face a Mexican team, a highly unlikely scenario nowadays.
There have been signs of progress, though – Real Salt Lake reached the 2010-11 final, only to fall narrowly to Monterrey, who went on to win the subsequent addition and are now gunning for a third-straight title. Toronto FC reached the semifinals last time around and the old USL Montreal Impact were a goal away from eliminating Santos Laguna in the quarterfinals of the 2008-09 edition.
Regional bragging rights, increased visibility on the world stage and a tangible measurement of MLS’ growth as the league enters its 18th year – there’s plenty of rooting interest here for MLS fans, and here’s when you can find all the MLS teams in action, with all the games televised live on Fox Soccer and the home team listed first:
- Tues., 3/5, 8 pm ET: Houston Dynamo vs. Santos Laguna (MEX)
- Weds., 3/6, 10 pm ET: Tigres UANL (MEX) vs. Seattle Sounders
- Thurs., 3/7, 8 pm ET: Herediano (CRC) vs. LA Galaxy
- Tues., 3/12, 10 pm ET: Seattle Sounders vs. Tigres UANL
- Weds., 3/13, 8 pm ET: Santos Laguna vs. Houston Dynamo
- Weds., 3/13, 10 pm ET: LA Galaxy vs. Herediano