Winning the group and qualifying for the quarterfinals of the CONCACAF Champions League is the baseline goal for every MLS entrant. But with Sporting Kansas City, the San Jose Earthquakes, the Houston Dynamo and the LA Galaxy each facing their final group game over the next two nights, winning the group is not the only thing that matter.
As it turns out, running up the score counts, too.
The current Champions League format (now in its second season) rewards teams who are dominant in group play. Quarterfinalists are seeded Nos. 1 through 8 based on each team's group-stage point totals, with ties decided first by goal differential, then goals scored. Higher-seeded teams get home-field advantage in the second leg of the quarterfinal series. (After the first round, home field is locked into the spots expected to be occupied by the Nos. 1 and 2 seeds, so a No. 7 or No. 8 who pulled an upset would have home-field advantage in the semifinals.)
In last year's tournament, this meant a second leg in Mexico for Houston in the quarterfinals and then for both the Seattle Sounders and LA Galaxy in the semifinals. Over the years, MLS teams are 0-13-1 in second legs played in Mexico, with a goal differential of minus-32, and have lost all 14 series. On the other hand, when the second leg of an MLS vs. Mexico series is hosted by the MLS team, those squads are 2-5 in the overall series, a significant improvement.
With that in mind, there's plenty at stake for the Galaxy, who host Isidro Metapán on Thursday. They could earn the top seed – and home-field advantage throughout the elimination rounds – if they win by at least three goals on Thursday and better Toluca's margin of victory by at least two goals.
San Jose, meanwhile, will be seeded eighth if the Earthquakes sneak through to the quarterfinals, but, like the Galaxy, both Sporting KC and Houston have the potential to improve their seeding if they can win and make an impact with their goal differential.
Here's a look at the likely quarterfinalists and their current point / goal differential totals:
- Cruz Azul – 12 pts, +8 GD, schedule complete
- Toluca – 9 pts, +7 GD, vs. Comunicaciones on Wednesday
- LA Galaxy – 9 pts, +6 GD, at Isidro Metapán on Thursday
- Tijuana – 10 pts, +8 GD, schedule complete
- Alajuelense – 9 pts, +3 GD, schedule complete
Kansas City – 7 pts, +4 GD, host Olimpia on Wednesday OR
Olimpia – 6 pts, 0 GD, at Kansas City on Wednesday
Houston – 7 pts, +3 GD, at Árabe Unido on Thursday OR
Árabe Unido – 6 pts, +3 GD, vs. Houston on Thursday
San Jose – 3 pts, +1 GD, vs. Heredia on Wednesday OR
Heredia – 6 pts, 0 GD, at San Jose on Wednesday