Until MLS teams start regularly knocking off Liga MX teams in the CONCACAF Champions League, Liga MX teams will and should be prohibitive favorites in this competition. So it was five years from now, so it is now, and so it will be five years from now unless things change.
With that in mind, let's take a quick glance at the first legs of this week's CCL semifinals, with Vancouver traveling to face a loaded Tigres team in Monterrey and FC Dallas hosting second-place Pachuca in Frisco:
Vancouver headed down to Monterrey with one goal in mind: Keep the shutout. They didn't quite do it, but they at least kept the scoreline respectable, and with the right sort of prodding you could probably talk yourself into a world where the 'Caps pull off the miracle at BC Place.
It feels like it would take a miracle, though, because Tigres aren't just very good. They're simply stacked with attacking talent, and showed in this game a type of flexibility that pretty clearly befuddled the visitors.
That flexibility was built around a substitute and a formational switch. Tuca Ferretti had his team come out in a straight 4-4-2 from the gun, and they struggled to create much of anything in the first half. In the second half they brought on midfielder Lucas Zelarayan and switched to more of a 4-3-3, and suddenly started getting on the ball between the lines. Once they made Matias Laba protect instead of destroy, things started opening up.
This forced Vancouver to contract centrally, and allowed Tigres more room to drive the ball forward via the flanks. That's how both goals came about, and even if they weren't clinical build-ups they were clearly deserved.
Vancouver probably felt like they deserved a goal as well, given they had three good chances. One fell to the feet of Brek Shea, who subsequently fell over his own feet and then flopped for a yellow, while the other two went to Nico Mezquida. All were opportunistic, and this is one game in which the stats page isn't lying:
Pay special attention to both the passing accuracy and possession numbers. I understand why the 'Caps felt they had to bunker, but it's murderously hard to win a series playing like that.
Look: Kellyn Acosta’s pretty good! There aren’t too many 21-year-olds in US soccer history who could’ve walked out there and been the best player on the field in a game like Wednesday's 2-1 win over Pachuca, but that’s exactly what Acosta was. Obviously this will be highlighted by his spectacular free kick goal that provided the difference, but that's just part of what Acosta brought to the table.
- His field coverage is top notch
- His passing continues to be very good (and underrated)
Beyond that, though, it’s his game sense and soccer IQ — any time Dallas needed someone to get on the ball in a tough spot, or to settle the game down, he was there and able to do it. Pachuca didn't throw too many different looks at the hosts, but this is still no mean feat against a really good team.
And yeah, Pachuca are really good even without Hirving Lozano. They're second place in the current Clausura, and have conceded just seven goals this year. They’re Liga MX’s best defensive team and were well-rested because of the referee's strike, but FCD repeatedly beat them for pace and precision.
It was a great win. It is still, however, an uphill climb for Leg 2. We’ll see in a few weeks if Dallas are able to reach the summit.