Sebastian Giovinco, Marlon Hairston - Toronto vs. Colorado - with CCL overlay

Most MLS teams are entering their final two weeks of preseason preparations for opening day 2018. But it's just about gametime for the five clubs representing the league in CONCACAF Champions League, with the first legs of the competition's eight Round of 16 matchups kicking off in a matter of hours, starting with Colorado vs. Toronto on Tuesday night and running through Thursday, when Honduras' Olimpia and the New York Red Bulls wrap up the first week of action. 


Here's where each of those five clubs stand as of today; for comparison's sake, you may also wish to peruse this similar rundown from earlier in preseason.


Colorado Rapids

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Stefan Aigner & Co. | USA Today Sports Images


What will Anthony Hudson's Rapids renaissance look like on its first matchday? That's still a pretty open question. Colorado continue to be linked to a range of overseas transfer targets and didn't play quite the lineups I'd expect in their preseason games to date. Notably, attacking star Shkelzen Gashi (though he apparently reported to camp in great shape) looks to be out of the XI for now due to a nagging calf injury. Hudson's style of play stresses width, movement and aggressive pressing, and I don't expect the squad to have mastered it in time to beat defending treble winners Toronto FC. The Front Range's fickle late-winter weather may prove to be the Rapids' best hope on Tuesday, with bone-chilling temps and snow showers in the forecast.


Projected Starting XI (3-5-2, left to right): Tim Howard – Deklan Wynne, Tommy Smith, Kortne Ford – Edgar Castillo, Nana Boateng, Johan Blomberg, Jack Price, Marlon Hairston – Jack McBean, Dominique Badji

Colorado Rapids
<strong>ROSTERED PLAYERS (25 of 30 spots filled as of Feb. 18, 2018):</strong>
<p><strong>GK (2):</strong>&nbsp;Andrew Dykstra, Tim Howard (DP), Zac MacMath<br><strong>DEF (9):</strong>&nbsp;Kip Colvey, Edgar Castillo, Kortne&nbsp;Ford (HG), Eric Miller, Axel Sjoberg (INT'L), Tommy Smith (INT'L), Jared Watts, Danny Wilson (INT'L), Deklan Wynne<br><strong>MID (9):</strong> Micheal Azira, Johan Blomberg (INT'L), Nana Boateng (INT'L), Mike Grella, Marlon Hairston, Sam Hamilton, Ricardo Perez (HG), Jack Price (INT'L), Dillon Serna (HG)<br><strong>FWD (5):</strong> Stefan Aigner (INT'L), Dominique Badji (INT'L), Caleb Calvert, Shkelzen Gashi (DP, INT'L), Jack McBean</p>
<p><strong>ACQUISITIONS (9):</strong> Johan Blomberg, Edgar Castillo, Kip Colvey, Mike Grella, Jack McBean, Jack Price, Tommy Smith, Danny Wilson, Deklan Wynne<br><strong>DEPARTURES&nbsp;(9):</strong>&nbsp;John Berner, Bobby Burling, Dennis Castillo, Kevin Doyle, Josh Gatt, Luis Gil, Alan Gordon, Mohammed Saeid, Mekeil Williams</p>

FC Dallas

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Kellyn Acosta | USA Today Sports


Dallas have made significant upgrades to a group that underachieved in 2017, and remains hungry to top the CCL run that ended (painfully) at the semifinals stage almost a year ago. New signings Anton Nedyalkov, Reto Ziegler and Santiago Mosquera appear to be ready to step right into the lineup for Wednesday's tricky-looking first leg vs. Tauro FC in Panama. One major complication hit Oscar Pareja's plans over the weekend, however: Star center mid Kellyn Acosta seems to have suffered a setback in his struggle with a groin problem and looks set for a stint on the sidelines. Jacori Hayes is in the mix to take his spot, but I've got the more experienced Victor Ulloa in that No. 8 role for now. 


Projected Starting XI (4-2-3-1, left to right): Jesse Gonzalez – Anton Nedyalkov, Reto Ziegler, Matt Hedges, Reggie Cannon – Carlos Gruezo, Victor Ulloa – Michael Barrios, Mauro Diaz, Santiago Mosquera – Maxi Urruti

FC Dallas
<strong>ROSTERED PLAYERS (28 of 30 spots filled as of Feb. 18, 2018):</strong>
<p><strong>GK (2):</strong> Jesse Gonzalez (HG), Jimmy Maurer<br><strong>DEF (7):</strong> Reggie Cannon (HG), Jordan Cano (HG), Maynor Figueroa (INT'L), Matt Hedges, Anton Nedyalkov (INT'L), Kris Reaves, Reto Ziegler (INT'L)<br><strong>MID (11):</strong> Kellyn Acosta (HG), Michael Barrios (INT'L), Mauro Diaz (DP), Carlos Gruezo (DP, INT'L), Jacori Hayes,&nbsp;<span style="font-size: 11.05px;">Ryan Hollingshead,</span> Roland Lamah (INT'L), Santiago Mosquera (DP, INT'L),&nbsp;Paxton Pomykal (HG), Brandon Servania (HG), Victor Ulloa (HG)<br><strong>FWD (8):</strong> Tesho Akindele, Francis Atuahene (INT'L), Cristian Colman (DP, INT'L), Jesus Ferreira (HG), Adonijah Reid, Bryan Reynolds (HG), Ema Twumasi (INT'L), Maximiliano Urruti</p>
<p><strong>ACQUISITIONS (9):</strong>&nbsp;Francis Atuahene, Jordan Cano, Jimmy Maurer, Santiiago Mosquera, Anton Nedyalkov, Kris Reaves, Brandon Servania, Ema Twumasi, Reto Ziegler<br><strong>DEPARTURES (11):</strong>&nbsp;Carlos Cermeño, Eduardo Cortes, Coy Craft, Hernan Grana, Luis Gonzalez, Aaron Guillen, Atiba Harris, Walker Hume, Javier Morales, Chris Seitz, Walker Zimmerman</p>

New York Red Bulls

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It's all about Kaku. | NY Red Bulls


As entertaining as RBNY fans made the drawn-out wait for winger Alejandro Romero Gamarra's official signing, better known as #KakuWatch, the New York Red Bulls are surely relieved to have their prized offseason acquisition in the fold in time for their trip to Costa Rica to face Honduras' Olimpia. That said, coach Jesse Marsch & Co. seem intent on imbuing their preparations with a similar sense of mystery, sharing relatively little in the way of lineup or formation info on public channels. So I've had to apply a hefty dose of guesswork to this XI. Will they keep with last year's 3-3-3-1, or return to Marsch's beloved (and elusive) 4-2-2-2? For now, I'm betting on a 4-3-3/4-2-3-1-ish look. What isn't a mystery: They'll high-press til they're blue (well, red) in the face. 


Projected Starting XI (4-2-3-1, left to right): Luis Robles – Kemar Lawrence, Aurelien Collin, Aaron Long, Michael Amir Murillo – Felipe, Tyler Adams – Alex Muyl, Sean Davis, Daniel Royer – Bradley Wright-Phillips

New York Red Bulls
<strong>ROSTERED PLAYERS (27 of 30 spots filled as of Feb. 18, 2018):</strong>
<p><strong>GK (3):</strong>&nbsp;Ryan Meara, Luis Robles<br><strong>DEF (9):</strong> Aurelien Collin (INT'L), Fidel Escobar (INT'L), Connor Lade (HG), Kemar Lawrence (INT'L), Aaron Long, Michael Amir Murillo (INT'L), Hassan Ndam (INT'L), Kevin Politz (HG), Tommy Redding (HG)<br><strong>MID (12):</strong> Tyler Adams (HG), Vincent Bezecourt (INT'l), Cristian Casseres Jr. (INT'L), Sean Davis (HG), Derrick Etienne Jr. (HG), Felipe, Ben Mines (HG), Alex Muyl (HG), Carlos Rivas, Alexandro Romero Gamarra (DP, INT'L), Daniel Royer (INT'L), Marc Rzatkowski (INT'L)<br><strong>FWD (3):&nbsp;</strong>Stefano Bonomo, Amando Moreno, Bradley Wright-Phillips (DP)</p>
<p><strong>ACQUISITIONS (10):</strong>&nbsp;Stefano Bonomo, Cristian Casseres Jr., Ben Mines, Amando Moreno, Kevin Politz, Tommy Redding, Carlos Rivas, Alejandro Romero Gamarra,&nbsp;<span style="font-size: 11.05px;">Marc Rzatkowski,&nbsp;</span>Florian Valot&nbsp;<br><strong>DEPARTURES (11):</strong>&nbsp;Brandon Allen,&nbsp;Arun Basuljevic,&nbsp;Gideon Baah, Mike Grella, Dilly Duka, Sacha Kljestan, Zeiko Lewis, Dan Metzger, Damien Perrinelle, Gonzalo Veron, Sal Zizzo</p>

Seattle Sounders

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Roman Torres and Clint Dempsey | USA Today Sports


The back-to-back MLS Cup finalists and perennial CCL hopefuls haven't had to make wholesale changes to an already-decent squad, though some of their supporting cast will look different in 2018. One source of preseason intrigue, however: Coach Brian Schmetzer has experimented with a 4-4-2 diamond formation, seeking to maximize the usefulness of his packed midfield corps. That said, with a trip to El Salvador on the docket for this week, I'd be surprised if the Rave Green overcomplicate things right out of the gates, so I'm predicting the incumbent shape and personnel for the Santa Tecla clash. And has newcomer Magnus Wolff Eikrem earned a spot in the lineup?


Projected Starting XI (4-2-3-1, left to right): Stefan Frei – Nouhou Tolo, Chad Marshall, Roman Torres, Jordy Delem – Gustav Svensson, Cristian Roldan – Jordan Morris, Clint Dempsey, Nicolas Lodeiro – Will Bruin

Seattle Sounders
<strong>ROSTERED PLAYERS (25 of 30 spots filled as of Feb. 18, 2018):</strong>
<p><strong>GK (2):</strong> Stefan Frei, Bryan Meredith<br><strong>DEF (7):</strong> Tony Alfaro, Waylon Francis, Kelvin Leerdam (INT'L), Chad Marshall, Jordan McCrary,&nbsp;Nouhou Tolo (INT'L), Roman Torres (INT'L)<br><strong>MID (12):</strong> Osvaldo Alonso (DP), Handwalla Bwana (HG), Jordy Delem (INT'L), Magnus Wolff Eikrem (INT'L),&nbsp;Nicolas Lodeiro (DP, INT'L), Zach Mathers, Victor Rodriguez (INT'L), Alex Roldan, Cristian Roldan, Harry Shipp, Gustav Svensson (INT'L), Henry Wingo (HG)<br><strong>FWD (4):</strong> Seyi Adekoya (HG), Will Bruin, Clint Dempsey (DP), Jordan Morris (HG)</p>
<p><strong>ACQUISITIONS (5):&nbsp;</strong>&nbsp;Handwalla Bwana, Magnus Wolff Eikrem (INT'L), Waylon Francis,&nbsp;Jordan McCrary,&nbsp;Alex Roldan<br><strong>DEPARTURES (7):</strong> Brad Evans, Oniel Fisher, Joevin Jones, Aaron Kovar, Calum Mallace, Lamar Neagle, Tyler Miller</p>

Toronto FC

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Hunting (more) hardware | USA Today Sports


The defending MLS Cup, Supporters' Shield and Canadian Championship holders have every right to be considered as MLS' top CCL challenger. The Reds made only modest tweaks to their loaded roster over the winter, most prominently with the signing of former Dutch international Gregory van der Wiel. Both he and fellow defender Chris Mavingadid not travel to Colorado for the first leg of their showdown with the Rapids in Tuesday, though, so I've got Nick Hagglund and Nicolas Hasler in their expected spots instead. Thanks to the typically frigid February conditions in Toronto and Colorado, there's extra uncertainty built into this series, which may be as much about survival as excellence. TFC's 3-5-2 could well shift into a 4-4-2 diamond, as it often has under coach Greg Vanney.


Projected Starting XI (3-5-2, left to right): Alex Bono – Nick Hagglund, Drew Moor, Eriq Zavaleta – Justin Morrow, Marky Delgado, Michael Bradley, Victor Vazquez, Nicolas Hasler – Sebastian Giovinco, Jozy Altidore

Toronto FC
<strong>ROSTERED PLAYERS (23 of 30 spots filled as of Feb. 18, 2018):</strong>
<p><strong>GK (3):</strong> Alex Bono (GA), Clint Irwin, Caleb Patterson-Sewell<br><strong>DEF (9):</strong> Auro (INT'L), Nick Hagglund, Nicolas Hasler (INT'L), Chris Mavinga (INT'L), Ashtone Morgan (HG), Drew Moor, Justin Morrow, Gregory van der Wiel (INT'L), Eriq Zavaleta<br><strong>MID (6):</strong> Michael Bradley (DP), Jay Chapman (HG), Marky Delgado, Liam Fraser (HG), Jonathan Osorio (HG), Victor Vazquez (INT'L)<br><strong>FWD (5):</strong> Jozy Altidore (DP), Sebastian Giovinco (DP, INT'L), Jordan Hamilton (HG), Tosaint Ricketts, Ben Spencer (HG)</p>
<p><strong>ACQUISITIONS (5):</strong> Auro (INT'L), Ayo Akinola (HG), Liam Fraser (HG), Caleb Patterson-Sewell, Gregory van der Wiel (INT'L)<br><strong>DEPARTURES (10):</strong> Brandon Aubrey, Oyvind Alseth, Steven Beitashour, Sergio Camargo, Armando Cooper, Benoit Cheyrou, Raheem Edwards, Tsubasa Endoh,&nbsp;Jason Hernandez, Mark Pais</p>