Wednesday’s Campeones Cup clash between Toronto FC and Tigres UANL at BMO Field (8:15pm ET | ESPN2, Univision, TSN, TVAS) marks a new faceoff between old adversaries, a renewal of hostilities between North America’s top two teams – and leagues.
TFC and Tigres meet again, six months after their riveting Concacaf Champions League quarterfinal clash, this time with a trophy on the line in a winner-take-all setting that should make for compelling viewing to a massive audience across three nations, three languages and one huge continent.
It’s only the latest of many chapters in the simmering rivalry between MLS and Liga MX teams. Though the two leagues inked an historic multi-pronged partnership this year that includes a sharing of best business practices and social responsibility efforts, a future MLS All-Star Game collaboration and the Campeones Cup itself, on the field there’s a keen competition that harks back to years of CCL duels, the bygone SuperLiga tournament and decades of contentious international matches among Canada, Mexico and the United States.
Which got us thinking: Is Tigres-TFC North America’s hottest cross-border matchup?
There have been many memorable encounters between the leagues over the years, as the enjoyable top-10 list compiled by my colleague Greg Seltzer reflects. Yet the long, challenging road that must be navigated from domestic league play to CCL (or its predecessor, Concacaf Champions Cup) action has made rematches relatively uncommon over the years.
It’s not sufficient to be good enough in the league to qualify: You also have to be an adept tournament team, able to handle one tense do-or-die situation after another. You must sustain both qualities over long periods to make it back to international competition year after year. And some luck helps a lot, too.
Tuzos vs. Dynamo
One notable exception: Pachuca and the Houston Dynamo faced off in Champions Cup, SuperLiga and CCL play during the highest ebbs of La Naranja under former coach Dominic Kinnear. Houston’s 2007 CCC clash with Los Tuzos, particularly the wild second leg in the high altitude of Estadio Hidalgo, was one of the most epic club contests in Concacaf history.
A see-saw battle marked by clutch Dynamo goals from Brian Ching and Brian Mullen, the game required extra time with the teams tied 4-4 on aggregate, and it took an incredible 106th-minute golazo from Christian Gimenez for Pachuca to vanquish Houston en route to the Champions Cup title. (It pains me that this appears to be the best-quality highlights clip the internet has to offer.)
The Dynamo would take a small measure of revenge by defeating Los Tuzos 2-0 in the SuperLiga semifinals the following year, though they fell to the New England Revolution on penalty kicks in the championship final. More recently, Pachuca inflicted still more pain on MLS Texans by edging FC Dallas in a heart-stopping CCL semifinal tussle last year.
Xolos vs. Galaxy
They’ve faced off in friendlies and scrimmages over the years, but Club Tijuana and the LA Galaxy have thus far only met once in a competitive match, and it was a doozy: The quarterfinals of the 2013-14 CCL. (We’ll get to that in a second.)
Plenty of factors made this matchup – and any that may come to pass in the future – so compelling. Earning promotion from the Ascenso (Mexico’s second division) to Liga MX in 2011, ambitious Tijuana made waves with a 2012 Apertura championship. They soon turned heads north of the border by making it their policy to recruit not only fans based in the U.S., but also talent – particularly from Southern California, most prominently by luring now-D.C. United winger Paul Arriola away from the Galaxy academy system in 2013.
That further inflamed what would already have been a spicy CCL matchup the following spring -- the two teams are separated by just 133 miles. With plenty of traveling support making the trip for both matches, the Galaxy edged the first leg at SHC 1-0, only to be blown apart by Los Xoloitzcuintles, 4-2, in the second leg.
Monterrey vs. everybody
No team, from any nation, has ever dominated CCL in the modern era like Los Rayados did from 2010-13. Powered by stocky Chilean striker Humberto “Chupete” Suazo and his lanky Mexican running mate Aldo de Nigris, Monterrey beat all comers for three years running, winning three straight CCL titles, the first team to achieve such a feat in four decades.
Most MLS fans will remember their gripping victory over Real Salt Lake in the 2011 final, where RSL bravely earned a 2-2 draw in the first leg at Estadio Technologico only to crash to a gut-wrenching 1-0 defeat in the second leg at Rio Tinto Stadium.
But they were hardly the only MLS side vanquished during Monterrey’s incredible run. Los Rayados also beat the Galaxy in the 2013 CCL semifinals, and outpaced the Seattle Sounders in the 2010-11 and 2011-12 group stages.
Reds vs. Tigres
So do any of the aforementioned matchups reach the level of this week’s Campeones Cup marquee?
We have to consider not only the events of the games themselves – and this year’s CCL quarterfinal duel was as spellbinding as any cross-border affair in recent memory – but the bonafides of the teams involved. I’d contend that no MLS-Liga MX showdown has ever featured two clubs at the peak of their powers like this spring’s did.
TFC were fresh off an unprecedented treble campaign, blessed with both top-end talent and quality role players. Tigres were reigning Liga MX champs at the time, perennial tournament finalists determined to win everything within their reach, stocked with elite (and expensive) difference-makers.
Even though they’ve hit some trials and tribulations in the ensuing months, when they meet again on Wednesday, expect to see two proud, trophy-hunting teams rekindle the flames of March. With Toronto already qualified for next year’s CCL and Tigres very much in the running to do so as well, we can only hope Campeones Cup is the prelude to another vintage clash in 2019.