An MLS team has never won the CONCACAF Champions League in its current format. Three clubs are focused on trying to change that this year, but which of them has the best chance to make history and reach the FIFA Club World Cup?
For a number of reasons, FC Dallas.
The New York Red Bulls, Vancouver Whitecaps, and FC Dallas are the remaining MLS teams in the 2016/17 edition of the CONCACAF Champions League, but it is the Texan team that has the best odds of lifting the trophy in late April due to its combination of experience, quality, and depth.
It's not that the Red Bulls or Whitecaps lack talent – they both have their fair share – but neither of them seem as tailor-made to make a run at the title as FC Dallas. New York and Vancouver are also going up against one another in the quarterfinals, and the winner of their series gets the reward of playing by Liga MX champs Tigres UANL or Pumas UNAM in the next round.
FC Dallas, on the other hand, have an easier path to the final. Should they get by Panamanian side Arabe Unido, Dallas would take on Deportivo Saprissa or Pachuca in the semifinals. Neither of those teams is a pushover, but Dallas have a squad full of players that know one another and have recently won titles together. Familiarity counts, especially during the early parts of an MLS season when kinks are being worked out.
Yes, star playmaker Mauro Diaz is out with an Achilles injury, but this FC Dallas team is relatively healthy and deep. Not only did they add winger Roland Lamah and striker Cristian Colman to an attack that has proven quite dynamic over the past couple of seasons, but also a veteran midfielder with CCL experience in Javier Morales that can help make things easier for the likes of Maximiliano Urruti and Michael Barrios. The defensive side is also strong for Dallas, with Carlos Gruezo and Kellyn Acosta likely protecting a backline led by the strong center back tandem of Matt Hedges and Walker Zimmerman.
What's more, head coach Oscar Pareja has FC Dallas better prepared for a run in this tournament than the Red Bulls and Whitecaps. Taking advantage of a stoppage in play in the Argentine first division, Dallas went down to South America to play a number of top-flight clubs' first teams. They took on River Plate, Lanus, and several other solid sides during a busy two-week stretch that saw the MLS team play games at a rapid pace.
The idea behind that was to be battle-tested and as sharp as is possible in February, with the hope being that these preparations serve as the foundation for a quarterfinals win.
None of that guarantees the win that has so far eluded MLS teams, of course. Still, Dallas seem better equipped all around to make a serious run at CCL glory in the coming months.