The 2016/17 CONCACAF Champions League is back, as the eight survivors of last year’s group stage prepare to duel in the quarterfinal stage, four two-legged knockout series that kick off this week.
Three MLS teams are in: The New York Red Bulls welcome the Vancouver Whitecaps to Red Bull Arena on Wednesday (8 pm ET; UDN, Facebook Live), with the return leg set for March 2 at Vancouver's BC Place. Meanwhile FC Dallas host Panamanian club Arabe Unido at Toyota Stadium on Thursday (8 pm ET; UDN, Facebook Live) before traveling to Central America for the second and decisive leg on March 1.
The higher seed hosts the second leg, and if the aggregate goals are equal at the end of regulation, the first tiebreaker is away goals. If that doesn't decide the winner, there would be extra time and then, if the teams are again tied, penalty kicks.
If you're already familiar with North America’s top club competition, we'll leave you with the schedule, standings, the ever-critical CCL bracket and our full rundown of news and analysis. But for anyone in need of a refresher, here’s some background:
What is it?
The CONCACAF Champions League – known officially as the Scotiabank Champions League and popularly abbreviated 'CCL' – features the best club teams from the United States, Canada, Mexico and the rest of North America, Central America and the Caribbean in a battle for continental supremacy that stretches from August to April. It is this region’s equivalent to the UEFA Champions League in Europe, the Copa Libertadores in South America and similar Champions League competitions in Africa, Asia and Oceania.
Bear in mind, however, that CONCACAF recently announced a major change to the tournament’s format which takes effect when the 2017/18 edition opens later this year, doing away with the group stage and shrinking the main event to a straight knockout bracket taking place within a February-to-May window.
This change could benefit MLS teams in terms of reducing the travel and fatigue imposed when group-stage action fell in the heart of the league’s stretch run in September-October. But the knotty challenge of playing important CCL games during the earliest stages of the domestic calendar remains.
CCL 2016/17 began last summer with 24 teams participating – five from MLS. The Portland Timbers and Sporting Kansas City were eliminated during the group stage. Besides the two aforementioned quarterfinal series, the other matchups are Costa Rica's Saprissa vs. Mexican club Pachuca and an all-Liga MX clash between Tigres and Pumas.
Beyond bragging rights and a hefty financial prize, winning the CCL earns entry into the FIFA Club World Cup, a competition held every December that pits the champions of each continent against each other. It is the only time that an MLS team could conceivably find itself facing the likes of FC Barcelona, Real Madrid or Boca Juniors in an actual competitive game, not to mention one that helps determine the best team in the world.
Though Montreal (2015) and Real Salt Lake (2011) have reached the CCL final, no MLS team has won the tournament in its current format, though the LA Galaxy (2000) and D.C. United (1998) won its predecessor, the CONCACAF Champions Cup.
2016-17 CCL Knockout Stages Schedule
Tuesday, Feb. 21
Saprissa 0, Pachuca 0 (Leg 1)
Wednesday, Feb. 22
New York Red Bulls vs. Vancouver Whitecaps, Leg 1 (8 pm ET)
Tigres vs. Pumas, Leg 1 (10 pm ET)
Thursday, Feb. 23
FC Dallas vs. Arabe Unido, Leg 1 (8 pm ET)
Tuesday, Feb. 28
Pachuca vs. Saprissa, Leg 2 (10 pm ET)
Wednesday, March 1
Arabe Unido vs. FC Dallas, Leg 2 (8 pm ET)
Pumas vs. Tigres, Leg 2 (10 pm ET)
Thursday, March 2
Vancouver Whitecaps vs. New York Red Bulls, Leg 2 (10 pm ET)
Dates TBA, between March 14-April 5
Dates TBA, between April 19-26