Maximiliano Urruti, Cristian Colman - FC Dallas - all smiles after taking lead vs. LA Galaxy

It's that time again.


That moment when everyone realizes the nagging winter bug has bitten, and #CCLFever has wrapped its warm-and-fuzzies around aching MLS hearts.


Yes, the CONCACAF Champions League semifinals open at 10 pm ET on Tuesday, when Vancouver Whitecaps FC travel to Monterrey for a matchup with reigning Liga MX Apertura champ Tigres UANL (Galavision, TSN, Facebook Live), and FC Dallas host Pachuca on Wednesday (8 pm ET on UDN, Facebook Live). It's the first time since 2012-13 that two MLS squads remain among the final four.


ExtraTime Radio Podcast

View from Couch: CCL semifinals are on, and hopes rise in aching MLS hearts -


LISTEN: Do you have CCL Fever? The fellas at ExtraTime Radio definitely do, they’ve got a complete CONCACAF Champions League preview (starts at 32:10) to get you up to speed ahead of this week’s MLS vs. Liga MX semifinal first legs. ESPNFC’s Tom Marshall also checks in with Tigres and Pachuca scouting reports (and a Chicharito-to-LAFC update). Subscribe so you don't miss a show!


And for all the expansion, for all the growth, all the sturdy successes achieved, the one last unifying goal remains ever elusive: No MLS team has won this tournament under the current format. Eight years, eight attempts, two finals, zero winners.


This we know, and of this, the players, coaches and clubs are aware. Just last month, New York Red Bulls coach Jesse Marsch told ExtraTime Radio the CCL Championship "is almost the one thing that unites all of us in MLS," a common goal to be the first team to get there, to represent MLS at the FIFA Club World Cup and to serve notice that the league has caught CONCACAF frontrunner Liga MX in a tangible way.


"The reality of the situation is those teams are good in Mexico; they have been for years," Marsch said. "I remember being a player, playing in this tournament and playing teams from down there and the quality down there and the environments you have to go down and play in and try to get results is difficult – incredibly difficult.


"I have a lot of respect for Liga MX. There's a lot of tactical nuances to the way that those teams play. They're ahead of MLS based on the history of what that league's been, the money that they spend, the profile that they have based on their players – but that's nothing we should shy away from.


"We should have a drive internally as a league to find a way to beat that league, to beat those teams, and that's why I say, we all become real MLS fans of whichever team is really going after the trophy each year. We've come up short – far too short – far too many times and I think it's time for someone in our league to really get over the hump and win that tournament."


It was not that time for the Red Bulls, even against a familiar quarterfinal foe in Vancouver.


After opening the home leg with a draw – long an MLS bugaboo – RBNY dropped a 2-0 result away, leaving the Whitecaps to take on Tigres, last year's runner-up to back-to-back champs Club America.


Though Tigres (3-4-2; 11 points) sit 12th in the Clausura 2017 standings, they feature a world-class striker in Andres-Pierre Gignac and have pulled seven points from their last three games.


Meanwhile, Pachuca, who are second in Mexico (5-2-2; 17 points) face an FC Dallas team that buzzsawed Arabe Unido after spending their preseason specifically targeting CCL success. FCD's brutal, 7-matches-in-10-days Argentine gulag, a marathon opening sprint that included a pair against top-flight River Plate, not only built up the FCD first team, but their reserves, who notably contributed to a road point from Sporting Kansas City on Saturday.

No doubt that the rest of MLS will be watching and supporting their own. There was even a passing of the MLS cape (see above), from the most recent candidate with a shot at ending the slump, the Montreal Impact. It was just two years ago – we're all good with the mindwipe of last year's quarterfinal 0-fer, right? – that the Impact not only entered the home leg of the final even against America, but took the lead on an 8th-minute goal by Andres Romero. Then halftime hit, America ripped off three goals in a 16-minute stretch, and Dario Benedetto completed a soul-crushing hat trick.


Big dreams die hard, but we'll always have Cam.



Don't think Liga MX takes this lightly, as that friendly nudge among MLSers escalated quickly into a social media war with Los Tuzos, everyone taking a turn chipping shots across the proverbial bow. (Given, it's no Portland-LA. Wow.)


But there comes a time for the action to turn to the field, and it is then that the challenge becomes locking in, blowing off the banter and trying to figure out exactly how to handle a challenge for which one can't truly prepare.


"It's difficult to replicate," Marsch told ETR. "It's difficult to replicate playing at Azteca Stadium, it's difficult to replicate playing at 7,000 feet [elevation] in smog, it's difficult to replicate playing in a full stadium where the fans really hate you.


"It takes the highest level of concentration to just manage the things that matter and exclude everything else and stay ultra focused and ultra concentrated on what can help you get the result, and you have to do that at the highest level."


Vancouver and Dallas, it's your turn. To get MLS back to the final. To get the aggregate lead. To get that W.


We'll be watching. With hope in our hearts.


… again.