Four out of five MLS teams have progressed to the Concacaf Champions League quarterfinals, with CF Montréal maybe impressing the most with their aggregate victory over Liga MX's Santos Laguna.
The New England Revolution, New York City FC and Seattle Sounders FC join Montréal in the final eight. Which brings the question: Is 2022 the year one of those four finally books an MLS ticket to the FIFA Club World Cup via the continental tournament's modern iteration?
We know, we know. It can be painful to get your hopes up, only to see them dashed time and again. But four MLS teams have already reached the final, including twice in the past four competitions. It's a matter of when, not if.
So why not this year? The quarterfinal bracket sets up as well as it could. Here's a closer look:
- Leg 1: Tuesday, March 8 | 10 pm ET (Lumen Field – Seattle, Wash.)
- Leg 2: Tuesday, March 17 | 8:30 pm ET (Estadio Leon – Leon, Mexico)
How Seattle got here
After a quiet first 90 minutes in Honduras, the vaunted Sounders offense got rolling in their first competitive match of 2022 on their home soil in their Round of 16 series against FC Motagua.
Cristian Roldan had a goal and two assists, Nicolas Lodeiro a goal and assist, Albert Rusnak his first assist in a Sounders jersey and Jordan Morris his first competitive goal since 2020 in a 5-0 Leg 2 win that sealed the aggregate victory by the same scoreline.
HIGHLIGHTS: Seattle Sounders vs. Motagua | February 24, 2022
How Leon got here
The 2020 Guardianes champions put on a professional performance in both legs of their series against Guastatoya of Guatemala, winning Leg 1 away 2-0 and Leg 2 at home 1-0.
Elias Hernandez scored goals in each leg for Leon, which currently sits eighth in the Liga MX standings, six matches into their 2022 Clausura campaign.
Players to watch
- Raul Ruidiaz (SEA): The Peruvian forward earned Best XI honors a year ago and has scored 10 or more goals in each of his four Rave Green seasons, totaling 50 goals and nine assists in 79 games (70 starts).
- Joao Paulo (SEA): The Brazilian played his first minutes of 2022 in the second half of Leg 2 vs. Motagua. His stable presence in midfield can be the difference between a good Sounders team and a great one.
- Victor Davila (LEO): The 24-year-old Chilean is in the midst of his most productive professional season, leading the lines for Club Leon.
- Jose Ivan Rodriguez (LEO): The 25-year-old midfield destroyer has missed only 19 minutes in league and domestic playoff action since last October.
Seattle met Club Leon during the 2021 Leagues Cup final, their only-ever meeting thus far. The Liga MX outfit secured a 3-2 win in the burgeoning rivalry-filled competition.
- Leg 1: Tuesday, March 8 | 8 pm ET (Rentschler Field – Hartford, Conn.)
- Leg 2: Tuesday, March 15 | 9 pm ET (Estadio Doroteo Guamuch Flores – Guatemala City, Guatemala)
How NYCFC got here
The Cityzens may have proved less offseason time is more in terms of continental competition with their 6-0 aggregate thumping of Santos de Guapiles just over two months after winning MLS Cup 2021.
Defending MLS Golden Boot presented by Audi winner Valentin Castellanos struck for a first-half brace in a 2-0 win in Costa Rica. Talles Magno added two goals of his own in the second half of a 4-0 win in Leg 2
HIGHLIGHTS: New York City FC vs. Santos de Guápiles | February 23, 2022
How Comunicaciones got here
Give credit to the Guatemalan stalwarts for their grit and guile in getting past the Colorado Rapids on penalties following a 1-1 aggregate draw over two legs.
Each team won their home leg 1-0, but Comunicaciones refused to give into the Rapids' pressure despite playing down a man and in the unfamiliar snow for the majority of the second leg.
PK heartbreak: Guatemala's Comunicaciones bounce Colorado Rapids from CCL
Players to watch
- Valentin Castellanos (NYC): Most expected the Argentine forward to be sold to Europe following his Golden Boot campaign, but he's still here and sure appears locked in.
- Talles Magno (NYC): If Castellanos eventually leaves this summer, more will be asked of the 19-year-old Brazilian. To that end, his promising start to 2022 is a good sign after an adjustment period last fall.
- Kevin Moscoso (COM): If you're a Comunicaciones supporter, Moscoso's performance in Leg 2 against Colorado was the stuff of instant club legend, with 11 saves over 90 minutes and three more in penalties.
- Juan Luis Anangono (COM): The one-time Chicago Fire Designated Player is a talented and bruising presence in the No. 9 role that can rival the physicality of any forward in MLS.
This will be the first-ever meeting between NYCFC and the Liga Nacional powerhouse.
- Leg 1: Wednesday, March 9 | 8 pm ET (Gillette Stadium – Foxborough, Mass.)
- Leg 2: Wednesday, March 16 | 11:15 pm ET (Estadio Olimpico Universitario – Mexico City, Mexico)
How New England got here
Unfortunately for fans of Caribbean football in particular and the region as a whole, the Revolution received a bye into the quarterfinals after visa issues forced Haiti's Cavaly AS to withdraw from their planned Round of 16 series.
That decision gave the 2021 Supporters' Shield winners direct passage into the next round, with Bruce Arena's team coming off a record-setting 73-point campaign.
New England Revolution Season Preview
How Pumas got here
Argentine striker Juan Ignacio Dinenno scored three goals over two legs as the 2020 Guardianes runners-up eventually pulled away for a 6-3 aggregate victory over Costa Rica's Deportivo Saprissa in the Round of 16.
Pumas gave back aggregate leads on three occasions before scoring three times in the final 16 minutes of a 4-1 win in Leg 2, with Dinneno contributing a brace during that late stretch.
Players to watch
- Carles Gil (NE): Believe it or not, the reigning Landon Donovan MLS MVP has never played in a continental competition over his decade-long professional career.
- Jozy Altidore (NE): Reunited with former national team coach Bruce Arena and three seasons removed from his last double-digit scoring season, the 32-year-old is the only active MLSer to have scored an away goal in a CCL final.
- Juan Ignacio Dinneno (PUM): The 27-year-old is a true dual-threat, contributing five goals and four assists in last fall's 2021 Apertura, though he has yet to find the net six games into the ongoing Clausura.
- Arturo Ortiz (PUM): After a career spent mostly in Mexico's lower divisions, the 29-year-old is blossoming late into an irreplaceable part of Pumas' central defense who can also score the occasional goal.
These foes have played once before, with New England earning a 1-0 victory in the 2010 SuperLiga. That match, played at Gillette Stadium, was decided by an early Zack Schilawski goal.
- Leg 1: Wednesday, March 9 | 10 pm ET (Estadio Azteca – Mexico City, Mexico)
- Leg 2: Wednesday, March 16 | 9 pm ET (Stade Olympique – Montréal, Quebec)
How Montréal got here
After conceding a heartbreaking goal in a 1-0 defeat away at Santos Laguna in Leg 1, Montréal gave a virtually flawless performance in Leg 2 to seal an ultimately comfortable 3-1 aggregate victory.
Romell Quioto, Djordje Mihailovic and Ismael Kone all scored during Montréal's dominant 3-0 triumph in Leg 2.
HIGHLIGHTS: CF Montreal vs. Santos Laguna | February 23, 2022
How Cruz Azul got here
The Guardianes 2021 champions made comfortable work of their Round of 16 series against Forge FC of the Canadian Premier League, winning 1-0 away and 3-1 at home.
Four different players scored for La Maquina, who have also won four of six to begin their 2022 Clausura campaign.
Players to watch
- Victor Wanyama (MON): The former English Premier League stalwart played all 180 minutes against Santos and gave what were arguably his best two performances in Montréal's central midfield to begin his third season with the club.
- Djordje Mihailovic (MON): There are some who believe the American attacking midfielder is good enough to work his way back into the US men's national team fold – at least as a depth piece – before the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar.
- Julio Dominguez (CAZ): An experienced center back, the 34-year-old has played himself into his first-ever World Cup Qualifying action with the Mexico national team this cycle, as well as being his club team's minutes leader.
- Rafael Baca (CAZ): The former San Jose Earthquakes central midfielder has been a Cruz Azul mainstay since 2014. He's one of several ex-MLS players at the Liga MX side, with former LA Galaxy winger Uriel Antuna another.
Montréal have gone toe-to-toe with Liga MX's América and Santos Laguna in CCL years past, though this is their first meeting with Cruz Azul, which dropped the 2021 Campeones Cup to the Columbus Crew.