After accelerated preseason preparations and truncated scrimmage slates, the 2022 Concacaf Champions League Round of 16 is here for five clubs across Major League Soccer.

Let's check in on league participants since they earned qualification to the esteemed regional club competition, looking to get the proverbial monkey off of MLS' back.

As a reminder, this quintet is entering the pressure cooker: New York City FC (MLS Cup winner), New England Revolution (Supporters' Shield winner), CF Montréal (Canadian Championship winner), Colorado Rapids (Western Conference regular-season winner) and Seattle Sounders FC (next-best MLS regular-season record) – all by virtue of their 2021 performances.

Games will be broadcast on FS2, TUDN and OneSoccer.

Round of 16 matchup

Comunicaciones (Guatemala)

  • Leg 1: Feb. 17 in Guatemala City
  • Leg 2: Feb. 23 at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park

Prominent departures

Prominent arrivals

What to know: Squad update

It’s been an eventful winter in the Mile High City as Colorado try to address their shortcomings without unsettling the egalitarian culture that helped make them the West’s top regular-season side in 2021. Speaking at a coach's press conference to kick off the Desert Showcase on Jan. 25, head coach Robin Fraser sounded hopeful of hitting the ground running.

“This year feels like our starting point is ahead of where it's been. When you have a new team, and you're trying to implement new ideas, new principles, you're really starting from scratch and it's a lot of repetition of very basic things,” he said. “This is the first year that I felt like we’ve kind of jumped in where we left off last year … it's actually nice to start in a position where we're really concentrating on details more than actual principles and basics from the very beginning.”

A top priority is bolstering the attack after last year’s goals-by-committee approach left them high and dry in the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs. Most of the activity so far has been in midfield and defense, though. Center back Auston Trusty is headed to Arsenal come July but will stick around on loan for the CCL campaign.

The influential Kellyn Acosta was abruptly traded off to LAFC after contract renewal talks broke down. In his place arrived another ex-FC Dallas central midfielder (via the Re-Entry Draft) with the same last name: Bryan Acosta, a Honduran international who didn’t quite meet expectations in Texas but Colorado hope fits into their “revitalize distressed assets” MO. Also, young Brazilian center mid Max Alves was signed via the U22 Initiative for a fee that reportedly could climb as high as $1 million depending on performance clauses, a hint at the club’s high regard for his upside.

They’ve yet to secure the elite No. 9 they say they want and need. But unlike their last CCL voyage, where then-incoming coach Anthony Hudson wrote off a first-round loss to Toronto FC as part of “preseason” that came a distant second to their league slate, the Rapids say they’re all in this spring.

“It’s hugely exciting,” executive VP and general manager Padraig Smith told reporters last month. “We’ll certainly be taking it seriously … we certainly look at this as an important competition.”

CCL outlook

Promising, but final-third finishing remains a concern.

Round of 16 matchup

Santos Laguna (Mexico)

  • Leg 1: Feb. 15 in Torreon
  • Leg 2: Feb. 22 at ​​Stade Olympique

Prominent departures

Kiki Struna, Emanuel Maciel, Ballou Tabla

Prominent arrivals

Alistair Johnson, Gabriele Corbo (and permanent deals for prior loanees Ahmed Hamdi, Joaquin Torres, Lassi Lappalainen)

What to know: Squad update

Over the years few MLS clubs have punched above their weight in CCL like Montréal, one of just four league members to reach the tournament’s modern-day final thanks to their Cinderella run in 2015. The Canadian Championship winners have been handed a vicious draw this time around, however. They’ll meet Santos, one of Liga MX’s best-run clubs, in the first round and if they survive that test, also have Cruz Azul and Pumas UNAM on their side of the bracket.

Still, head coach Wilfried Nancy’s work since taking over from Thierry Henry has impressed, with savvy intra-MLS acquisitions like Djordje Mihailovic, Romell Quioto and Mason Toye flourishing in his transition-oriented system. Montréal are hopeful that winter capture Alistair Johnston will soon join that list after parting with $1 million in Allocation Money to bring the versatile defender in from Nashville SC.

“We have a really good player – Canadian good player, Alistair Johnston, so I'm happy about the squad for the moment,” Nancy told MLSsoccer.com in a media call at the start of their preseason last month. “Our job is to find a way to play the Champions League and to go as far as we can and at the same time, start and to do well [in the league] because this is a new season in MLS.”

A famous poet once declared that “real Gs move in silence like lasagna,” and in a nod to their Italian sibling club Bologna, we’ll also apply that to CFM. Their acquisitions tend to fly under the radar, with sporting director Olivier Renard methodically building the roster across multiple windows, and their style may help them soak up pressure and thrive against the ball in CCL. Speaking of Bologna, former Italian youth international defender Gabriele Corbo is an interesting loan arrival from the Serie A side.

CCL outlook

Steep odds, but a Cinderella-friendly tactical outlook.

Round of 16 matchup

Cavaly AS (Haiti)

  • Leg 1: Feb. 18 at Gillette Stadium
  • Leg 2: Feb. 22 at Gillette Stadium

Prominent departures

Tajon Buchanan, Teal Bunbury, Scott Caldwell

Prominent arrivals

What to know: Squad update

In Bruce Arena, the Revs are led by one of only two MLS coaches ever to win Concacaf’s top club competition. (That said, it was so long ago as to take place in another century, under a different name and format from its current iteration: Arena steered D.C. United to the 1998 CONCACAF Champions Cup, the bulk of which took place over a week’s span that August, held entirely at their RFK Stadium home.) With last year’s Supporters’ Shield winners in CCL, will the veteran coach go all-out this year to capture one of the few honors that has escaped him?

While Tajon Buchanan’s pace and flair will surely be missed, there are some promising early signs. New England have reinforced an already-strong squad with versatile midfielder Sebastian Lletget, and are reportedly in line to welcome 2018 CCL runner-up Jozy Altidore if and when the talented but injury-plagued striker reaches a buyout deal with Toronto FC. As most readers will have seen by now, star goalkeeper Matt Turner is headed for English giants Arsenal, but not until summer, keeping him on hand for the CCL run.

The Revs were already heavy favorites to dispatch Caribbean champions Cavaly AS in their first-round matchup. Then they received word that they’ll get to host both legs of the series at Gillette Stadium “due to the extremely challenging safety and security situation in Haiti,” according to Concacaf, who have suspended all official competitive matches in the instability-wracked nation. But things will get much harder if they do advance as expected.

Arena & Co. would meet the winner of the Saprissa-UNAM Pumas matchup in the quarterfinals in mid-March, and like Montréal, also have Santos Laguna and Cruz Azul on their side of the bracket. At their best, the Revolution can go toe-to-toe with Liga MX opposition, considering the danger their Designated Player trio of Carles Gil, Adam Buksa and former Tijuana striker Gustavo Bou can pose. But reaching full match fitness and sharpness in time for CCL’s second round will be difficult.

CCL outlook

Cautiously optimistic, with potential for a real push.

Round of 16 matchup

Santos de Guapiles (Costa Rica)

  • Leg 1: Feb. 15 at Estadio Nacional de Costa Rica
  • Leg 2: Feb. 23 at Banc of California Stadium

Prominent departures

James Sands, Jesus Medina, Ismael Tajouri-Shradi

Prominent arrival

What to know: Squad update

So far the reigning MLS Cup champs have said all the right things about CCL, which they got a passing taste of back in 2020. During last year’s playoff run head coach Ronny Deila spoke with enthusiasm of “play[ing] teams now in the highest level” and how “when you play internationally you develop yourself more.”

Given that, it’s encouraging that their roster turnover has been modest this winter. MLS Golden Boot winner Taty Castellanos is still in Cityzen blue after his glittering 2021 drew transfer interest from abroad. At this point he sounds quite eager for a European move, but that won’t happen until the summer transfer window, and hopefully for City that will make him hungry for Champions League success rather than disgruntled.

Somewhat less confidence-inducing, however, are the departures of quietly valuable contributors James Sands and Ismael Tajouri-Shradi, and the continued repercussions of NYCFC’s stadium situation.

At present, Red Bull Arena is the only Concacaf-approved venue in the New York area, and it’s unavailable for at least City’s first-round CCL fixture. So the champs are setting up camp in Los Angeles, where they’ll host their Costa Rican opponents at LAFC’s Banc of California Stadium on Feb. 23 and stick around town for their MLS opener at the LA Galaxy the following weekend. Where will they host their quarterfinals home leg should they advance past Santos de Guapiles? That remains to be seen.

It’s hardly optimal, though it’s nothing new for a team that adapted to it impressively on their way to last season’s MLS Cup title. Their starting XI also seems set to evolve, with young Brazilians Thiago Andrade and Talles Magno poised to assert bigger roles in 2022 and regulars Anton Tinnerholm and Keaton Parks returning from long-term injuries. Another intriguing subplot in camp: Are Gedion Zelalem’s preseason minutes a sign of a reinvigorated career for the injury-haunted midfield talent?

And they’ve also shored up the defensive hole Sands leaves behind, with Brazilian center back Thiago Martins arriving as a Designated Player from Japanese sister club Yokohama F. Marinos. By all reports, he’s a pacy and assured defender who should fit well into Deila’s style, a byproduct of City Football Group’s scouting infrastructure finding plug-and-play replacements. He gives them another option alongside Peruvian international Alexander Callens and Luxembourg international Maxime Chanot.

NYC’s ball-dominant possession system may help them manage CCL games where they have to dig out results when short of full fitness levels, and the bracket has been relatively kind to them. Then again, a quarterfinal clash with Colorado might be more of a slugfest than it appears at first glance.

CCL outlook

A deep run could be theirs… provided they want it badly enough.

Round of 16 matchup

CF Motagua (Honduras)

  • Leg 1: Feb. 17 at Estadio Tiburcio Carias Andino
  • Leg 2: Feb. 24 at Lumen Field

Prominent departures

Nicolas Benezet, Brad Smith, Shane O'Neill

Prominent arrivals

What to know: Squad update

While they’ve yet to reach a CCL final, the Rave Green have consistently included Champions League competitiveness in their conception of what it means to be the large, ambitious, successful club they aspire to be. This year the fates may have aligned to give them their most realistic outlook on that in quite some time.

GM and president of soccer Garth Lagerwey usually likes to do their big transfer shopping in the summer marketplace, and Seattle have often been slow starters in the spring. But they’ve kept hold of their big names this offseason, as well as reaching some new deals with valuable squad players, and it turned out that their prime reinforcement target arrived from within MLS in the form of high-profile free agent Albert Rusnak. Landing the ex-Real Salt Lake captain has Lagerwey thinking big.

“We feel really good about our group. We think that we're going to have a team that's going to be able to compete on all fronts,” said Lagerwey at Rusnak’s official introduction. “I think we're going to wind up with almost the entirety of the team from last year brought back on top of Albert being able to come and join us. I think that this is going to be one of the best teams we've had here.”

The Sounders have logged plenty of scrimmage minutes across multiple camp locales in the preseason and with so much continuity and success under Brian Schmetzer’s tenure, the group should be able to trim down their learning and periodization curves in pursuit of CCL results. It can only help stoke their collective hunger that a side accustomed to participating in the business end of the MLS Cup Playoffs got bounced early last fall.

Questions and concerns remain, though. What does longtime linchpin Nicolas Lodeiro have left in the tank after an injury-marred 2021? Can the rest of their established core fight off advancing age, too? And are the kids at the heart of Seattle’s academy-driven youth movement ready to step into bigger roles yet?

CCL outlook

On the surface, at least, they’re MLS’s best and brightest hope.