The 2016-17 CONCACAF Champions League group stage picks back up this week, and as we pass the halfway point we’re starting to get an idea of who we may be seeing next spring in the quarterfinals.
If you're unfamiliar with the competition's format, here's quick refresher to start: the CCL group stage consists of eight groups of three teams apiece. Each team plays the other home and away (for a total of four games), with the first-placed team in each group advancing. Tiebreakers are head-to-head record (including goal differential and away goals), followed by goal differential, goals scored, and goals scored away from home. Teams will be seeded in the quarterfinals first by total points, and then using the same tiebreakers.
With the standings in hand, we can now get on to the meat of it:
The Vancouver Whitecaps have perhaps the clearest shot at locking down a quarterfinal berth. A win at Sporting Kansas City on Tuesday night (8 pm ET; facebook.com) would put them into the quarterfinals. A draw between the two sides would not send Vancouver through, though, as Trinidad & Tobago’s Central FC could theoretically still catch them. Central would, however, need to improbably win big in road games against both MLS teams to do so.
A Sporting win on Tuesday night would make things a little more interesting, but will ultimately be for naught in the likely event that the Whitecaps defeat Central at home on Sept. 27.
None of the other two MLS teams in action in the CCL this week, the Portland Timbers and New York Red Bulls, can officially clinch their group, but the Red Bulls could go a huge way towards helping their cause with a win at home on Thursday against El Salvador’s Alianza (8 pm ET; UDN, facebook.com). Three points for New York would eliminate Alianza and mean the other side in the group, Antigua, would need to beat the Red Bulls in Guatemala on Sept. 27 by at least three goals (and possibly four) and defeat Alianza on Oct. 18.
Portland, having played just one game so far, have slightly more margin for error heading into one of their tougher trips of the season to Costa Rica, where they will face three-time North American champions Saprissa on Wednesday (10 pm ET; UDN, facebook.com). A loss there would put them four points off the pace, but with a home game against Saprissa and a trip to face El Salvador’s Dragón to follow, the Timbers would still be able to claim the group by winning out. A win for Portland would vault them to first position in the group and give them the inside track to a top seed in the quarterfinals.
The one MLS team not in CCL action this week, FC Dallas, lead Group H by one point and will follow intently as Group H opponents Suchitepéquez travel to already-eliminated Real Estelí. Dallas and Suchitpéquez will play what amounts to a home and away series for the group title on Sept. 28 and Oct. 20, though Dallas will start at a two point disadvantage should the Guatemalan side win on Tuesday.
Elsewhere in the CCL this week, Panamanian outfit Árabe Unido are poised to provide viewers the first real shock of the competition. If they can earn at least a draw at home against Monterrey, they will knock the three-time champs out of the competition. After their 3-2 upset win in Mexico on Aug. 17, El Expreso Azul are three points clear of Monterrey, meaning a draw would guarantee them a better head-to-head record against their illustrious opponents with one game remaining for each.
It’s been much smoother sailing for the other three Mexican teams in the competition, though. Tigres are out of action this week but can clinch Group G in the event of a tie between Plaza Amador (Panama) and Herediano (Costa Rica). Pachuca look likely to continue their unblemished start to the CCL in a trip to Belizean minnows Police United, though will likely have to wait until the final day to officially clinch Group E over Honduran outfit Olimpia. Finally, Pumas can clinch Group A with a win at Honduras Progreso.
And even though we have half the group stage to play, meaning point totals and goal differential will change significantly over the next three rounds, here are the seeds and projected match-ups for the quarterfinals if they started today:
No 1. Árabe Unido vs. No 8. FC Dallas
No 2. Pumas vs. No. 7 New York Red Bulls
No. 3 Tigres vs. No. 6 Saprissa
No. 4/5 Vancouver Whitecaps vs. No. 4/5 Pachuca
While the tiebreakers do not officially take effect until group play has concluded, they have been applied here. All group leaders have played two games. Vancouver and Pachuca have the exact same goal differential, goals scored and goals scored away from home.