View from Couch: FC Dallas primed to make CONCACAF Champions League history

Just two seasons ago, the clarion call sounding from Montreal rang clear as a post-goal clang from the North Star bell: "Marquons l'histoire."

Let's Make History.

Let's end the run of Liga MX dominance atop the CONCACAF Champions League, get that first MLS team over all the obvious obstacles – think three A's: altitude, atmosphere, aerobic fitness – and earn a spot among the world elite at the FIFA Club World Cup.

The support burgeoned, and built further still, with the Montreal Impact taking the ball upfield as far as a lead in Leg 2 of the final, before Club America held second-half serve with a four-goal romp to close out the title.

"I think when you're playing in any tournament, it's great exposure for everyone," then-Impact head coach Frank Klopas tells MLSsoccer.com, "not only for the club or the players, but for the league itself. And when we kept advancing, you know – it's an opportunity for all."

"We wanted to show how strong that our league is, how far we've come in a short time. And I thought we were able to do that, [to] represent the league and then everyone in a very respectable way."

The 2016/17 edition has seen two MLS squads reach the rarified air of the CCL semifinals, and though Vancouver Whitecaps FC enter their home leg trailing Tigres UANL 2-0, FC Dallas are primed to advance – and conquer.

Up 2-1 on Pachuca heading into Tuesday's return leg (10 pm ET), after back-to-back 60-point seasons, and the 2016 domestic double of a US Open Cup victory and raising the MLS Supporters' Shield, FCD enter riding only the expectation of their own success.

"From the beginning," midfielder Kellyn Acosta tells MLSsoccer.com, "one of our strengths is that whatever tournament, whatever game, we go in with an amount of readiness that we're going to win. The overall feeling from the group is that we have a good opportunity each and every game to be ourselves, to go out there and showcase. We're going to do the best that we can to win the title.

"Argentina, we went there [this preseason] and played eight games, and we wanted eight wins. Obviously the game doesn't allow you to win every game, but that's mentality of the group: they're going to work hard, play hard and get the result."

Head coach Oscar Pareja has worked to infuse a core understanding of the multi-pronged focus demanded by comprehensive success.

"The good teams normally have two or three competitions at the same time and that happens all over the world," he says. "And we should be proud about having [to make those] compromises. So instead of just making excuses or it being too easy, they feel blessed and fortunate to be able to put the team into those stages and be able to be victors. That's a great thing."

The operation has involved a total commitment, with resources expended from the first moments of preseason. As Acosta mentioned, the team followed a two-week camp by traveling to Argentina for a brutal 10-day shock regimen of games against first-team Primera competition including River Plate, San Lorenzo and Lanus. Working with MLS, Saturday's previously-scheduled game against the Colorado Rapids was postponed all the way to October 7.

And now, Dallas have headed down to Mexico for a weeklong acclimation to adjust at altitude, readying for an elimination-game atmosphere that's sure to be electric.

This echoes the approach Montreal took two years ago, when Klopas regularly contacted former US national team coach Jurgen Klinsmann, linking fitness efforts and research, given the demands international competition puts on players thrown together with short lead times. The Impact decided to travel as early as possible each time.

But no bigger commitment arose than preparations ahead of the quarterfinals against Pachuca (respect to Cam Porter the CCL Gawd), as Montreal set up the final phase of their preseason camp to leave them in Mexico City for nearly three full weeks. They trained, they brought chefs, they scouted and they even set up a late-night training session at Cruz Azul's stadium to simulate gametime conditions.

"I remember being with the players," says Impact head coach Mauro Biello (then an assistant), "and how they felt a little bit the altitude the night before. And then the size of the stadium, it gives you this feeling that you're trying to find some air – and the game didn't even start.

"In the end, what we did is we brought oxygen tanks. I remember the doctors; we had doctors with oxygen tanks in the dressing room for halftime. And we tried to do everything we could in terms of nutrition, in terms of rest, to be prepared, to put the players in the best conditions possible to succeed."

For Dallas this year, Pareja says ownership's alignment with the coaching staff allowed for a unified approach toward planning. Clear objectives made it apparent that this was the time to invest, that the potential for an extended run could manifest with this group, one ready to be not only participants, but "protagonists" and winners.

As captain Matt Hedges puts it: "I think when we started the tournament, back in the group stages, it was something that we targeted that we wanted to win. I don't really know there was a time while we were doing it [that efforts increased]. We were just kind of running with it. We knew we wanted to go all the way with it."

They'll have their chance Tuesday, entering on an MLS roll, with 7 points from three league matches. Sandwiched by solid victories, even the draw marked a well-earned road point with a substitute-heavy lineup…setting up that Leg 1 victory against Pachuca.

The clinical nature of this run, that each achievement unlocks in front of FCD, is a testament to their ongoing run under Pareja, whose hand is evident in both the perpetual prospect churn from academy depths on through the masterful mid-week management of a roster cupboard stocked with starting-level talents.

"I know it's a difficult situation there in Pachuca, but I put a little bit more on the Dallas squad because of just the quality of the players that they have," says Klopas, now a color analyst for CSN Chicago, covering the Fire. "And I think if you look at the players and the makeup of that team, they're all kind of guys that have been in situations like this before dealing with big games, pressure situations, hostile environment. So that's not going to faze them, and I think they have a really good opportunity to go all the way.

"I do believe that, in a very short time, an MLS team is going to win the CONCACAF [Champions League] – and they should."

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