The final two MLS teams involved in the 2018 CONCACAF Champions League jumped into the fray on Thursday, as the New York Red Bulls played Honduran side Olimpia to a 1-1 road draw and the Seattle Sounders fell 2-1 to Santa Tecla in El Salvador.
With both series at the midway point ahead of next week's return legs, let's take a look at some of the key points on Thursday's CCL action for the Red Bulls and Sounders.
1. Absences hurt Sounders
Clint Dempsey, Ozzie Alonso, Roman Torres, Kelvin Leerdam and Victor Rodriguez all sat out the match, and while the Sounders who played started well, they faded over the course of the evening, with debutants Jordan McCrary and Waylon Francis starting and Henry Wingo getting a rare start, too.
For all that Nicolas Lodeiro's impressive goal (from all of 40 yards!) set the tone, the Sounders couldn't keep it together for 90 minutes, and one expects more of the key contributors will be on the field next week in the home leg to try and overturn the aggregate scoreline.
2. Red Bulls show promise
If Thursday's draw proves anything, it's that the Red Bulls have all the pieces in place to be a strong, attacking MLS side in 2018. Coach Jesse Marsch turned to a group of veterans and despite some preseason rust, they out-played an Olimpia side that was riding a nine-game unbeaten streak in Honduras' first division.
Daniel Royer's final touch let him down at times, but he was a relentless attacking presence, finally netting a crucial away goal from a lovely Bradley Wright-Phillips cross. There was no Kaku (who was just signed to replace Sacha Kljestan), but attacking partnerships were on full display in chance creation. Wright-Phillips' winger-esque cross to Royer was the finest example of it, but Kemar Lawrence was a bright spot along the left flank and Felipe created a few chances for himself.
Once the final execution is there, there's every reason the Red Bulls will score plenty of goals this year.
3. The Tyler Adams role, 2018 edition
With Kljestan gone, Tyler Adams took on a greater role in possession from central midfield on Thursday. Always an excellent two-way player, Adams completed 45 of 48 passes (per MLS Matchcenter chalkboard) and many of those were forward passes, to go with two interceptions and four recoveries.
Time will tell how Adams' role will develop this season, but Thursday's performance indicated that Adams will be expected to do more in pushing the attack forward in 2018.
4. How bad is Jordan Morris' injury?
Now it gets worse for the #Sounders. Jordan Morris has to be helped off the pitch and can't put any weight on his right leg. Seattle have already used all 3 subs, so will have to finish the game with 10 men. Hopefully not a serious injury. #SANvSEA #CCL #SCCL2018 pic.twitter.com/JflronLlEK— Jason Foster (@JogaBonito_USA) February 23, 2018
It was a concerning sight, as Sounders striker Jordan Morris limped off the field before the end of the match with a right leg injury and did not return. The play came in the 83rd minute, as he played the ball into the final third, but then hit the ground with what appeared to be no contact from an opponent.
After an injury-plagued 2017 campaign, seeing Morris hobble off was certainly worrisome. So far, no word as to what the specific injury is and how severe it could be, but here's hoping the 2016 MLS Rookie of the Year is back on the field soon.
5. Penalties could be costly
Neither the Red Bulls or Sounders are in major trouble at this stage, and the Red Bulls still hold the away goals edge at the moment in their series. But both teams, playing their first competitive games of the year in a knockout series conceded game-changing penalties (Aurelien Collin the culprit for the Red Bulls, McCrary for the Sounders). In both cases, the calls looked reasonable, and giving up penalties on the road against CONCACAF opposition can be the kind of mistake that leads to a CCL exit. Time will tell if Seattle and New York can overcome it this time around.