Ah, the Concacaf Champions League draw, a magical world where "let's play a game" can be immediately followed by "there was a recent study from FIFA..." A world where Darren Eales and Miguel Herrera would be sitting next to each other, with grins stretching across each face. Looking dapper at the red carpet event, of course. And DaMarcus Beasley pulling balls out of pots to reveal the fate of this year's 16 CCL clubs.
After 51 minutes, for all the star power and interviews, the main event came and went as this year's 2020 Concacaf Champions League bracket was revealed. I almost forgot why we all showed up, just getting lost in more shots of the crowd. What other odd pairings were out there? Let our imaginations run wild, you know, start theorizing about what these big-shots at some of the continent's biggest clubs are talking about.
I can only imagine the euphoria my man and our resident transmitter of #CCLFever Andrew Wiebe was feeling. Oh, wait — it’s 2019. Silly me, we don’t have to wait for anything, ever:
Jacked for LAFC-Leon, Seattle-Olimpia, Montreal-Saprissa. Would love to be in Cuidad Quesada for NYCFC-San Carlos. Atlanta-America possible in the QFs.— Andrew Wiebe (@andrew_wiebe) December 10, 2019
Can we just fast forward to February?
Here's the bracket:
And here are some takeaways:
Someone had to draw Club Leon in the round of 16...
... and unfortunately for LAFC, it was them.
Club Leon, the lone Liga MX side in Pot 2 and thus a team all MLS sides would have been hoping to avoid. Leon finished atop Liga MX in last season's Clausura and fell in the Liguilla Clausura final. The club are losing 20-year-old budding star J.J. Macias, who is returning to Chivas after a loan stint with Leon, while superstar winger Brian Lozano has been linked with LAFC in recent weeks.
Obviously it's not an ideal draw for Leon, either, who out of their five possible MLS opponents drew the regular-season record-breakers led by Carlos Vela, Diego Rossi and Brian Rodriguez. It's easily the round of 16 matchup to watch.
Tough luck for Atlanta United, too
If Atlanta United and Club América each win their round of 16 matches, they face each other. First, of course, Atlanta face Honduran side Motagua and just ask Toronto FC about the perils of looking past a lesser opponent. But, if all goes as expected, the quarterfinals will be América vs. Atlanta.
Hey, maybe this is what Club América manager Herrera and Eales were talking about in the crowd.
America will be hungry for revenge after falling in the Campeones Cup to Atlanta, a hard-fought 3-2 ATLUTD win. Currently led by reported Inter Miami target Roger Martinez as well as Guido Rodriguez and former LA Galaxy attacker Gio dos Santos, America aren't short on star power, not to mention support.
There are few easy quarterfinal matches, to be fair. But Atlanta and América also have LAFC, Leon and Cruz Azul on their side of the bracket. Not ideal. If the eventual CCL winner comes from this side of the bracket, they'll come along an arduous road.
Are the Seattle Sounders poised for a run?
How about some good news? The Sounders landed in ostensibly the weaker side of the bracket. They would avoid the likes of LAFC, América, and Atlanta until the final and the earliest they could see Tigres UANL is the semifinals.
For MLS clubs entering this competition before league play starts, continuity is key to CCL success. The Sounders made a few key changes from their MLS Cup-winning squad, but leading stars Nico Lodeiro, Raul Ruidiaz, Jordan Morris and Stefan Frei remain, ditto for head coach Brian Schmetzer.
Last season, Atlanta came into the competition with a new head coach. They fell in the quarterfinals to Monterrey, after a heavy first leg defeat. Toronto were without Jozy Altidore and had yet to sign Alejandro Pozuelo and were upset by Independiente in the round of 16. Sporting KC returned largely the same core as the season prior, went to Mexico and thrashed Toluca, arguably their highlight of a disappointing season. Continuity matters.
A kind draw doesn't hurt, either. Seattle face CD Olimpia in the round of 16 before looking down the road, but they would play the winner of the Montreal Impact and Saprissa, avoiding Liga MX opposition until at least the semifinals.
What about NYCFC and Montreal?
Yeah, fair enough: NYCFC and the Impact are on Seattle's side of the bracket. Can they make some noise?
NYCFC are still without a head coach, but retained a large part of their Eastern Conference-topping 2019 squad. But if they can navigate past AD San Carlos, a possible matchup with Tigres looms. The same Tigres still led by Andre-Pierre Gignac, Eduardo Vargas and Carlos Salcedo.
The Impact have their own issues to sort, of course, with Thierry Henry will coach his first game for the club against Saprissa, which is a tricky first-round draw. He also inherits a team that finished ninth in the Eastern Conference and needs a significant defensive improvement. Still, Montreal have been known to get up for the CCL, and with Nacho Piatti in the mix and a legendary striker at the helm, who are we to question another fairytale run?