CCL trophy - 2019 - Rayados
Reuters

Your early preview for MLS teams in the 2020 Concacaf Champions League

If you didn't already know — after nearly two months of MLS withdrawal, why wouldn't you? — the first competitive matches of the new decade for five MLS clubs arrive next month when they begin their bid to make history as the league's first Concacaf Champions League winner.

Who's got it easy early and who doesn't? Well, a lot can change on an MLS roster between now and kickoff, but here's an early look.

Montreal Impact vs. Deportivo Saprissa

Thierry Henry is in for quite the Concacaf trial by fire in his first competitive match as head coach, when the Impact pay visit to one of North America's most-intimidating venues, Estadio Saprissa. On paper, Montreal appear to have received a favorable draw, without a Liga MX side in their quarter of the 16-team bracket. But don't be so sure.

Saprissa have gone 2-1-1 in their last four CCL games against MLS opposition, all before the tournament morphed into its current format. In the previous version, they twice emerged from groups of three teams that included Sporting Kansas City and the Portland Timbers. After drawing Liga MX opposition in years past, Costa Rica's winningest club will also view their draw as a precious chance to do damage.

Seattle Sounders vs. CD Olimpia

Seattle, the defending MLS Cup champion, are another part of that seemingly-favorable quarter of the draw, set to meet either Montreal or Saprissa should they advance past Olimpia. But manager Brian Schmetzer and holdovers from Seattle's rough 2018 CCL campaign will remember how quickly things can go south if they're not prepared. 

In that tournament, the Sounders got past El Salvador's Santa Tecla in the first round, but lost Jordan Morris to a season-ending ACL injury before MLS play even began. Following that, Seattle opened their quarterfinal against Chivas de Guadalajara with a promising 1-0 win, only to capitulate in a 3-0 loss at Estadio Akron.

"I learned from that, that you couldn't split the group," Schmetzer said on Sounders broadcast analyst Steve Zakuani's podcast back in November. "The group has to be one, it has to be joined together and all the players have to be ready."

New York City FC vs AD San Carlos

On paper, the Cityzens may have drawn the easiest assignment of the MLS clubs, as San Carlos are making their CCL debut after becoming the first team from Costa Rica's north region to win a league championship, the 2019 Clausura.

Things haven't gone as well lately for Toros del Norte, who fell in the semifinals of Costa Rica's 2019 Apertura, while reaching only the quarterfinals of the Concacaf League during a busy fall. That came in spite of former Real Salt Lake forward Alvaro Saborio continuing to turn the clock back, since he now has 41 league goals for San Carlos over the past 18 months.

Still, the fear of the unknown should be real for a NYCFC side that doesn't fully have their own house in order. While most of the key players are back, City are the only MLS team still without a head coach as 2020 gets underway.

LAFC vs. Club Leon

The defending Supporters' Shield winners drew the short straw in the form of Leon, runners-up in the 2019 Liga MX Clausura and the last first-division employer of former US men's national team and MLS great Landon Donovan. Leon's roster also includes periodic USMNT goalkeeper William Yarbrough, who was reported as a target of the Houston Dynamo earlier this winter.

If anyone knows what it'll take to knock out Mexican opposition, it may be LAFC manager Bob Bradley and playmaker Carlos Vela. The former was in charge of the US during their last Gold Cup final triumph over Mexico back in 2007. Meanwhile, the latter is one of the best players Mexico has produced and was named the 2019 Landon Donovan MLS MVP.

Atlanta United vs. FC Motagua

After making a deep run in last year's CCL, Atlanta should progress beyond their Round-of-16 tie against a historic FC Motagua side. The Honduran club has several household names, and also finished as back-to-back runners-up in the Concacaf League.

Presuming the beginning of Frank de Boer's second season in charge of Atlanta is more cohesive than the beginning of the first, a win over El Ciclon Azul could set up a mouth-watering tie against Club America in the quarterfinals. That was certainly the case last summer, when the Five Stripes emerged as 3-2 winners over Las Aguilas in the second edition of the Campeones Cup.


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