We all know that the CONCACAF Champions League has been a house of horrors for the MLS since the format change years ago. No team from MLS has lifted the cup in any iteration since 2000 when L.A. Galaxy beat Olimpia 3-2 back when the tournament was called Champions Cup. It is now 2017, will MLS finally emerge on top?
To provide a little background on the tournament concluding this season we must first find out who the clubs are that will be taking part in the knockout round that starts tonight for MLS clubs. Of the eight quarterfinalists in the CONCACAF Champions League, three hail from MLS. You have the New York Red Bulls, FC Dallas and the Vancouver Whitecaps.
These three clubs began CONCACAF Champions League group stage play last fall along with the Portland Timbers and Sporting KC. The qualification for the group stage play took place during the 2015 MLS season with performance (MLS Cup Champ, U.S. Open Cup ect.) being the decider.
If you are still with me after all that confusion, I only want to state this arduous process to say the qualification for the knockout round was based on how good a club was two years ago. MLS turnover is so high, this time-lapse could lead to huge changes from a championship level club.
The reason for optimism this season for MLS is that these three clubs all appear to be capable of accomplishing top marks within the league. Both the New York Red Bulls and FC Dallas have become pillars in MLS. The Vancouver White Caps have made a key addition to the roster in former Seattle Sounder Freddy Montero which solves their most obvious flaw.
More from Playing for 90
- Alexia Putellas reaches 400 games with Barcelona
- Everything you need to know ahead of the 250th ‘Super Clásico’
- Barcelona put five past Real Betis
- Manchester City suffer but come away with win over West Ham
- Baffling Liga MX ruling strips Puebla of a hard-earned victory
Challenges are still there for these MLS clubs. The way the CONCACAF calendar is set up these knockout round matches will take place during the preseason. All three have yet to gain full match fitness from just a handful of friendlies, while the primary challengers from Mexico are already in midseason form.
That brings me to another key point into why this might be the season of MLS. The first round has been very kind to all three clubs in terms of matchups. All three have avoided the in-season Mexican clubs, normally the early exit for MLS. Best of all the Red Bulls and White Caps were seeded against each other. Vancouver came out of qualifying with the top record and was given the number one seed, while New York by comparison struggled and was seeded eighth. So now both of these clubs don’t have to worry about tailing off in the final 30 minutes of the match against a fit club because their opponent will also be tailing off from a lack of match fitness.
FC Dallas, by comparison, has probably been seeded against the weakest remaining club in Arabe Unido. The Panamanian giants are still an accomplished club, but by any mark are weaker than a club from Mexico. Still, though, Arabe Unido has made it out of the group stage three times since 2009/10 and likely will feature a striker all MLS fans are familiar with in Blas Perez.
FC Dallas appears to be a club without any holes with an almost unmatched stability of manager, youth system, and playing squad. They made several key additions this summer in former Real Salt Lake string puller Javier Morales who helped his old club reach the CONCACAF Champions League finals in 2011 and young Paraguayan Cristian Colman from Nacional. The 22-year-old had already scored 18 goals for his club before making the switch.
New York, much like FC Dallas has an established pipeline from their youth side, meaning they didn’t go out and splash the cash in the offseason. In came some young talent, among which is central defender Aaron Long who I’m very high on, and not much else. However, there is still a bright core of established players led by Sacha Kljestan, Bradley-Wright Phillips, and Luis Robles.
Vancouver on the other hand just seemed to miss a real scoring punch last season and with the aforementioned Freddy Montero coming on board their problems might have been solved (Montero is set to miss the first leg, however).
It seems each year the MLS infrastructure and squads themselves improve. Will that improvement finally be enough to accomplish something on a regional level at the CONCACAF Champions League rather than just impressing domestically? Tune in with me tonight and find out. Vancouver and New York kick off at 8pm ET and the match can be found on UDN and Facebook Live through the CONCACAF page.