Mission accomplished! All three remaining Mexican teams advanced to the semifinals of the Concacaf Champions League and each defeated an MLS club to do so, re-establishing Liga MX domination over their North American rivals.
As a result of these three wins, Liga MX teams now have a 28-4 record against MLS clubs in elimination series (two-game, home-and-home series, that is).
After LAFC’s inspiring run to last season’s CCL Final in which they defeated three Liga MX clubs (only one in an elimination series, the other two came in one-off elimination games), MLS fans were hopeful that the field had been leveled.
Liga MX still the big dog in Concacaf
Philadelphia Union must now carry the flag for MLS as the lone representative in the Final Four. The Union defeated Atlanta United 4-1 on aggregate in their quarterfinal series and they will next face Cruz Azul.
The CCL semifinals are set for mid-August, so all four teams can focus on league play, which for the MLS just started last month and continues through December. In Mexico, the Liga MX playoffs are just getting under way and then clubs will be on a summer break until late July.
The new CCL schedule turns the tables on the usual complaint. Typically, the CCL ratchets up in spring, just as MLS is starting its season. That often meant MLS clubs were playing quarterfinals before their season had started whereas Liga MX teams were already in mid-season form.
This time around, the Union will have played 19 league games by the time its first-leg semifinals match against the Cementeros rolls around whereas Cruz Azul will have played only three games after a 10-week summer break.
In addition, the Liga MX clubs might have markedly different rosters as they will no doubt be wheeling-and-dealing in the summer transfer window as preparation for the new season.
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There is also the possibility of a player or two – I’m thinking of Monterrey’s César Montes, América’s Sebastián Córdova and even Cruz Azul’s Luis Romo – moving to Europe over the summer. This brings with it all new challenges as coaches might still be juggling their rosters and trying to figure out preferred line-ups.
Another factor might impact the Mexican clubs – national team duty.
The Tokyo Olympics and the Gold Cup will take place from mid-July to early August. All three Liga MX clubs will no doubt have players pulling national team duty at those events. While Mexico will be expected to reach the Gold Cup Final (Aug. 1), El Tri is no sure bet to reach the medal round in Tokyo so those players could be back home by the end of July. Still, participation in those events will be a factor.
Cruz Azul’s Roberto Alvarado, Orbelín Pineda, Romo and even goalie Jesús Corona have been regulars with El Tri and Santi Giménez is a candidate for Olympics duty.
América goalie Guillermo Ochoa is expected to be added to the Olympics roster as an “overage player” and Córdova is sure to be on a Team Mexico roster in August, while fullback Jorge Sánchez could be summoned as well. Finally, Monterrey midfielder Carlos Rodríguez and defender Montes are favorites of Mexico coach Gerardo Martino who has shown confidence in goalie Hugo González from time-to-time.
Despite this, it’s a given that Liga MX will be favored to claim the CCL trophy once again, extending its domination of the event. Mexican clubs have hoisted the last 15 Concacaf Champions League trophies.
All things considered, however, circumstances could favor the Philadelphia Union who advanced to the Final Four in the first-ever international tournament in the franchise’s 10-year history. If the new kids on the block don’t get stage fright, they could certainly do MLS proud.