Four MLS teams advance to CCL knockout stage



The group stage of the 2015-16 CONCACAF Champions League is complete. For the first time, four teams from Major League Soccer—the maximum possible—have advanced to the knockout round. MLS shouldn’t exactly pride itself on its ability to handle teams from Guatemala and Jamaica, but this modicum of success is perhaps a sign that the competition is being treated with the requisite professionalism and respect, something that has been lacking in years past.

MLS teams will need more than just professionalism to make it beyond the quarterfinals. All four are paired with opponents from Liga MX, which MLS has historically struggled with. Only twice in 13 tries has an MLS side beaten Mexican opposition over two legs in this tournament: Seattle defeated Tigres in 2013 and Montreal beat Pachuca this past spring.

Club America vs. Seattle Sounders

Seattle has reached the quarterfinals for the third time in five years and have been pitted against the defending champions. The Sounders had to get past Vancouver in the group stage to get here, but not without difficulty. As a result, they face an América side that holds the top seed in the tournament. América has actually been to Seattle recently; they played a friendly against Manchester United this summer at CenturyLink Field.

LA Galaxy vs. Santos Laguna

The Galaxy have been touted by some as a team with the raw talent required to compete with Liga MX in the Champions League. They will have a chance to prove that in the spring when they play Santos Laguna. The Mexican side currently sits 15th in the Apertura.

DC United vs. Queretaro

Along with América, DC is the only team to return to the quarterfinals from last year’s final eight. They were rather embarrassed against Alajuelense from Costa Rica at this stage last spring. They will face a Queretaro side that features former Whitecap Camilo Sanvezzo and America’s favorite left back, Jonathan Bornstein.

Real Salt Lake vs. Tigres UANL

RSL has failed to qualify for the MLS playoffs, making them the odd team out among those in the Champions League this year. They did well in getting through the group stage, but now face a Tigres side that is among Mexico’s best. RSL is one of only two MLS teams who have gotten as far as the CCL final; they lost to Monterrey in 2011.

Unlike Europe, where Champions League spots often feel as if they are permanent; it’s entirely possible that none of the MLS teams mentioned above will be involved in next year’s tournament. Four spots have already been awarded to MLS teams, namely Vancouver, Kansas City, Dallas, and the New York Red Bulls. The final spot is available for the MLS Cup winner or the next-best regular season record if that team has already qualified.

There have, however, been rumblings of a format change for the CCL, which could push the start of the next tournament to the spring of 2017 as it switches to a calendar-year schedule. Reportedly, CONCACAF also wants to return to four-team groups so as to create more matches between MLS and Liga MX.

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