MLS sides look to continue success in CCL quarter-finals

The results were unprecedented. So unprecedented that the front page of the Record in Mexico read “Es Insolting & Unacceptabol” following the defeat of three out of four Liga MX clubs remaining in the CONCACAF Champions League at the hands of MLS teams in the first leg of the quarterfinal. In a tournament that has been completely dominated by Mexican clubs since its inception, consecutive losses by top clubs to what many feel are inferior teams from the U.S. and Canada is quite a pill to swallow. But the Liga MX teams will be looking to turn things around as we head into leg two beginning on Tuesday night, and I think things may be very different as two out of three matchups head to Mexico.

RBNY v. Club Tijuana (Xolos)

Beating Mexican teams is rare. Beating Mexican teams in Mexico is next to impossible. But that’s exactly what the Red Bulls managed to do in Tijuana. Traveling just across the border, the Red Bulls walked out of Estadio Caliente with a clean-sheet win and two massive away goals courtesy of Bradley Wright-Phillips and Luis Robles standing on his head, as he tends to do. With the second leg coming back to New Jersey, RBNY have put themselves in the best possible position of all remaining MLS sides to advance in this tournament. 

A win, draw, or even a 1-0 loss at home would still see RBNY move on to the semis. It’ll be a huge accomplishment, but as is the case when facing Liga MX opposition in a do-or-die situation, the Red Bulls should not, in any way, take their position for granted. Time and again, MLS teams have found themselves in the driver's seat only to get absolutely torched in the second leg. Home field advantage makes this a slightly different scenario, but nevertheless, anything can happen.

Toronto FC v. Tigres UANL

Considered by many as possibly the best team in MLS history, TFC continued their retooling throughout the off-season, adding pieces that could be just what Toronto needs to help end MLS’ drought in the CCL. What some have called the “dream final,” albeit two rounds too early, proved to be as inspiring as one would’ve hoped. The first leg saw the Mexican champions and 2017 CCL runners-up Tigres get an all important away goal through Eduardo Vargas before Toronto FC stormed back thanks to Jozy Altidore and an incredible backheel finish from Brampton native Jonathan Osorio, ultimately giving the Reds the 2-1 advantage.

TFC managed to impose their own style and, at times, dominated the match. The Reds, however, will rue their truck load of missed opportunities that could very have well put this tie away after the first leg. Tigres, who dominated possession, appeared to be a much different team when Andre-Pierre Gignac came into the game after halftime, but they fell just short of a last gasp equalizer thanks to a stunning sliding tackle by Chris Mavinga to preserve the win for TFC.

TFC may be well suited for this tournament, but they don’t call Tigres’ stadium “The Volcano” for nothing. Tigres have gone an astonishing 23 games unbeaten at home in Monterrey’s Estadio Universitario. They are dominant, and Gignac, having just scored a wondergoal over the weekend, will see Toronto as fresh meat when facing off against the Reds in Tigres' house. For Toronto, it boils down to mental toughness and keeping the the atmosphere and intimidation factor from getting the better of them. Having a one goal advantage won’t matter too much and has likely only bought the Reds some time to hopefully find an away goal. This will be the hardest test Toronto group has ever faced, and I expect we’ll see more than a few goals in this one.

Seattle Sounders v. Chivas de Guadalajara

The Seattle Sounders, despite suffering from the early season injury bug, have managed to put together a squad that’s more than deserving of their place thus far in this tournament. After beating up on Santa Tecla in the second leg of the previous round, the Sounders went toe-to-toe with Chivas and left Century Link with a 1-0 victory in the first leg thanks to a fantastic late goal from Clint Dempsey. A last ditch game saving tackle by Chad Marshall helped the Cascadian side see out the match and keep a clean sheet and the 1-0 victory.

The Sounders find themselves in the driver seat against statistically the worst Liga MX team left in CCL. Chivas, currently sitting in 15th spot out of 18 in the Clausura table, have struggled mightily in their second season after finishing third in the Apertura. Coming off a victory on the weekend, Chivas now welcome Seattle to Estadio Chivas with everything still left to play for despite the Sounders having a one goal advantage. With playoffs now all but out of the question for Chivas in Liga MX, their hope of a successful season now rides on their ability to progress in the CCL. There will without a doubt be goals in this one.

Although all remaining MLS sides have the advantage heading into the second legs of their respective matchups, history tells us that means nothing when facing off against Mexican opposition. The Red Bulls welcome Xolos on Tuesday night, followed by Toronto at Tigres. Seattle heads to Guadalajara on Wednesday to close out the quarterfinals, while Club America are basically already through to the semifinal and waiting to see if they’ll play TFC or Tigres. CCL fever is reaching a fever pitch.