CCL semi-final preview: Leg one

It’s Tuesday, and you know what that means: the return of CONCACAF Champions League soccer! From Liga MX’s supposed decline to the perceived ascendance of MLS, the tournament thus far has been full of surprises as we enter the semi-final stage. The 2018 iteration of the CCL has quickly become a referendum on MLS’ place against the top sides from Liga MX, with a total disregard for the rest of the continent. For those keeping score, we’re down to four: two MLS sides remain and will be taking on two Liga MX sides. Things, however, could have been very different. 

After leg one of the quarter-final, the three remaining MLS sides were in the driver’s seat and had the opportunity to do something MLS had never done before, eliminate three of the four remaining Mexican teams. As luck would have it, only two were able to complete the task—Toronto FC and RBNY—while Seattle had their one goal advantage overturned in Guadalajara as they fell to Chivas.

Moving into the semi-final, Toronto FC and RBNY are yet again tasked with being MLS’ standard bearers against two of Mexico’s most decorated sides in Guadalajara and Club America.

Toronto FC v Club America — Tuesday, April 3, 8 p.m. ET

Fresh off the high of unseating the reigning Mexican champs, Toronto FC will be welcoming yet another stern test, this time perennial champion Club America. While TFC just barely squeaked out a result against their toughest opponent ever in Tigres, Las Aguilas cruised past Tauro FC, 7-1 on aggregate. Toronto FC is considered the underdogs in this one. Leg one will be played on a battered pitch in Toronto, thanks to some fairly unfavorable March weather, so TFC need to take their chances while they can. A second leg date at the Azteca awaits them.

With lingering injury concerns to defenders Justin Morrow, Chris Mavinga, Nick Hagglund, and playmaker Victor Vazquez, TFC coach Greg Vanney will likely opt for a similar backline and setup to the one that stifled Real Salt Lake on Friday night. 

Club America, coming off an important win on Saturday, may be feeling some tired legs in addition to dealing with injury troubles of their own to key players like Jeremy Menez and Oribe Peralta. That being said, this Club America side is built to win and with a manager like Miguel Herrera on the bench, you can be sure he is demanding nothing but a victory from his players in Toronto.

With a berth in the final on the line and yet another matchup of one of MLS’ best sides ever pitted against Mexico’s most decorated, this will yet again be about more than pride. This match matchup could help shape the MLS vs. Liga MX narrative for years to come.

New York Red Bulls v C.D. Guadalajara — Wednesday, April 4, 10 p.m. ET

To the surprise of many, the New York Red Bulls have been chugging along through their CCL campaign like a well oiled machine, unbeaten and totally unhindered by the thought of facing off against Mexican clubs, even defeating them on their own soil. Having fallen just short of stopping Toronto FC’s march to MLS Cup in 2017, the 2018 Red Bulls are a team on a mission to write their own history, one with CCL glory in the script. Could the 2018 CCL be the first time RBNY hoist a trophy in club history?

After dismantling Club Tijuana over two legs, RBNY will now be taking on the “easier” of the two Mexican clubs remaining in C.D. Guadalajara, who currently sit 12th out of 18 in the Liga MX Clausura table. Chivas, the only Mexican side able to overturn their the quarter-final first leg aggregate score, should consider themselves lucky to be where they are. The Seattle Sounders squad they were able to beat in Guadalajara was far from being in their best form and heavily impacted by injuries to key players. Nevertheless, Chivas will be a tough matchup for a RBNY squad led by their prolific scorer Bradley Wright-Phillips, who like a fine wine seems to only get better with age.

This should be a scrappy affair that sees two hard-nosed teams battling it out in what will likely be the more CONCACAF-y of the two semi-final match ups.