The first knockout round of the CONCACAF Champions League came with upsets, surprises, blowouts, dissapointments, and of course, lots of goals. It’s everything you expect from a knockout competition for a major trophy.
Perhaps something more expected is that MLS and Liga MX teams control the territory of the CCL quarterfinals. Here’s which teams advanced to the next round:
Who faces who?
- Clausura 2018 champions Santos Laguna will face the New York Red Bulls.
- First Leg: 7 p.m. CT/ 8 p.m. ET on Tuesday, March 5 at Red Bull Arena.
- Second Leg: 8 p.m. CT/ 9 p.m. ET on Tuesday, March 12 at Estadio Corona.
- Tigres and Tuca Ferretti hope to finally win a Champions League this year, but first they have to try and get past 2018 U.S. Open Cup champs Houston Dynamo.
- First Leg: 9 p.m. CT/ 10 p.m. ET on Tuesday, March 5 at BBVA Compass Stadium.
- Second Leg: 10 p.m. CT/ 11 p.m. ET on Tuesday, March 12 in El Volcán.
- On the other side of the bracket, underdog team Independiente de la Chorrera will have a tough time trying to topple Sporting Kansas City.
- First Leg: 7 p.m. CT/ 8 p.m. ET on Wednesday, March 6 in La Chorrera, Panama.
- Second Leg: 7 p.m. CT/ 8 p.m. ET on Thursday March 14 in “The Blue Hell”.
- Last but not least, the most attractive matchup on paper. Monterrey and its deep roster will go against America’s alpha team, Atlanta United.
- First Leg: 9 p.m. CT/ 10 p.m. ET on Wednesday, March 6 at Estadio BBVA Bancomer.
- Second Leg: 7 p.m. CT/ 8 p.m. ET on Wednesday, March 13 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
How did we get here?
Mexican club powerhouse Tigres attacked all the way through two legs but ended up losing 1-0 in the first to Costa Rican side Saprissa. El Monstruo Morado showed why it’s one of the most successful Central American teams at the continental level by defeating an All-Star team in Tigres but couldn’t contend with all the offensive firepower in the second leg back in Mexico. Tigres would score five in front of their home crowd (without Gignac), and save themselves from an embarrasing upset.
Cross-town rivals Monterrey also saved themselves, but in much more panic-inducing fashion. Salvadoran side Alianza didn’t even seem close to a sizeable opponent for Rayados, yet both clubs played scoreless for over 175 minutes. Monterrey’s usually consistent penalty marksman, Nicolas Sanchez, even missed from the spot before another penalty late in the second leg quietly walked them into the quarterfinals, but not without some doubt.
The only Mexican team that didn’t save itself was Toluca, who in more ways than one is imploding. Hernan Cristante was fired over the weekend after the team conceded a whopping 10 goals in a single week. Los Diablos Rojos haven’t won a match since Jan. 13 and haven’t even scored a goal in four games now. They fell 5-0 on aggregate to an exciting Sporting Kansas City team, who nearly got to the MLS Final last season, and are looking like the team to beat from the MLS, more so than Atlanta, in this first round of knockout matches.
From the MLS side, the New York Red Bulls played well enough over both legs to handily defeat Atletico Pantoja from the Dominican Republic, who served as the biggest underdogs in this tournament, by 5-0 on aggregate.
Houston Dynamo, on the other hand, struggled with budding Guatemalan side Guastatoya. The Dynamo squeaked a 1-0 victory on the road thanks to a late-game golazo from ageless star DaMarcus Beasley. Back in the states, the game was delayed two hours thanks to inclement weather, and after going 1-0 down to Guasta, Colombian talisman Mauro Manotas came alive and gave Houston two quick, late goals so that it wouldn’t have a problem.
The behemoth to beat coming into this tournament, the MLS champs Atlanta United, went through to the next round but not without some drama. Atlanta incredibly lost 3-1 to an inspired Herediano team who was once again looking to do some giant killing, just as it did back in the 2015 CCL semifinal when it shockingly defeated Club America 3-0 in the first leg.
The end result was the same in both scenarios though, as Herediano would blow that lead away from home. Atlanta, on the back of Josef Martinez (who else?), rallied to a 4-0 home victory and won 5-3 on aggregate. *sigh* That was close. Can you imagine if an MLS superteam lost to a Central American side?
Yeah. It did happen. Toronto FC is less than two years removed from their triumphant treble-winning season in 2017. Some were even calling them the greatest MLS team ever assembled. But just like Marvel’s The Avengers in their latest flick, this mighty troupe would lose when not many thought they could. However, Toronto didn’t lose to the Thanos equivalent of a soccer team, oh no, far from it. While Toronto was conquering the MLS in 2017, Independiente de la Chorrera had just won promotion to the Panamanian first division.
The Panamanian side not only won, but it routed Toronto 4-0 at home before escaping Canada with a 1-1 draw. The absences of Jozy Altidore, Victor Vazquez and Sebastian Giovinco proved to be too much for Toronto to overcome. But man, I don’t think many people expected this result.
I know I didn’t:
Prediction: As much as I want to, the hot takes are going to have to wait. Toronto is easily favorable in this matchup and should breeze past Independiente. As soon as Toronto faces a Mexican side, however, that’s a different story. - Me, on this article.
In the end, the CONCACAF Champions League delivered what it was supposed to. The favorite team almost falling (and other times actually falling) to a lower-ranked squad is always prevalent, and it creates a sense of excitement and unpredictability that it’s why many people catch CCL fever.
Plus, the rivalry between Liga MX and MLS only grows with every passing year teams from these two leagues meet in competitive fixtures.
And for Liga MX fans specifically, the possibility of seeing a Clasico Regiomontano (Tigres and Monterrey) in a Champions League final sounds too good to be true, but it could still happen. The excitement is far from over.
Who’s advancing to the semis? Can you already see a winner out of this bunch? Let us know in the comments below!
You can follow Antonio on Twitter @antonio1998__