The quarterfinals of this year’s Concacaf Champions League are here, and with them comes a number of mouth-watering matchups, including one that pits a pair of MLS sides against each other.
All five of Major League Soccer’s Concacaf Champions League teams have reached the quarterfinals, but at least one will not make it any further. Atlanta United and the Philadelphia Union are set to square off in the first leg of their series on Tuesday night in an all-MLS affair that begins this week in Georgia.
The quarterfinal round also includes a trio of potentially fiery MLS vs. Liga MX showdowns that will offer much tougher challenges for an MLS contingent that swept through the Round of 16 with ease.
Tuesday night will include a meeting between Canada’s lone representative, Toronto FC, and an in-form Cruz Azul side that has not tasted defeat since January. Wednesday’s pair of matches will see the reigning MLS Cup champion Columbus Crew take on three-time CCL winners Monterrey, while the Portland Timbers lock horns with star-studded Club America.
Aside from the Union, the MLS squads will all be playing at home in the first leg of these ties. Getting off to a strong start will therefore be all the more important, especially if one of them wants to try and end the league’s trophy-less drought in the competition.
Here is a closer look at the opening fixtures of these Concacaf Champions League quarterfinal series:
Atlanta United vs. Philadelphia Union
(Tuesday, 8 p.m. ET, FS1, TUDN)
The two MLS sides head into this meeting at Mercedes-Benz Stadium under different circumstances. While Atlanta United grabbed its first league win of the season this past weekend by beating the Chicago Fire, the Philadelphia Union let a lead slip away late in a loss to Inter Miami.
Gabriel Heinze’s side — which defeated Costa Rican outfit Alajuelense by a 2-0 mark in the the Round of 16 — should feature both Josef Martinez and Ezequiel Barco and could also welcome new centerback Alan Franco to the mix. Barco will especially be one player to keep an eye on following his sensational strike this past weekend.
The Union, meanwhile, will look to bounce back from their disappointing defeat at home on Saturday. Jim Curtin’s squad will need to rediscover its attacking edge after struggling to create much in MLS play in Week 2, but the good news is that the team has the 5-0 aggregate win vs. Costa Rica’s Deportivo Saprissa in the last round to look at for positives to build on.
Toronto FC vs. Cruz Azul
(Tuesday, 10 p.m. ET, FS1, TUDN)
It has not been a great start to the MLS season for Chris Armas and Toronto FC, what with a draw and a loss to their names. Still, the Canadian side will have at its disposal the experienced likes of Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley, and Omar Gonzalez as the team attempts to knock off another Mexican side following the surprise 3-2 win over Club Leon in the Round of 16.
The task that lies ahead in the side’s temporary home in Orlando, Florida, will not be easy, though. Cruz Azul is currently in first place of Liga MX after not losing in its last 16 matches across all competitions. What’s more, 14 of those games have ended in victories, including the 8-0 rout of Haitian side Arcahaie FC in the previous round.
There should be very interesting individual duels here, including Bradley vs. Peruvian international Yoshimar Yotun, Paraguayan centerback Pablo Aguilar against Altidore, and Uruguayan striker Santiago Gimenez taking on Gonzalez.
Columbus Crew vs. Monterrey
(Wednesday, 8:30 p.m. ET, FS2, TUDN)
The reigning MLS Cup champions posted a convincing 5-0 aggregate win over Real Esteli of Nicaragua in the Round of 16, and they should be well rested after not having played in Week 2 of the MLS campaign this past weekend. Further helping the Crew’s cause ahead of this clash at Historic Crew Stadium is that Monterrey is not on a good run of form.
The Mexican club has lost its last three league matches, and enters this one under pressure as a result. Monterrey has the talent to make things difficult, especially with players like lethal Argentine striker Rogerio Funes Mori on the roster, but is facing a Crew side that is not short on quality.
From Lucas Zelarayan to Pedro Santos and Gyasi Zardes, head coach Caleb Porter has several good options to include in his lineup. The Crew will likely need to be defensively sound, however, meaning veterans like goalkeeper Eloy Room and centerback Jonathan Mensah will need to be at or close to their best.
Portland Timbers vs. Club America
(Wednesday, 10:30 p.m. ET, FS1, TUDN)
If the saying “you are only as good as your last game” holds true, the Timbers are in good shape heading into this one. Giovanni Savararese’s men are fresh off a 2-1 home win over the Houston Dynamo, one that saw them sit Diego Valeri and Felipe Mora. The Timbers also have the added benefit of not having had to travel at all ahead of this encounter.
While Club America is not heading into this one in similar fashion following a weekend road loss to Toluca, the Liga MX power remains a massive test for the Timbers. Roger Martinez, Nicolas Benedetti, Mauro Lainez, and Pedro Aquino are just some of the talents the Mexican giants boast.
That said, for all the quality Club America has, the team still struggled in the last round of the tournament and only advanced on away goals vs. Honduran outfit Olimpia after a 2-2 aggregate score. The Timbers dispatched their opposition from that Central American nation rather easily, defeating Marathon to the tune of 7-2 over their two legs.