Last night, the CONCACAF Champions League resumed after a four-month hiatus with the start of the knockout phase. Early results suggest the Liga MX clubs will dominate the region’s flagship club tournament once more: Querétaro FC defeated D.C. United 2-0 and Club América held the Seattle Sounders to a 2-all tie on the East Coast in the first two of four quarterfinals. Tonight, Tigres UANL hosts Real Salt Lake and LA Galaxy welcomes Santos Laguna.
When the quarterfinals of the Champions League beckon, MLS franchises enter the competition with a hopeful mindset and the expectation of bettering the past. They understand the mammoth task of defeating the Liga MX clubs and why it may be key to their own development. Every season, the MLS teams want to topple their Mexican counterparts in search of regional glory, but every year they falter. Last season Montreal Impact reached the final, but was beaten 5-3 by Club América.
This edition of the Champions League seems no different. Liga MX clubs (and not just big spenders like Club América and Tigres UANL) have both superior budgets and better youth development academies than MLS clubs. They also don’t suffer from a prolonged break in domestic soccer.
That became apparent last night. D.C. United struggled at Querétaro FC. The Estadio Corregidora stands 6,000 feet above sea level. The game was unhurried, even slow-moving. The American franchise wanted to control probable damage on the road and for a good 70 minutes, D.C. United stuck to its game plan of strict defending.
The visitors tired in the end. They huffed and puffed, gasping for air and running out of legs. In the last 20 minutes, Yerson Candelo and Édgar Benítez scored to undo a valiant D.C. United.
In Seattle, the Sounders played the star ensemble of Club América, the reigning champions and most decorated club in CONCACAF. The home side needed to build an advantage for the return leg at the Azteca stadium, but failed to do so in a helter-skelter 90 minutes of frenetic soccer.
Clint Dempsey scored twice (reminding Jürgen Klinsmann he is still fit at the age of 33) to lead the USA’s forward line at this summer’s centennial Copa América, but Darwin Quintero and Oribe Peralta canceled out Dempsey’s goals to earn América two valuable road goals. Seatlle will have to come up with a concise and shrewd game plan to overturn their deficit in the second leg.
In the history of the new CONCACAF Champions League era, only three MLS franchises have ever defeated Mexican opposition in two-legged series. LA Galaxy and Real Salt Lake will have another dig at it later today, but few pundits and analysts will be surprised if Tigres UANL and Santos Laguna ultimately prevail in their respective quarterfinals.