After the dust settled from Monday’s draw, Tigres and the Seattle Sounders looked to have a more clear path to the CCL final than some of their rivals
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We often see soccer matches that are termed a ‘tale of two halves,’ and while there was is a pitch at the University of the Cloister of Sor Juana, we once again see a tale of two halves in the Concacaf Champions League.
When Concacaf legends Cristian “Chaco” Gimenez and DaMarcus Beasley were done pulling names out of bowls, the winners were clear. Those in the bottom half of the bracket are the winners, with the top half the losers. Clubs like Tigres and the Seattle Sounders will love their odds of making a deep run in the competition, while Los Angeles FC, Atlanta United and Leon would’ve hoped for better luck.
Every edition of the CCL in its current format has been won by Mexican teams, and yet there is just one Liga MX squad in the bottom half of the bracket. Tigres have its path back to the final set out clearly, with a potential semifinal meeting against the Seattle Sounders looking like the biggest obstacle in a potential return to the CCL final.
Tigres are yet to win an international title, but while this is a thorn in fans’ side as they watch rival Monterrey in the Club World Cup, manager Tuca Ferretti has shown less concern about lifting the continental title with his comments and roster selections. Still, this path may allow Tuca to once again give youth a chance while still getting the needed results, at least in the first two rounds.
The Sounders also will be pleased to be on that side of the draw. Sounders general manager Garth Lagerwey said after the event that he’s always careful not to let his facial expression betray his feelings during the draw, lest he end up bulletin board material for a tough team like the Olimpia squad his team will face. Olimpia have experience in the tournament, and trips to Honduras are never easy. Yet, with many key players from the team that just won the championship in Honduras set to head to other leagues, the Sounders should be able to start things off well.
Other than the reigning MLS champion, however, the draw didn’t break too well for the other teams in the league desperate to win the CCL title for the first time.
MLS teams came into the night knowing one of them would have to go up against Club Leon, and LAFC drew the short-straw. Leon has struggled in playoff situations lately, but even if forward Jose Juan Macias doesn’t return, the attacking depth is fearsome with Angel Mena, Leonardo Ramos, Ismael Sosa, Joel Campbell and Luis Montes all capable of troubling defenders.
For now, LAFC is putting on a brave face with not only fans of the two leagues but even the club’s executives ready to get the ball rolling and see Carlos Vela and Co. matchup against the Liga MX squad.
“I’m super excited, and I would say it’s not just Mexican or Liga MX fans, I want to know. I want to see how our club and our captain fare in an international competition like this, so it’s super exciting and we’re hoping for the best and expecting the best,” said Larry Freedman, LAFC’s EVP and Chief Business Officer, after the draw. Freedman, who recently was named MLS’ executive of the year, may be more pleased with the results than LAFC coach Bob Bradley. Rather than getting a bit of a runway to start the season, all eyes will be on his squad immediately, with his team playing the marquee matchup.
At least Bradley can get to work. New York City FC is yet to announce its new manager and has a new sporting director to boot. While it’s in what looks to be the easier half of the bracket, there are plenty of questions for NYCFC to answer before it can get to work on seeing off debutant San Carlos. Top the Costa Rican squad, and it’s Tigres in the next round.
And the Montreal Impact find themselves in a bit of the same situation Atlanta United did last season. It has a brand-new manager who must start his career with the club in Costa Rica. At least Thierry Henry has some experience in the Concacaf region as a player, but he will find few people who tell him it’s easy to go into the Estadio Saprissa to get a win. Get past the Costa Rican giants, and the path is the same as the Sounders’.
Speaking of Atlanta United, the Five Stripes once again head to Central America, this time against Motagua before a potential matchup with Club America in the next round. A year of CCL experience for coach Frank de Boer, attacking midfielder Gonzalo “Pity” Martinez and several of the other key figures should serve Atlanta well, as should their experience against Las Aguilas in the Campeones Cup. Even so, it’s difficult to argue that Atlanta’s draw is more difficult than the club would’ve hoped.
Of course, there are always upsets. Who would’ve predicted Panama’s Independiente to thump Toronto FC in the Round of 16 last year and move into the quarterfinals? There will be surprises, but for now the teams on the bottom half of the bracket have to be thinking that the gorgeous, shiny trophy on display at Monday’s event may be just a little easier to grasp.