No Major League Soccer team has won the CONCACAF Champions League in its eight years of existence. Only Montreal and Real Salt Lake have reached the final, while teams from Liga MX have won all eight titles in the competition’s history.
It’s a record that weighs on MLS powers-that-be, who would love nothing more than for the league’s teams to prove they belong among the best in the region. The fact that every year brings a new beatdown on MLS teams, courtesy (most often) of Liga MX sides, is a constant frustration for them.
You can understand MLS’s position. The league is still behind Liga MX in fan interest among Americans. It’s hard to argue to a longtime Liga MX fan that MLS deserves to be taken seriously, not when Mexican teams consistently cruise against MLS opposition.
Last year’s edition of the tournament, when four Liga MX sides destroyed four MLS teams in the quarterfinals, was probably the darkest hour in recent years for those who want the American and Canadian teams to reach the level of their Mexican brethren.
This season’s quarterfinals might provide a little respite for MLS teams. The Vancouver-New York matchup means that at least one team will reach the quarterfinals, and FC Dallas already has taken a 4-0 first-leg lead on Panamanian powerhouse Árabe Unido.
Mexico, meanwhile, saw only three teams — Pachuca, Tigres and Pumas — make the quarterfinals. Tigres won the title last fall in Liga MX, but has struggled in the spring and is having trouble scoring goals. Pumas, its opponent in the quarterfinals, has been stuck in the middle of the table all year; the two are tied 1-1 after the first leg of their matchup. Pachuca, meanwhile, is left with a tricky home game against Costa Rican champions Deportivo Saprissa; the two drew 0-0 in the first leg.
None of the three Mexican sides is playing particularly well so far this half-season. It would not be surprising if only one made the semifinals.
Of the three MLS teams, FC Dallas might have the best chance for a title. The club was the best in MLS last year, winning the Supporters’ Shield and the U.S. Open Cup before losing in the league playoffs.
Dallas lost winger Fabian Castillo to Turkey last season and playmaker Mauro Diaz still is returning from injury, but new signings and graduates from the team’s enviable youth academy have shored up the squad. Most expect Dallas to challenge for MLS Cup, but its first order of business is challenging for the Champions League title, with the final coming in mid-April.
Given the competition’s history, the Liga MX teams will be favorites until the end. FC Dallas might be American and Canadian fans’ best hope. It’s hope that MLS teams have been lacking in the Champions League.
• Leicester City manager Claudio Ranieri was fired just nine months after leading his team to the most improbable league title in English history. The Foxes have not scored a league goal in 2017 and lost 1-0 to third-division Millwall in the FA Cup. Leicester could be the first English team since 1938 to be relegated the season after a title.
• Speaking of coach firings, it’s hard to see how Club América manager Ricardo La Volpe survives much longer. He was already on the hot seat at a club that goes through managers like the Steinbrenner-era Yankees. Then, during his team’s rivalry matchup with Chivas, he actually stepped onto the field and tripped an opposing player who had the ball.
• The “magic of the FA Cup” was at full strength last week. Lincoln City, a fifth-division team, went on the road against Burnley, a Premier League side, and won 1-0, courtesy of a last-minute goal. It made Lincoln the first non-League team (only the top four divisions are part of the Football League) to qualify for the FA Cup quarterfinals since 1914.
WEEKEND WATCH GUIDE
Serie A: Atalanta at Napoli, 11 a.m. Saturday, beIN. Atalanta is a club with an outdated stadium in a small, distant suburb of Milan, and usually an afterthought. This year, though, a run of good results has the team pushing for its first European place in nearly three decades. Taking down third-place Napoli would move fifth-place Atalanta within striking distance of the top three.
Bundesliga: Eintracht Frankfurt at Hertha Berlin, 11:30 Saturday, FS2. Bayern Munich and RB Leipzig have separated themselves at the top of the German league. Five other teams are within four points of each other, all fighting for Champions League qualification. One point separates fifth (Eintracht) from sixth (Hertha). This is one of those proverbial six-point games.
League Cup Final: Manchester United vs. Southampton, 10:30 a.m. Sunday, beIN. The first and least-loved English trophy of the year is up for grabs. Jose Mourinho, in his first year at Old Trafford, is favored to add a trophy to Manchester United’s overstuffed trophy case. Southampton, which keeps plugging away despite offseason departures every year, is looking to pull another upset.
La Liga: Real Madrid at Villareal, 1:45 p.m. Sunday, beIN. Villareal has stumbled through 2017 so far, but a victory at Real Sociedad last week closed the gap significantly on the teams at the top. Real Madrid lost Wednesday to Valencia and suddenly its one-point lead on Barcelona — still with one game in hand — doesn’t look so huge. Can Villareal add to the leader’s woes?