For MLS teams who are just beginning their domestic seasons, the Champions League can act as a distraction or a potential hurdle to not be taken out by. Injuries are to be avoided and as we saw last season when Seattle won the entire tournament, becoming the first team in league history to do so, they struggled to continue that form after reaching their continental pinnacle.
The matchups for the SCCL 2023 Round of 16 are defined!¡Los enfrentamientos para los Octavos de Final de #SCCL23 están definidos!
Article ➡ https://t.co/JnaO3dpxRE
Artículo ➡ https://t.co/NI9RTA0ikU pic.twitter.com/W2oIDFQ6hi
— Scotiabank Concacaf Champions League (@TheChampions) November 8, 2022
Teams will need to ask themselves what their goal is for the season, and if they are willing and able to prioritize international competition for the beginning half of the season. So which MLS teams are best set up for CONCACAF Champions League success?
Any team with Sebastián Driussi immediately emerges as a contender as a difference-maker of his caliber separates the wheat from the chaff. When Austin counts its blessings, it counts the 27-year-old twice and that speaks volumes with other stars like Diego Fagúndez and Gyasi Zardes.
New turf, same goal. pic.twitter.com/hhfF6oGaHp— Austin FC (@AustinFC) March 7, 2023
Austin FC has endured a challenging start to life this season with a 3-2 loss at home to St. Louis City SC but bounced back against Montreál thanks to Maximiliano Urruti’s late winner. In just its 3rd season, it’s likely that Josh Wolff’s side will keep its eyes focused squarely on the Western Conference with the goal of challenging LAFC for the top spot in the division.
Austin travels to the Dominican Republic to face off against Violette AC of the Haitian first division, with admittedly a much stronger side. With a win over two legs, the Texas-based side will play the winner of Club León and Tauro FC. Anything beyond that should be considered a success but could be accompanied by difficulties in MLS.
Head coach Jim Curtin has developed his Union side into one of the most dominant and difficult sides to play in North America. Philadelphia missed out on silverware in heartbreaking fashion twice last season, both at the hands of LAFC.
happy ccl to all who celebrate pic.twitter.com/CgC5luBfFQ— Evan (@SoB_Evan) March 7, 2023
This will be the club's second foray into continental competition after reaching the semifinals in 2021 where Club América proved to be their downfall. However, after a helpful offseason strengthening an already dominant starting eleven and bench, the Union will be back and hoping for more in 2023.
Philadelphia plays tomorrow in CCL away at Alianza FC , home of some of the best fans in North AmericaWill be interesting to see how Philadelphia handles it. They beat Saprissa away in 2021 pic.twitter.com/Q5PXVqRaCX
— MLS Buzz (@MLS_Buzz) March 6, 2023
Mikael Uhre and Julián Carranza lead the lines against Alianza FC, last season’s El Salvador Primera División champions. The away trip is notoriously one of the most formidable in all of CONCACAF, so Philadelphia will do well to get a result away from home but if anyone can, it’s this Union side.
Orlando City FC
The current U.S. Open Cup champions, Orlando City FC are definitely not favorites to win the tournament, especially with a first match against Tigres UANL, who currently sit in second place in Liga MX. However, don’t count out a side who showed they know how to win a knockout competition as the Florida side did in 2022.
Tonight. @TheChampions x #OrlandoCity pic.twitter.com/ixHNxd4qMz— Orlando City SC (@OrlandoCitySC) March 7, 2023
Orlando is making its Champions League debut but unlike Austin, a return to this level of competition is a bit less likely, meaning Óscar Pareja’s side could be more willing to prioritize a knockout tournament run akin to last season. If a deep run is in the cards, it will no doubt be facilitated by star winger Facundo Torres.
Vancouver Whitecaps FC
By far the weakest of the five MLS sides, Vancouver qualified for its third Champions League campaign via the Canadian Championship, beating Toronto FC to the title on penalties. In MLS, the Whitecaps found no such fortune, as they missed the playoffs by four points and finished with the worst goal-scoring record in the Western Conference.
Fulltime in San Jose. pic.twitter.com/vbw4tftsWy— Vancouver Whitecaps FC (@WhitecapsFC) March 5, 2023
Their first opponent is Real CD España who sit fifth in the Honduras first division, but even with a win over two legs, their opponent would likely be LAFC. Given the team’s poor start to the MLS season where they’ve lost two games, both after going ahead early, the quarterfinals seem to be the farthest that this Vancouver side is capable of.
Last season’s Supporters’ Shield and MLS Cup winners, LAFC has earned its spot as one of the nation’s top sides. Despite losing some key pieces over the break, Steve Cherundolo’s side has kept its mojo and is already third in the Western Conference having only played one game. They look impressive going forward but are a bit suspect defensively which could be exposed when their attack has an off night.
Unfinished business.Thursday we kick off our #SCCL23 run in Costa Rica against @ldacr. pic.twitter.com/QPoLZTh2wZ
— LAFC (@LAFC) March 7, 2023
The question for LAFC, as with Philadelphia, is which competition they want to prioritize. With the talent this team possesses, it’s difficult to argue against going for both. Kwadwo Opoku, Denis Bouanga and Kellyn Acosta, along with a host of other star players, make this difficult task possible, but they’ll need to be careful with load management and avoid injuries that would ruin both campaigns.
LAFC have won 10 of their last 11 matches at home.Philadelphia have won 11 straight at home.
These two have a serious shot at winning CCL if they can not screw it up away.
— MLS Buzz (@MLS_Buzz) March 4, 2023
Up first is a trip to Costa Rica to face perennial domestic powerhouse, LD Alajuelense. A win at that stage is likely, to the extent that a loss would likely be seen as a massive disappointment, especially as the second leg will be on American soil.