Is this the year that MLS breaks through in CONCACAF Champions League play?
When it comes to CONCACAF Champions League Major League Soccer sure doesn’t like to pull surprises. Sure, on the field MLS sides find new and interesting ways to come up juuussst short in breaking through in the continent’s top competition. But generally speaking, the script is pretty standard at this point: MLS gets four-five teams in the competition, most get knocked out early, one or two make a deep run and get their fans hopes up, and then find some way to slip up.
There are some reasons to hope that this year’s edition may be a little bit different. The main reason for this renewed sense of optimism are the clubs participating. As opposed to years past where an MLS 1.0 or 2.0 team might make it in this year’s class features sides that have all entered the league within the last ten years (Atlanta United FC, Los Angeles FC, Montreal Impact, New York City FC, and Seattle Sounders). That era is important to note as each of these sides have pushed the boundaries in terms of spending and in expectations. Whereas in the past teams have perhaps taken this tournament as nothing more than a preseason exercise, this year’s entrants expect to win it.
The other major cause for optimism is that chemistry shouldn’t be any issue for any of the teams. Part of the problem with having the CCL in February and March is that MLS sides are coming off of their offseason. So the teams that qualified for the tournament may look very different from those entering the field on matchday one. That was Atlanta’s undoing last year after losing coach Tata Martino and talisman midfielder Miguel Almiron during the winter and adding in Frank De Boer and Pity Martinez.
That shouldn’t be a problem this time around. Three of the five sides (Atlanta, Los Angeles, and Seattle) have an incumbent manager while a fourth (Montreal) have brought in Thierry Henry, who has experience in CCL as a play and is Thierry Henry. Even New York will likely on have some cosmetic changes on the pitch leaving the side relatively the same as it was 2019.
So can an MLS side do it? It is certainly possible. Although true success has eluded the league in CCL there has been incremental progress. All five MLS sides definitely have ambitions to grow their brand internationally and being the first MLS side in the modern era to claim top honors in the CCL would definitely go a long way towards fulfilling those dreams.
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