With four CONCACAF Champions League titles over the past decade, CF Monterrey is the measuring stick for almost every team left in the tournament. And that could be particularly true for the reigning MLS Cup champions, the Columbus Crew, who are in the quarter-final stage for the third time in franchise history and seeking a breakthrough appearance in the final four, starting with Wednesday night’s first leg.
The challenge facing the other MLS club on Wednesday is no less overwhelming. The Portland Timbers are playing host to the Champions Cup/Champions League, Club America’s seven-time winners, who are currently second in Liga MX but winless in their previous three. Although the Timbers have advanced furthest in their third CONCACAF Champions League campaign, this is their first match with a Mexican opponent.
Can Playoff Recapture Crew Magic?
Although the MLS champions showed offensive flair in round 16, demolishing Nicaragua’s Real Esteli FC 5-0 on both legs, their MLS season opener wasn’t as explosive. The team rolled on the opening weekend through a goalless draw with reigning Supporters’ Shield winners, Philadelphia Union, before having a bye last weekend. However, given the persuasive way that Philadelphia crushed Atlanta United FC 3-0 in Tuesday night’s first leg of their Champions League quarter-final, maybe that result wasn’t that bad.
The CONCACAF Champions League track record of the crew against Mexican competition is far from impressive, however, with just one win from six games played. Conversely, Monterrey has a reasonably distinguished record against MLS opposition, winning 12 games on nine occasions. Wednesday’s game is the first Columbus-Monterrey encounter.
Columbus hopes to enjoy playmaker Lucas Zelarayan’s experience. The Argentine is no stranger to the CCL, having reached the final in 2019 with Monterrey’s local rivals Tigres, only to be short against their neighbors.
Though Monterrey handily dispatched their own 16 opponents round, posting a pair of three-goal games on their way to a 6-1 aggregate victory over Dominican Republic’s Atletico Pantoja, they have struggled since. Monterrey lost three consecutive Mexican league games and had a player disqualified in each of those defeats.
While the team is only fourth in the Liga MX Clausura, it probably clings to a good omen, with the team winning the championship in three of the four previous times it entered the knockout phases.
Timbers break new ground
Eventually, any team looking to go far in this tournament will face Mexican opposition. So, in the team’s first trip to the knockout stages, it’s only normal that Portland encounters a Liga MX team and may face ideal opposition in Club America. While Club America has won this competition seven times, it has three wins against MLS teams in nine games.
On top of that, in all competitions, Club America is winless in three games, including a 1-0 defeat at home to Olimpia in the last round of the Champions League, although it squeaked through to the last eight goals.
However, Portland will be placing a patchwork lineup here, with Steve Clark, Jeremy Ebobisse, Aljaz Ivacic, Ismaila Jome and Jaroslaw Niezgoda all injured, while Sebastian Blanco is also in doubt after picking up an ACL injury that caused him to miss Houston’s weekend win.
Club America Showing Cracks
Club America, arguably North America’s most successful band, has a fabled reputation and a matching trophy cabinet. But they haven’t won CONCACAF since clinching a second consecutive CONCACAF Champions League in 2016, and they haven’t won a Liga MX championship since winning the 2018 Apertura.
And although they were far from convincing in advancing to the quarterfinal, they finished third in Apertura at home in Mexico and are currently fourth in Clausura, losing two of their last six away matches, most recently falling 3-1 to Toluca last weekend.
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