CONCACAF Watch: Central America has a chance for historic CCL

Heading into the final round of group play, a record number Central American clubs have a chance to move onto the quarterfinals of the tournament.

CONCACAF is broken down into three sub-regions, but for the most part North America continues to dominate Central America and the Caribbean. No team from outside North America ever has lifted the Gold Cup, and a Mexican team has won the CONCACAF Champions League crown. Despite Costa Rica's rise to CONCACAF giant and consecutive World Cup appearances by Honduras, power in the club game seemed to be continuing to swing north. That idea gained steam from the 2015-16 CCL quarterfinals, which pitted four Liga MX teams against four MLS counterparts.

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This year, however, Central America has struck back with a vengeance, and the final week of the CCL could see as many as six Central American teams into the quarterfinals. That won't happen, but one team, Arabe Unido, already is through and it looks like at least one more will be able to slot into the knockout stages. That would still fall well short of the record four that made up half of the bracket in the 2014-15 

But with Arabe Unido triumphing over Monterrey and three teams playing what amount to play-in matches this week, it's clear the club soccer in the subregion still has plenty of quality. The days of winning the tournament, as a Central American club did 13 times before the CCL format was adopted, still seem far away. But the Panamanian club knocking out the Liga MX runner-up brings Central American dreams back into focus.

Arabe Unido's story is incredible, but as normal it may be the Costa Rican teams have the best chance to push past the quarterfinals. Saprissa, always a giant, boasts a talented team that seems to score at will in domestic play. Los Morados also face a Portland Timbers team perhaps more focused on what it has to do to get back into the MLS playoffs after winning the league in 2015 than getting to the next stage of the CCL. That's a better matchup than Herediano, but two late goals after a Francisco Calvo sending-off gave Herediano the victory over Saprissa on Saturday. The teams are running neck-and-neck, but Herediano must travel to face Tigres, a trip that doesn't seem to have lowered the enthusiasm around the club.

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"We come in with a really high level of motivation," Herediano assistant Mauricio Solis told La Nacion. "The win against Saprissa, how that went and the work the players have put in fills us with confidence for what's coming up, not just the game against the Mexican side but also for the domestic championship."

Of course, Herediano can thank a fellow Central American side for making this deciding match possible. Plaza Almador's win over Tigres kept the Mexican team from clinching.

The work is much more difficult for Honduran champion Olimpia and their countrymen Honduras Progreso. Olimpia would have to knock off red-hot Pachuca and do it by more than one goal, while Progreso needs eliminated W Connection to steal a result from Pumas.

FC Dallas heads to Guatemala to face off again with Suchitepequez, and the Guatemalan side will have to hope that the club's focus is solidly on its chance to lift the Supporters' Shield , though Guatemalan legend Carlos Ruiz getting back on the board in MLS play this weekend speaks to the depth FCD has even after playmaker Mauro Diaz's injury.

Taken as a whole, the Central American teams can come away proud of their performance in this tournament, especially as more Liga MX and MLS teams put their strongest sides out for CCL matches. The balance of power in the region stays centered in Mexico and the rest of North America, but Central America still has plenty to say in the competition.