CONCACAF Watch: Who will advance to the CCL semifinals?
Pick a side!
In this world of hot takes and partisanism, everyone is always telling you why this is good or bad, who will win or who won't. We're no exception, really.
But we're throwing that out the window with our CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal preview. With Saprissa and Pachuca getting the knockout round underway Tuesday with the first leg of what could one of the most entertaining quarterfinal series in recent memory, we take a look at all four CCL quarterfinal series and provide a path to victory for both sides.
PACHUCA vs. SAPRISSA
Why Pachuca will win: Hirving Lozano, for one. "El Chucky" has five goals in this competition, though the rising Mexico star racked up the scoring with four tallies an 11-0 win in Belize against Police United. Still, he's difficult to stop, and it's clear that Pachuca's eyes are on the prize. Lozano, center back Omar Gonzalez, forward Franco Jara and midfielders Jonathan Urretaviscaya and Erick Gutierrez were among the players who didn't start Tuzos' 1-0 defeat on Monterrey.
Mexican teams haven't also put a priority on the tournament at this stage, but Diego Alonso is targeting the club's fifth continental championship and second in the CCL era. Few teams go from playing without the ball to surging forward in attack as quickly as the Uruguayan coach's side, with Lozano on the wing and Urretaviscaya in the middle causing plenty of headaches for defenders.
Pachuca went through a rare goal drought in league play, but is now playing well in the league despite the weekend loss. Its attack poses a handful for the best teams in the region, and Saprissa will struggle to keep Tuzos off the board.
Why Saprissa will win: Pachuca wasn't the only team resting players ahead of Tuesday's first leg. Saprissa's eyes have been fixed on this tie for some time, and a group composed largely of reserves topped Liberia, 4-1 this weekend. The top side was hit a bit by the transfer market but remains a regional power. It also held on to a few players who could've gone abroad and is set on getting past Pachuca to perhaps become the first non-Mexican team to lift the CCL title.
Forward Daniel Colindres has been in good form, scoring in the win against Liberia, and Marvin Angulo is set to return from injury. There's little doubt the No. 10 has the quality to create chances for the region's top teams, though his form could be affected by a recent ankle injury that has kept him out of action. Roy Miller also should return to play in a defense that will be tested by Pachuca.
But the first leg in Estadio Saprissa should be a big opportunity for The Monstruo against a Pachuca team that has won just one of its last six games away from home.
VANCOUVER WHITECAPS vs. NEW YORK RED BULLS
Why the Whitecaps will win: The team has overhauled its attack during the offseason , though the No. 1 seed in the tournament had little trouble scoring in CONCACAF Champions League play. The Whitecaps scored 10 goals in a group with Sporting Kansas City and Central FC, finishing with a +8 goal difference.
With new signing Fredy Montero not yet available for Vancouver, the job will fall to Kekuta Manneh to generate chances wide, with Christian Bolanos and Peruvian midfielder Yordy Reyna set to miss the opener because of injuries. The goals could still come for Vancouver, with plenty of goals during the group stage coming from Cristian Techera.
The team failed to beat an MLS team in a preseason game, but last year's campaign showed that the CCL can bring something out in Carl Robinson's group.
Why the Red Bulls will win: The Red Bulls need nothing more than to get on the field. It's been a strange offseason with sporting director Ali Curtis and beloved midfielder Dax McCarty among those heading through the exits. The team has won half of its preseason friendlies, but now it's time for a meaningful contest.
The team is looking to move past last year's disappointing playoff exit , and what better way than getting a victory Wednesday against the fellow MLS side? Several young players from the Red Bulls' system are ready for time and could see it this week, especially in defense. Up top, Bradley Wright-Phillips and Gonzalo Veron could lead the line with Sacha Kljestan pulling the strings - and wearing the armband.
Jesse Marsch will have his team ready for this game, and hope that the noise of the offseason will grow quiet with a positive quarterfinal result.
PUMAS vs. TIGRES
Why Pumas will win: The club's winter acquisitions already are working well, with Nicolas Castillo scoring three goals. One of those (perhaps two, taking his tally to four if a goal appeal comes back in his favor) came in Pumas' thrilling comeback Sunday against Tijuana. After falling behind by three goals, the Mexico City side rallied to a 3-3 draw. That momentum, while not enough to get three points, should carry over to this week.
Jesus Gallardo and Pablo Barrera have started the season in red-hot form and could cause issues for Tigres, which likes to play through the wings but could have trouble finding the ball and getting it to its quick wide players.
Pumas sits above Tigres in the league table, riding a balanced team to a playoff position as Tigres struggles. Pumas may have dropped points its last three, but this series could be the one in which coach Paco Palencia is able to get the most out of his players.
Why Tigres will win: The dark days of the past month are just that - in the past. Tigres looked like itself in the second half of Friday's victory against Veracruz with Andre-Pierre Gignac scoring a goal and giving out an assist. Ricardo "Tuca" Ferretti's side controlled the match to snap a three-match losing streak, and the attacking issues that cropped up don't seem to be a problem any more.
Tigres would love to get back to the CCL final and find a different result this time around after a difficult 2-0 loss in the first leg of the final at home that set the team up for a 3-1 aggregate defeat. The reigning Liga MX champion is one of the deepest teams in the Americas, and even if Tuca rotates a few players, it will still be an experienced squad.
Between Gignac up top, Ismael Sosa and Jurgen Damm on the wings, and an experienced back line protected by Guido Pizarro and Jesus Duenas, this is a squad that has the quality to not only to get past Pumas but to lift the trophy.
ARABE UNIDO vs. FC DALLAS
Why Arabe Unido will win: Throw the element of surprise out the window. Look no farther than FC Dallas coach Oscar Pareja's deep dive into the teams FCD played during the group stage for evidence of that. But Pareja's Colombian compatriot Sergio Guzman doesn't need to pull out any tricks. This is a team that got past Monterrey - and not even a Monterrey club using an alternate side - on two occasions in group play.
Guzman lines up one of the toughest back lines in Central America, with newly acquired right back Roberto Chen back in the domestic game after disappointing in Europe and South America. Dominican goalkeeper Miguel Lloyd backs up that strong unit. And as the team showed in the group stage, there are plenty of scoring threats.
There's also the calendar factor that has so often kept MLS sides from moving through. Arabe Unido is seven matches into the LPF season, while FCD is headed off to Los Angeles to start its MLS campaign after the second leg in Panama. Oh, speaking of that second leg, FCD has never won in Central America, with both Real Esteli and Suchitepequez earning draws in group play. While it's not the Colon-based side's home stadium, the Estadio Rommel Fernandez should provide a nice home-field advantage for the climate if not for the atmosphere in the capital.
Why FC Dallas will win: The MLS side has the talent advantage and took advantage of more than a week in Argentina to get match action against Argentine clubs whose season has been delayed. MLS sides often have lacked match fitness at this stage of the CCL, with league play not underway. Those which have excelled include the Montreal Impact, who trained in Mexico and played friendly matches against Mexican clubs before their run to the final in 2015.
"Playing so many games down here in preseason is very helpful because you get those minutes with those guys and kind of start to get those tendencies down," center back Matt Hedges told Goal last week.
It's not just that. Arabe Unido's No. 2 seed speaks to its ability in the CCL knockout stage, but midfielder Edgar Yoel Barcenas has moved to the Mexican second division along with defender Angel Patrick. The team still remains strong with Panama midfielders Amilcar Henriquez and Jose Gonzalez, who is tied for top scorer in the CCL, still among the ranks. But things aren't clicking at the domestic level, leaving FCD to take advantage.