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Path to CONCACAF Champions League glory goes through Mexico

In order for the Sounders to become the first MLS team to win the CCL, they’ll most likely have to defeat some of Liga MX’s top teams.

MLS: CONCACAF Champions League-Club America at Seattle Sounders Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

No MLS club has ever won CONCACAF Champoins League. In fact, every year since 2008, a Mexican club has taken the honors. Back in 2011, Real Salt Lake was the first team from MLS to reach the finals in the modern version of the tournament. And guess who their general manager was? You got it: Garth Lagerwey. Back in December, when the brackets for the tournament were drawn, Lagerway had this to say:

“We believe that the way to grow our league is to win Champions League. That’s an ambition of our club, it’s an ambition of our league and it’s incumbent upon us to get better in an effort to try and go out and win the thing.”

Seattle Sounders have the opportunity this year to not only put themselves, but all of MLS on the world stage. In order to do that, they’ll have to defeat the best teams in the region, including Liga MX, whose teams have dominated the Champions League for almost a decade. With the history of Mexican victors in this tournament, the odds are that the Sounders are fighting for a chance to face off against Chivas de Guadalajara, the weakest looking of the Mexican sides, in the quarterfinals.

In order to earn the opportunity to face a Liga MX side, though, they first need to defeat El Salvador’s Santa Tecla FC, who qualified by winning back-to-back championships, first the Salvadoran Primera División 2016 Apertura and then the 2017 Clausura championships. And they’re going to have to do this with only a handful of preseason matches between now and the start of the tournament, just three days before their first MLS match against expansion side Los Angeles FC.

The additional CCL matches on the Sounders schedule is no doubt going to test the depth of the squad. The Sounders brass has made it clear that the CCL is not a competition that they are taking lightly, and at the same time, starting off the MLS season on a high note has to be a priority. Finding the balance between the two is a challenge it seems like the team believes it is prepared for.

“We really have to look at the depth of the squad as we build it,” Lageway said, “because I think we’re going to need absolutely everybody in this coming year. We’re going to need guys who can play 30, 40 games potentially in terms of fielding our best teams.”

The list of MLS teams in the tournament represent the best of the best over the past two seasons: Seattle, Toronto, Dallas, New York Red Bulls, and Colorado. The first chance the Sounders have to face a fellow MLS club is not until the semifinals, if the New York Red Bulls are able to make it that far. The other three MLS clubs are on the opposite side of the bracket. In order for the Red Bulls to meet us in the semis, they’ll potentially have to face the second weakest Mexican team in the tournament, Tiajuana.

The Sounders certainly seem to have a favorable draw in the bracket, as they would not have to face Tigres nor Club América, two of the three best teams in Liga MX, until the final. Toronto, Colorado and Dallas all have the unenviable task of potentially having to beat both of those teams just to get to the final.

The opening match for the Sounders is on Thursday, February 22 in El Salvador. The second leg is at CenturyLink Field on Thursday, March 1. Single game tickets are now available for this match. Both matches have a 7 p.m. PT kick off.

The opening round of 16 takes place between February 20-March 1. The quarterfinals will then be held from March 6-14. The semis take place from April 4-11, with the final being held between April 18-25. Here are the round of 16 match ups, followed by the full bracket:

2018 CONCACAF Champions League Round of 16 matchups:

CD Guadalajara (MEX) vs. Cibao FC (DOM)

Seattle Sounders vs. Santa Tecla (SLV)

New York Red Bulls vs. CD Olimpia (HON)

Club Tijuana (MEX) vs. FC Motagua (HON)

Tigres UANL (MEX) vs. Herediano (CRC)

Toronto FC vs. Colorado Rapids

FC Dallas vs. Tauro FC (PAN)

Club América (MEX) vs. Saprissa (CRC)

Courtesy of CONCACAF

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