The Dynamo did what was required Tuesday, winning at home in the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals. Next Wednesday, the men in orange will visit Torreon — a venue where last year both the Seattle Sounders and Toronto FC conceded six goals in the final leg of their respective knockout stages.
Will this year be different in Torreon? If not, MLS will turn to Seattle in Mexico on Wednesday against Tigres in a first leg. And Thursday night in Costa Rica, where the Los Angeles Galaxy begins its series against Herediano.
Winning the CONCACAF championship — and placing a team in FIFA’s Club World Cup — won’t bring sweeping worldwide credibility. But it will go a long way toward establishing the young league’s credentials and, along the way, make MLS a more attractive destination, particularly for Latin American players.
Since moving to a Champions League format in the fall of 2008, CONCACAF has crowned four Mexican clubs. In three of the finals, Mexico also boasted the runner-up. The only exception was 2010-11, when Real Salt Lake earned a 2-2 draw at Monterrey but then stumbled at home, 1-0, falling agonizing short of a Club World Cup berth.
This year, MLS has three cracks at finally winning this thing. Seattle and Los Angeles will have the advantage of playing their second-leg quarterfinals at home next week.
MLS teams have won the CONCACAF championship — D.C. United in 1998 and the Galaxy two years later — but there was no Club World Cup to attend. The first FIFA club event took place in 2000, months before Los Angeles defeated Olimpia (Honduras), and wasn’t contested again until 2005.
Had FIFA staged a 1998 Club World Cup, United would have joined Real Madrid, Vasco da Gama, Mimosas (Ivory Coast) and Pohong Steelers (South Korea). A tournament following the Galaxy’s CONCACAF triumph would have included Real Madrid, Boca Juniors, Hearts of Oak (Ghana) and Al-Hilal (Saudi Arabia). Not bad company for a league seeking traction in the international marketplace.
Alas, United and the Galaxy were ahead of their time. Too bad, because a place on the global stage in MLS’s infancy would have done wonders.
Since 2000, however, the league’s only CONCACAF finalist has been RSL two years ago. That’s one out of 11 attempts — a dismal record given American soccer ambitions. In that time, Costa Rica has sent four teams to the regional finals, with two (Alajuelense and Saprissa) winning titles.
Here’s how the CONCACAF quarterfinals stack up (away goals are in effect):
Houston Dynamo vs. Santos Laguna
First leg: Dynamo wins, 1-0.
Second leg: Next Wednesday in Torreon, 8 p.m. ET
Xelaju vs. Monterrey
First leg: Wednesday in Guatemala, 8 p.m. (Galavision, foxsoccer2go.com)
Second leg: Next Tuesday in Mexico, 8 p.m.
Tigres vs. Seattle Sounders
First leg: Wednesday in Mexico, 10 p.m. (Fox Soccer, Galavision)
Second leg: Next Tuesday in Seattle, 10 p.m.
Herediano vs. Los Angeles Galaxy
First leg: Thursday in Costa Rica, 8 p.m. (Fox Soccer, Univision Deportes)
Second leg: Next Wednesday in California, 10 p.m.
Semifinal pairings, April 2-4 and 9-11
Houston-Santos winner vs. Tigres-Seattle winner
Herediano-L.A. winner vs. Xelaju-Monterrey winner
Finals: April 24 and May 1