During the past couple of weeks I have been following the CONCACAF Champions League knockout stages. I must admit that the last-16 were largely a bit of a bore with huge differences in the quality between the teams, except for the fact that Toronto FC defeated a poor Leon, the 2020 Guardianes champions.
Perhaps this would be the year for an MLS teams to take the title (since the creation of the CONCACAF Champions League in 2008, Mexican teams have won every time): of the eight quarterfinal sides, five were MLS teams (Portland Timbers, Toronto FC, Columbis Crew, Philadelphia Union and Atlanta United), while only three Mexican sides were represented (América, Cruz Azul and Monterrey).
But it was not to be: after the quarterfinals, only one MLS team remains, namely Philadelphia, who defeated a surprisingly weak Atlanta United.
In general, the biggest surprise of the quarterfinals was, in my view, how weak the MLS sides appeared when faced with quality Mexican opposition.
Toronto FC, whom I would have rated better after eliminating Leon, lost 1-3 at home, but in the return match in Mexico City, looked as a side that had already given up against a Cruz Azul side that barely needed to make an effort to win 1-0 in a very boring match. Columbus Crew was a bit better against Monterrey, and gained a 2-2 draw at home as the Mexicans did not concentrate at the end of the match; but back in Nuevo León there was little doubt of the Rayados' better quality as they won 3-1 against a Columbus side that also looked that they had given up beforehand.
Portland Timbers were aided by dreadful refereeing at home against América with an extra time penalty to make it 1-1. In Mexico City, Portland Timbers at least fought for their chance in what was the best of the four second-leg matches. But America was concentrated and played offensively in a match they won 3-1 (and don't mind another round of dreadful refereeing assisted by VAR!).
After the quarterfinals the semifinals (that will take place in August) look as such:
- Monterrey-Cruz Azul
- América-Philadelphia Union
Of course Philadelphia has a chance of making it to the final, and taking the title, but odds are probably on an all-Mexican final, where América-Cruz Azul would be a modern classic between the two rivals from Mexico City.