Good Friday morning party people, we are one week away (more or less) from the start of the regular season and I have to say I’m pretty excited—I’m sure the Caps will have fully and completely let me down by May but riding the optimism of a new season is still kinda fun.
The true sign that the season is close at hand? MLS teams are playing competitive matches that actually mean something! Like in a real tournament!
Yes that music you hear is CONCACAF Champions League music and you can keep your UEFA Champions League and Copa Libertadores because this is without a doubt the best (aka the most meme worthy) continental championship on the face of the earth.
If you watched the first round of CCL matches you saw six teams come back to either tie or take the lead in the second half. You saw raucous Central American stadium atmospheres, a dodgy pitch, lots of crunching challenges (some of which went mysteriously unpunished), multiple trips out onto the pitch with a stretcher for a conveniently winded Portmore United keeper and much much more.
CCL is truly the gift that keeps on giving. And while only one MLS team actually won their respective first-leg (NYCFC saw off Deportiva San Carlos 5-3 in Costa Rica), all of them have a chance of winning their tie on the return leg.
LAFC put in probably the most disappointing performance, falling 2-0 to Leon in Mexico. On one hand, Leon have been a power in Liga MX this season, sitting third in the table, a mere two points of first. They have been even better at home—LAFC actually came closer to beating them than any Liga MX opponent has in the Leon Stadium, despite the 2-0 defeat.
But the prevailing problem for all the MLS teams is they just looked flat and really lost their legs in the second half. This is underscored by Montreal and Seattle blowing 2-0 leads and Atlanta starting slow, only to come back and draw 1-1. All of these teams got crucial away goals and are in a pretty good spot ahead of the return fixture. But they could have gotten even more had the teams been at full fitness.
To be sure, the timing of CCL has certainly hindered MLS teams in the past. And the route to the finals for all of the league’s squads, with the possible exception of Seattle, are tricky. It is unclear that any of the teams want to put as many resources into the competition as Toronto did a couple years back, when they were a skied Michael Bradley penalty away from winning the whole thing.
But these are the heady early days, before the reality of getting smashed by Liga MX sets in. And these were some pretty entertaining games, with LAFC the lone team not to score a goal. The Central American teams, always strong at home, were in fine form, with Alianza FC actually beating Tigres and Comunicaciones holding Club America (in second in Liga MX) 1-1 in Guatemala. Portmore United were similarly minutes away from getting a shock 1-0 win over Cruz Azul in Kingston but the Mexican side scored 2 in stoppage time to pull out a win (presumably they have to uphold their brand of not falling on their face until the final).
The last time a CCL final featured a team from outside the U.S., Canada and Mexico? You would have to go back to 2008, the last match before the competition was rebranded and restructured as the CCL, when Pachuca put Saprissa to the sword 3-2 on aggregate (incidentally there was an all Costa Rican final just four years prior). That feat seems unlikely to happen again this year (Saprissa were actually favored to beat Montreal, to be fair) and the hard reality in 2020 is that the Mexican teams will likely smash their undermanned opponents at home next week. But if the CCL is to become a bigger tournament and not an afterthought or merely a way for Liga MX and MLS to measure to measure their manhood, we’re gonna need more Portmore Uniteds to bring the Magic of the Cup (TM) alive.
In Whitecaps land? Well they’re still in Portland, having defeated New England Revolution 2-0 behind goals from Ali Adnan and Lucas Cavallini, although El Tanque departed with a slight knock. Everyone in Whitecaps world will be holding their breath that it isn’t serious and presumably MDS is rushing to bubble wrap Adnan and In-Beom Hwang ahead of the season opener in a week’s time.
Shameless Self Promotion
Alright folks, buckle up because it was a busy week at 86F. To start us off, Caleb breaks down the last preseason match and what it might mean for opening day.
But the real meat of this week’s content has been the installments of our season preview roundtable, in which we all give our 100% failsafe, accurate opinions and predictions. You can find them all here:
Plenty of stories there to get you through your Friday pm at work
Best of the Rest
The Caps have been on fire from set pieces this preseason. JJ Adams takes a closer look
The Lee Dong-gyeong saga drags on for Vancouver, for what could be the final piece to the Caps’ puzzle this offseason
Ulsan have confirmed that they’ve received a $600K offer in transfer fee for Lee Dong-gyeong from #VWFC. They’re still discussing the deal internally, but plan to make a decision this week. Vancouver are the only side to have submitted a formal offer for Lee this winter.— Steve Han • 한만성 (@realstevescores) February 18, 2020
The details for this years Leagues Cup have been released and T God the Caps are not involved in any of this
The most generous predictor in mlssoccer.com’s season preview had the Caps finishing ninth and multiple people had them finishing last (which IMO seems harsh)
MLS has a new code of conduct regulations in place for fans this season, seemingly addressing the thorny issue of politics in the terraces head on