MLS teams must combat ugly history in CCL knockout second legs in Mexico
This week, all things considered, was a win for MLS in the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals. San Jose played second-place Liga MX side Toluca to a 1-1 draw thanks to last-second heroics from Alan Gordon. Sporting Kansas City topped Liga-MX leader Cruz Azul 1-0, and the LA Galaxy topped border rival Club Tijuana by the same scoreline. Now comes the hard part.
All three must venture on the road next week to Mexican soil, where no MLS team has ever eliminated a Mexican team in CCL knockout play. If recent history is any indication, the MLS teams will have wanted to stockpile more goals at home, because the road ahead has not proven to be kind. Ever since the CCL went to its new format in 2008-2009, knockout series that appear to be close after the MLS team hosts the first leg have gotten away from the MLS sides when the scene shifts south of the border.
Proof is in the results:
First Leg: Houston takes 1-0 lead over Santos Laguna in the quarterfinals.
Second Leg: Santos Laguna wins in Mexico 3-0, takes series 3-1 on aggregate.
First Leg: LA carries 2-1 deficit to Monterrey after semifinals home leg.
Second Leg: Monterrey finishes off the Galaxy with a 1-0 second-leg win.
First Leg: Seattle loses to Santos Laguna 1-0 in its semifinals home leg.
Second Leg: Santos Laguna goes to the final after a 1-1 draw in the second leg.
First Leg: Seattle tops Santos Laguna 2-1 in the quarterfinals.
Second Leg: Santos Laguna thrashes the Sounders 6-1 in Mexico.
First Leg: Toronto FC holds Santos Laguna to a 1-1 draw in the semifinals in Canada.
Second Leg: Santos Laguna routs TFC 6-2 in Mexico.
First Leg: Columbus Crew play Toluca to a 2-2 draw in the quarterfinals.
Second Leg: Toluca goes through after a 3-2 win in Mexico.
First Leg: Houston and Atlante play to a 1-1 draw in the quarterfinals in Texas.
Second Leg: Atlante routs the Dynamo 3-0 in Mexico.
As for the specific teams still alive, Sporting Kansas City and the LA Galaxy are two of the stronger units MLS has ever put forth in the CCL and avoided conceding away goals, which is a huge plus. San Jose carries its never-say-die attitude proudly, even though conceding an away goal to Toluca makes the road ahead a bit more treacherous. Perhaps one, or more, of the teams can break through and do what no other MLS team has done before.
Certainly the sample size of history isn't all that large, and MLS nemesis Santos Laguna is not involved (though former Santos hitman, MLS killer and U.S. international Herculez Gomez looms as a threat with Tijuana if Wednesday's run off the bench is an indicator).
But after Wednesday night's morale-lifting victories, the prevailing takeaway was: Well done, but did MLS sides build big enough of an advantage? History would suggest not.