Thursday, May 13, 2021

CCL Takeaways: The good, the bad and the ugly for MLS teams in first legs

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We all know the story of MLS teams in the Concacaf Champions League, with no winner emerging from the league in the competition’s modern iteration. In recent years, various teams have fallen short at the quarterfinal stage. However, this edition of the competition has the feel that history might just be in the making.

For the first time ever, five MLS teams are in the Quarterfinals! With the first leg of games in the books, here’s how each team fared…

The Good

Philadelphia Union logo

Philadelphia Union

The 2020 Supporters’ Shield winners have gotten their quarterfinal tie against Atlanta United off to a roaring start with Polish Striker, Kacper Przybylko netting two goals and providing one assist in a 3-0 win Tuesday night in Atlanta.

This is particularly promising for Union fans since Przybylko was oftentimes close, but no cigar in front of goal last year. But what a difference a year makes! The man from Bielefeld, seems to particularly love CCL, and is the tournament’s current top goal scorer with four goals.

But let’s be honest, their first half was unimpressive. If they want to get to the semifinals, the Union will want to avoid sitting back and absorbing Atlanta’s pressure in the second leg. Head Coach Jim Curtin should take note of the second-half turnaround by having his team press Atlanta. Also, keep it simple and start the dancing Brazilian Sergio Santos, who made a sizable impact when he came on at halftime.

One thing of note is Venezuelan defensive midfielder Jose Martinez will be missing in action for the second leg through suspension. That’s a big blow on the defensive end, especially as Curtin doesn’t have much depth a defensive midfield. Curtin will have to reshuffle the pack, potentially by pushing defender Jack Elliott into the midfield, and bring in Scottish center back Stuart Findlay. Oh and play Anthony “Tony Montana” Fontana’; the kid tends to score in big games.

Portland Timbers logo

Portland Timbers

It ain’t over until it’s over. The Portland Timbers proved just that as they came back to get a valuable 1-1 draw against Liga MX giants, Club America.

The first half was one to forget for the Timbers. Club America were all over them; baiting Portland’s center backs into pressing traps and causing turnovers by sitting in a compact mid-block defensively. The Timbers were so close to escaping Club America’s shoot-on-site approach, but Argentinian left back Claudio Bravo unnecessarily lunged in on Richard Sanchez, who was going away from goal, and gave up a penalty kick.

The second half saw a completely different Portland Timbers. They scrapped their intricate passing style and went direct to their wingers with diagonal balls, by-passing Club America’s midfield press. Dairon Asprilla and Yimmi Chara started coming to life, and both had clear-cut chances to level the game but they couldn’t find the far post on both occasions.

Portland kept throwing numbers forward . . .

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