Buckle up for CCL Heartbreak

Mar 8, 2022; Seattle, Washington, USA; Seattle Sounders defender Nouhou Tolo (5) passes the ball
Mar 8, 2022; Seattle, Washington, USA; Seattle Sounders defender Nouhou Tolo (5) passes the ball / Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

Every single MLS commentator has waxed poetic in some medium or another about how big of an opportunity this season is in the Concacaf Champions League. MLS has four teams on the brink of clinching a spot in the semifinal, including New York City FC who already made it to the final four.

But for all the hope on the side of American clubs, last night showed that we could be in for some classic #freespace heartbreak.

NYCFC got through by the skin of their teeth, giving up four goals to Comunicaciones of Guatemala, only advancing through away goals after a 5-5 tie across two legs. This looked like a done deal after a 3-1 win for New York in the opening leg, but this nearly went south for the reigning MLS champions.

If the best team in MLS can nearly blow a big lead in Guatemala, what could happen to New England and Seattle in Mexico?

Heartbreak is looming for fans of Major League Soccer. It looked like a done deal to have at least three teams in the semi-final, but how can we expect both Seattle and New England to hold onto a lead against good Mexican opposition?

An MLS team hasn't won in Mexico since 2019, when Sporting Kansas City beat Toluca. Almost every time an American (or Canadian) team goes south of the border, they lose. And usually they lose bad. The combination of travel, altitude and quality of competition makes midweek road trips to Mexico near un-winnable for MLS teams.

I fully expect one of New England and Seattle to choke this week. Montreal head home with a 1-0 deficit against Cruz Azul, the same deficit they overcame against Santos Laguna in the first round, but Cruz Azul are one of the best teams in Mexico and are most likely to win this whole competition. Montreal could've lost that first leg 8-0 if Cruz Azul was more clinical in front of goal.

MLS is closing whatever gap remains between itself and Liga MX. The margins are thinner than ever and more and more MLS teams are spending aggressively to increase the quality of competition stateside. Even with that decreasing gap, this particular tournament is a near impossible task for MLS teams to win without a comprehensive talent advantage. The travel and condensed schedule on preseason fitness is always going to cause issues, and with the current structure of MLS salaries, there's not enough depth to compete consistently. But even if MLS can't win this tournament this year or any year, the progress in the league is undeniable, and the leagues are more even than ever.