Are we headed for a glimpse of the future?
Real Salt Lake has improved Major League Soccer’s chances at placing four teams in the knockout rounds of the CONCACAF Champions League.
RSL’s 2-1 comeback win over visiting Santa Tecla on Thursday lifted the group into first place in Group G with just one match left in group play, as Municipal visits Rio Tinto on Oct. 20.
There, a draw or better will allow RSL to join Seattle, Los Angeles and DC United in the knockout rounds. A fifth MLS side, Vancouver, was knocked out at the expense of the Sounders.
The results are in extreme contrast to the 2014-15 Champions League. While Montreal did make it to the CCL final against America, only DC United joined the Impact in the knockout rounds. New York Red Bulls, Sporting KC and Portland all failed in group play.
MLS has yet to see four clubs make it into the knockout rounds. If RSL gets its result, UANL gets a point or better against Herediano and Santos Laguna holds serve in its finale against Saprissa, all eight combatants in the knockout rounds will be from Mexico or the U.S.
Since the tourney is based on seeding, there’s no guarantee of MLS vs. La Liga matchups in the Round of 16, but we can project several tantalizing ones should the right teams advance and other results go as planned (No guarantees, as some qualified teams may use lesser squads and lose out on position).
Club America (1) vs. Seattle Sounders (8)
L.A. Galaxy (2) vs. Queretaro (7)
DC United (3) vs. Santos Laguna (6)
Real Salt Lake (4) vs. UANL Tigres (5)
Without even weighing things like Giovani Dos Santos going against a Liga MX club, or Ventura Alvarado staring down opponents who wish they had his spot on Jurgen Klinsmann’s USMNT, this would be sweet.
Given the money in Liga MX and MLS, this could become the norm in the competition. And, for now, that’s just what this competition needs to ratchet it up another level (at least here). Minnows will become better stories.
In the long-term, maybe it’ll need fixing. For now, let’s go.