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CCL wrap: Stoppage-time GK goal saves Tigres; Henry’s Montreal grinds it out

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Wednesday’s CONCACAF Champions League nearly featured an upset for the ages.

It will have to be content with a finish for all time.

El Salvador’s Alianza came back from a 4-2 aggregate deficit to nearly knock UANL Tigres out of the CCL, but Tigres goalkeeper Nahuel Guzman provided a stoppage time goal to eliminate the upstarts.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Tigres will now meet Ronny Delia’s New York City FC, who had little trouble holding up its first-leg lead over San Carlos.

Thierry Henry’s Montreal had to sweat out a scoreless draw with Saprissa, but rode its two away goals to a date with either Seattle or Olimpia.

Guatemala’s Comunicaciones and Club America are the final match of Wednesday, kicking off at 10 a.m. ET.

UANL Tigres 4-2 (5-4 agg.) Alianza

What a match. Down 2-1 after one leg, Tigres scored thrice in the first 23 minutes. Ex-West Ham man Enner Valencia struck first before Andre-Pierre Gignac score in the 17th and 23rd.

But Juan Carlos Portillo scored twice in nine minutes before halftime to put the away goals advantage in the Salvadorans’ corner.

Tigres out-attempted Alianza 19-6 but couldn’t get it done, and my goodness did it need shot No. 19 from its Argentine international backstop.

Great header for a goalie.

Montreal Impact 0-0 (2-2 agg.) Deportivo Saprissa

This was a dreadful match, but it won’t bother Titi too much; Henry’s men had just 31 percent of the ball and nearly scored anyway through Shamit Shome.

The Impact showed a lot of guts and discipline in frustrating the Costa Ricans, who were disappointed when Clement Diop made an incredible save in the 89th minute.

NYCFC 1-0 (6-3 agg.) San Carlos

Alexander Callens scored the lone goal of the contest, the damage done in Costa Rica last week.

Speaking of damage done, Delia had a “Welcome to CONCACAF officiating” moment.

 

CONCACAF Champions League preview: Five MLS sides eye history

CONCACAF Champions League preview
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Once the Premier League and La Liga had taken their final bows of the day on Saturday, there felt was a particular absence, one soon-to-be filled by domestic soccer.

Yes, MLS is coming soon, and the CONCACAF Champions League is even closer.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ] 

Five MLS sides begin their Round of 16 ties over the next three evenings, some with easier paths than others to elusive CCL glory.

The competition may not have burned itself onto the mainstream, lagging behind continental competitions in Europe and South America, but those who’ve embraced it (hint: this guy) love the thing.

For all the progress Major League Soccer has made in its quarter-century, it’s yet to find much success in dealing with Liga MX powers in the fight to qualify for the Club World Cup.

MLS sides have not won the competition since it was rebranded the CCL. Only three MLS sides have made the CCL final this decade, with Real Salt Lake (2011), Montreal Impact (2015), and Toronto FC (2017) all coming up short at the last step.

The CCL provides everything you love and hate about World Cup qualifying, and those dicey pitches with sometimes worse lighting mean the favorites aren’t guaranteed much.

The top half of the bracket sees three MLS teams — Montreal, Seattle, and NYCFC — and just one Liga MX side, while the bottom half gives us a Liga MX v. MLS match-up straight away.

That’s Leon v. LAFC, and it begins Tuesday night in Mexico. That tie carries the added intrigue of MLS superstar Carlos Vela bringing his act back to his home country for the first time… ever.

Bracket

Saprissa (Costa Rica) v. Montreal — 8 p.m. ET Weds.
Olimpia (Honduras) v. Seattle — 10 p.m. ET Thurs.

San Carlos (Costa Rica) v. NYCFC — 8 p.m. ET Thurs.
Alianza (El Salvador) v. UANL Tigres — 8 p.m. ET Weds.

Leon v. LAFC — 10 p.m. ET Tues.
Portmore United (Jamaica) v. Cruz Azul — 8 p.m. ET Tues.

Comunicaciones (Guatemala) v. Club America — 10 p.m. ET Weds.
Montagua (Honduras) v. Atlanta United — 10 p.m. ET Tues.

Report: NYCFC nearing new Bronx stadium deal

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According to a report by David Waldstein of the New York Times, Major League Soccer club NYCFC is close to a deal with New York City for a privately financed soccer-specific stadium in the Bronx.

The report states that the stadium would be located just minutes down River Avenue from Yankee Stadium where NYCFC has called home for its first six years of existence, with its seventh season set to begin later this month.

This news comes on the heels of the embarrassing announcement earlier Friday that NYCFC will play its upcoming CONCACAF Champions League game against Costa Rican club San Carlos at Red Bull Arena, the home of cross-town rivals New York Red Bulls. The club, in its announcement, attempted to save face by announcing that tickets would be free to all NYCFC season ticket holders due to “the inconvenience of playing outside of the five boroughs,” a thinly veiled shot at RBNY’s remote location.

Waldstein’s report cites a statement by James Patchett, the president of New York City’s Economic Development Corporation, who says that it “sees value in the proposal” but says nothing has been formally finalized. The report also states that the project has the backing of New York City mayor Bill de Blasio.

The 25,000-seat stadium would reportedly be just one key part of a $1 billion project that would change parking lots into affordable housing units, a school, a hotel, a waterfront park, and other commercial enterprises.

“It’s long past time to make the underutilized parking lots around Yankee Stadium into something more,” the Economic Development Corporation said in its statement via a representative. “The city has been approached by a team of affordable housing developers, the Yankees and the N.Y.C. Football Club. A deal has not been reached and more conversations are needed. We are hopeful for a future where these lots can better serve the community. The first step toward achieving that is engaging the community on their needs and vision for this area.”

NYCFC also confirmed the discussions on the record, and while their statement was far more cautious, the fact either party would go on the record at all is a very positive sign. According to the report, should the deal pass through the necessary hurdles, construction would likely not begin until 2022, meaning the stadium would not be ready for game action until an estimated 2024.

Reports: NYCFC to play CONCACAF CL game at Red Bull Arena

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NYCFC has been left red-faced as it gets set to open its season early against Costa Rican side AD San Carlos in CONCACAF Champions League play.

According to a report by Costa Rican publication CRHoy, which includes quotes from San Carlos executive Gustavo Perez, the Major League Soccer club will play its home leg of the matchup at Red Bull Arena due to the the unavailability of Yankee Stadium. The Athletic reporter Sam Stejskal confirmed the report.

“They wanted to avoid playing there because of the rivalry they have with Red Bull, but in the end they had no choice,” said Perez, the San Carlos sporting director, as quoted in the CRHoy report.

So far no reason for the conflict at Yankee Stadium has been reported.

The revelation is an incredibly embarrassing one for NYCFC, having to turn to its bitter league rival for venue assistance, still without its own soccer-specific stadium in its seventh season of existence. However, it could be turned on the gracious hosts as well, should NYCFC outdraw the NY Red Bulls for the CONCACAF Champions League Round of 16 match. The Red Bulls drew 3,417 last season when they hosted Dominican club Atletico Pantoja in late February.

NYCFC plays the first leg against San Carlos on February 20 on the road in Costa Rica, while the return leg is on February 28. The MLS season is slated to begin March 1 against Columbus on the road, while its home opener will be against FC Dallas on March 14.

Report: Austin FC hire Reyna as sporting director

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Months after locking in Josh Wolff as head coach, Austin FC is reportedly on the verge of naming one of MLS’ best sporting directors to the same role.

The Athletic reported on Wednesday that Anthony Precourt’s Austin FC has hired Claudio Reyna from New York City FC to be the expansion club’s new sporting director. It’s the second expansion club that Reyna is working for since he joined NYCFC in 2013 as its first director of soccer operations.

[READ: MLS takes big step with All-Star game update]

If true, it’s a shrewd move by Precourt to bring in a man who knows MLS like the back of his thumb, and to pair him with a former teammate from the U.S. Men’s National Team. Wolff’s spent almost his entire career in professional soccer in MLS too, so the club now has two influential individuals who are knowledgable about the league and it’s various roster mechanisms.

Austin FC doesn’t enter MLS until 2021, so locking in Reyna now gives him more than a year of runway towards building an MLS-ready roster. Precourt has surely seen the best-case scenario – Seattle, Los Angeles FC, Atlanta United – where a team loaded with top-heavy talent and good role players can make a deep playoff run in its expansion season. But he’s likely also seen the worst-case scenarios – look at Minnesota United in the past and FC Cincinnati this year.

Bringing in Reyna certainly makes it more likely that Austin FC’s future will lie in the former category.