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 By Tom Marshall

Cibao FC to make CONCACAF Champions League knockout debut

After Toronto FC dominated MLS in 2017, Jeff Carlisle examines their chances of being the league's first side to win the CONCACAF Champions League.

Cibao FC will make its debut in the CONCACAF Champions League knockout rounds on Thursday when the team from the Dominican Republic faces Liga MX giant Chivas.

It's a historic occasion for the soccer club in a region in which baseball dominates. The Cibao region -- located to the north of the country -- is home to current Dominican league champs -- and second-place finishers at the Serie del Caribe -- Aguilas Cibaenas, a club for which MLB icons Edwin Encarnacion, Melky Cabrera and Bartolo Colon have all played.

"It's evidently going to be a party for the Dominican Republic, we are super motivated," said Cibao FC's Catalan coach Albert Benaiges, who had a brief spell in charge of Chivas' youth system.

But it seemingly isn't the only party in Cibao's biggest city of Santiago de los Caballeros. Chivas have been forced to stay 45 miles (73 kilometers) from the stadium in the beach resort of Puerta Plata due to hotel occupation in the city being stretched because of an international tobacco growers' conference.

Chivas didn't travel to Cibao FC's stadium in Santiago to practice on the pitch the day ahead of the game, instead using a local field in order to save a total travel time of over three hours. The Chivas squad -- made up of eight Mexican internationals -- will only get to play on the pitch when they arrive ahead of the game.

The Round of 16 CCL series is a battle between two teams at opposite ends of the CONCACAF spectrum: Chivas' stadium is 10 times bigger than Cibao's 5,000-capacity ground; the Dominican club was founded in 2015, 109 years after Chivas and the Mexican giant boasts 3.74 million Twitter followers compared to Cibao's 6,000.

"We will try to eliminate the all-powerful Chivas that, with our feet on the ground, we know are better than us," said Benaiges. "We're not going to kid ourselves."

The return leg is in Guadalajara on Feb. 28.

Tom Marshall covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @MexicoWorldCup.

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