Five questions surrounding MLS vs. Liga MX matchups in CCL quarterfinals
The CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals kick off on Tuesday night, with three ties between Major League Soccer and Liga MX highlighting this stage of the tournament.
As the New York Red Bulls travel to Tijuana on Tuesday, and with Toronto FC hosting Tigres and Cihvas visiting the Seattle Sounders on Wednesday, ESPN FC asked MLS and Liga MX writers Jeff Carlisle and Tom Marshall what to expect from the two-legged ties.
1. Is Toronto vs. Tigres the best each league has to offer?
Jeff Carlisle (@JeffreyCarlisle): I'd say that it is. Even though Toronto lost its league opener to Columbus Crew SC last weekend, TFC is the deepest team in MLS, and it has some real game-changers in Sebastian Giovinco, Victor Vazquez, Micheal Bradley and Jozy Altidore. Tigres isn't top of the table in the Clausura, but it's close, just two points off the top spot, and it has some dynamic attacking players as well in Andre-Pierre Gignac and Enner Valencia. Tigres has also won titles in each of the past three years, while Toronto is coming off an unprecedented treble. This is as good as it gets.
Tom Marshall (@mexicoworldcup): Yes. Tigres being the reigning Liga MX champion is obviously a good barometer of the Nuevo Leon club's quality, but the pedigree of this side goes beyond one title win. Tigres has been involved in four of the past five Liga MX finals (winning three) and also made the final of the CCL in past two editions. Tigres coach Ricardo Ferretti has been in charge of the club since 2010 and, backed by heavy investment in the playing squad, has created a dynasty in terms of trophies and establishing a defined playing style.
2. Which MLS team is most likely to beat Liga MX opposition?
Carlisle: Given the current form of the teams in Liga MX, I'd have to go with Seattle over Chivas. The loss of Jordan Morris to a torn ACL is a big blow, but Seattle has accumulated a decent amount of depth with good options in attack, though none of those have Morris' speed. Chivas has been struggling mightily in the league, though it got a boost from last weekend's draw against America in the Clasico Nacional. That said, historically, form for Liga MX teams hasn't seemed to matter. Since CONCACAF encounters started using a two-legged system in the tournament's knockout stages, MLS sides have prevailed over Mexican opposition just three times out of 30. The other matchups involved Mexican teams near the top of the table, so MLS teams will have big challenges ahead of them.
Marshall: Seattle Sounders. The team from the Pacific Northwest shouldn't look at the fact that Chivas haven't won any of their past seven Liga MX games stretching back to Jan. 20 and think this series is going to be anything but difficult. Chivas posses quality players and have dominated most games this season. But it's obvious that confidence isn't high in the squad and the pressure really is on now that the club is out of the Liga MX playoff picture. Add into that the quality of the Sounders, the tricky first leg in the cold on artificial turf and this will be a tough series for Chivas to navigate.
3. Giovinco or Gignac?
Carlisle: I'd go with Giovinco in that he can set up goals as well as score them. He's also deadly from set-piece situations. Gignac has no doubt been a potent goal-scoring force since joining Tigres in 2015, though that has tapered off a bit in the past two tournaments. He'll be a handful for TFC, but I think Giovinco is the more dangerous player.
Marshall: This is a difficult one, but I'll side with Gignac. Both are obviously high-quality players who have helped propel their clubs to trophies, but the way in which Gignac has clicked with the Tigres fanbase and Mexico in general is special. He's the leader, the figurehead and the embodiment of Tigres' success in recent years. He even recently had a tattoo done on his calf depicting his Mexico-born son running in front of the Virgin of Guadalupe. When judging Gignac, it's much more than what he has done on the field.
4. How are these clubs prioritizing the Champions League vs. the league?
Carlisle: The CCL has become a bigger priority in recent years at both league and club level. MLS has been more flexible in its scheduling, allowing teams to postpone matches until later in the season. It seems basic, but it wasn't that long ago that such help wasn't given. The teams themselves have placed more emphasis on the tournament, as witnessed by Seattle resting Clint Dempsey and Chad Marshall last weekend against LAFC, while Roman Torres only saw 45 minutes. Toronto opted to play a big chunk of its starting lineup against Columbus, but in general the emphasis given to the CCL has risen.
Marshall: There's absolutely no sense that any of the Liga MX sides are taking or will take this competition lightly. It's worth remembering that Mexican clubs no longer compete in the Copa Libertadores and the new CCL format is more enticing, especially with clubs in the CCL not competing in Copa MX. Club America is the only club you'd expect to make some changes following Saturday's Clasico Nacional, given that Panamanian outfit Tauro FC shouldn't cause them too many problems. And the prospect of both Tigres and Club Tijuana rotating next weekend when they face off in Estadio Universitario is real.
5. Does anyone have a chance against the winner of Toronto-Tigres?
Carlisle: Sure. Given that Club America -- who remain unbeaten in the current Clausura -- is likely to be the opponent in the semifinal round, the winner of Toronto-Tigres won't have an easy path to the title by any means. America is also up against Panamanian side Tauro FC in the quarterfinals, which relatively speaking is the easiest matchup in that round, so Las Aguilas may have the luxury of resting players.
Marshall: Most certainly. If Club America gets past Tauro FC, then it'll be another series that has the feeling of a final, whoever wins out of Toronto and Tigres. And you can't write off Chivas or Club Tijuana, which has the best defense in Liga MX this season. Toronto against Tigres is the highlight of the quarters, but there's a long way to go for the eventual winner.