While the Champions’ League is a highly regarded competition in Europe, to say it’s growing in the United States is being kind. Americans simply aren’t used to the Champions’ League format. When initially introduced to the idea of a continental championship when MLS first started, many fans were confused. However, as the game has grown stateside, so too has the American interest in the Champions’ League format.
Unfortunately, MLS teams have been very unsuccessful in the competition between the best clubs from North and Central America and the Caribbean. Since 2008, when the competition switched from a cup to a league format, only Mexican teams have won the title. However, this may be the year all of that changes and an MLS side takes home the trophy.
The obvious candidate to take home the trophy is the Los Angeles Galaxy, who bolstered their MLS Cup-winning side this transfer window by adding Liverpool legend Steven Gerrard and Mexican international Giovani dos Santos to their squad. With a front line that includes dos Santos, Gyasi Zardes, Sebastian Lleget and reigning MLS MVP Robbie Keane, the Galaxy may boast the best attacking side not just in MLS but in all of CONCACAF. Any team that takes on LA will have a very difficult time, especially as the side builds chemistry.
While LA may seem like the obvious pick, there are a number of MLS sides worthy of taking home the title. Surprisingly, the most likely candidate seems to be the Vancouver Whitecaps, who currently sit at the top of the Western Conference.
After watching fellow Canadian side Montreal Impact reach the final last season, the Caps have their sights set on bringing the trophy home. Vancouver is extremely fast, and with the linkup play between Pedro Morales and Darren Mattocks, they will be extremely difficult to deal with as the competition goes on.
While Vancouver presents an interesting side, their Cascadia rivals, the Seattle Sounders may have an even greater claim to the CONCACAF crown. Seattle boasts the highest-attended team in MLS, and while they have struggled in recent weeks, star players Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins will be returning to the Sounders soon.
With Dempsey and Oba in the mix, the Sounders boast one of the toughest teams on the continent, and present a well balanced squad capable of winning in a shootout or grinding out a 1-0 result.
In the east, D.C. United is the lone participant in the CONCACAF Champions’ League, but have shown over the past two years how fantastic they are at getting results. Under Ben Olsen, D.C. United has adopted a pragmatic, defensive style that forces opponents to make mistakes, allowing United to capitalize. The defensive pairing of Perry Kitchen in midfield and Bobby Boswell at center back has been fabulous for D.C. this season and will certainly help them when they play more attack minded sides.
Rounding out the MLS competition is Real Salt Lake, a traditional powerhouse who has struggled this season. Despite their on-field issues this season, Salt Lake is riddled with veterans who will be hungry to take home the CONCACAF crown.
With five serious contenders in the fold, many MLS fans are wondering if this is the year that an American (or Canadian) side can finally take home the crown. Depth has often been an issue for MLS teams in the Champions’ League, but it seems now that more and more teams are taking the competition seriously and setting themselves up for success.
With a few good results already in the bag, it should be an exciting go around for MLS teams this Champions’ League season.