The 2018 MLS season is not yet complete, but the 2019 season will
come soon enough for five teams.
The six MLS teams with a chance of playing in the 2019 Concacaf Champions League learned their first-round opponents for the competition that begins Feb. 19-21.
2019 allocations. Five MLS teams -- four from the United States and Toronto FC from Canada -- will be among the 16 teams in the knockout stage. One team remains to determined.
Normally, the MLS Cup champion, the two conference regular-season winners (one of which is the Supporters' Shield winner) and the U.S. Open Cup champion get first crack at the four U.S. berths. Because the start of the Concacaf Champions League was pushed back from late summer to the next winter, beginning in 2018, the 2016 qualifiers played in the 2018 competition and the 2017 and 2018 U.S. qualifiers had to be merged to accommodate four spots in the 2019 competition:
They'll be ...
2017 Open Cup champion: Sporting Kansas City;
2018 Open Cup champion: Houston Dynamo;
2017 MLS Cup champion: Since Seattle lost in the final to Toronto FC, Atlanta United qualified as the U.S. team with the best record over the last two MLS seasons.
2018 MLS Cup champion: Portland Timbers will qualify if they win. If Atlanta United wins, the New York Red Bulls will qualify as the U.S. team with the second-best record over the last two MLS seasons.
2019 opponents. The draw featured two peculiarities:
-- The teams are seeded based on the performances of teams from the same country in previous five competitions. According to the CCL index, the top eight teams were placed in Pot 1, and the other eight teams were placed in Pot 2. The odd MLS team out was Sporting Kansas City, which fell into Pot 2. Because the draw prohibits teams from the same country meeting in the first round, Sporting KC's only possible opponents were one of the four Mexico teams or Toronto FC.
Sporting KC drew Toluca, setting up the only MLS-Liga MX matchup in the round of 16. The Red Devils, runners-up in 2014, are notoriously tough to beat at the Estadio Nemesio Diez, their home stadium nicknamed La Bombonera, situated at 8,750 feet above sea level, but they needed a shootout to edge the San Jose Earthquakes in the 2014 quarterfinals after both matches ended in 1-1 ties.
-- The draw was structured to take into account that the fourth U.S. entrant, the Timbers or Red Bulls, isn't yet known. It will face the Dominican Republic's Pantoja, which qualified as the Caribbean champion.
Pantoja is one of four teams who will making their CCL debut in 2019. The Dynamo will face Guastatoya -- the first Guatemalan entrant since the FIFA ban was lifted -- while Toronto FC will play Panama's CAI.
For its first foray into the regional club championship, Atlanta United was drawn with Herediano, the 2018 Concacaf League, the qualifying competition for teams from Central America and the Caribbean. Herediano has qualified for Concacaf Champions League seven times and reached the semifinals in 2015.
2019 Concacaf Champions League Schedule:
Feb. 19-21: Round of 16, 1st Leg
Feb. 26-28: Round of 16, 2nd Leg
March 5-7: Quarterfinals, 1st Leg
March 12-14: Quarterfinals, 2nd Leg
April 2-4: Semifinals, 1st Leg
April 9-11: Semifinals, 2nd Leg
April 23-25: Final, 1st Leg
April 39-May 2: Final, 2nd Leg