Preview: Record five MLS teams move into Concacaf Champions League quarterfinals

Never before have so many MLS teams reached the Concacaf Champions League quarterfinals: five of the eight teams, assuring at least one team (the winner of the Atlanta United-Philadelphia Union series) of a berth in the semifinals, which begin in August.

A two-week break between the round of 16 and quarterfinals -- also new in 2021 -- gave the MLS teams a chance to get their first MLS action under their belts and regroup for the quarterfinals.

The other three MLS teams -- Columbus, Portland and Toronto FC -- will face Mexican opponents. Monterrey, Cruz Azul and Club America are all former Concacaf Champions League champions, accounting for seven of the 12 titles all won by Liga MX teams since the revised tournament began in 2008-09, but MLS teams aren't the pushovers they once were.

Since Liga MX teams swept MLS teams in the 2015 and 2016 knockout stages, they've met 18 times, and Liga MX's series edge is only 10-8.

Atlanta United.

(Tuesday: vs. Philadelphia Union)
The Five Stripes are coming off their best outing of the season, a 3-1 win over Chicago before more than 20,000 fans at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. They will be back at MBS for their first meeting with the Philadelphia Union since the 2019 MLS playoffs. New coach Gabriel Heinze is working Josef Martinez back into action slowly. Since he returned from knee surgery that sidelined him for 14 months, the Venezuelan star's only start in 2021 was in the 1-0 win over Alajuelense in the second leg of the opening series on grass in Kennesaw.

2021 start (3-0-1):
April 6: 1-0 at Alajuelense
April 13: 1-0 vs. Alajuelense (in Kennesaw, Ga.)
April 17: 0-0 at Orlando City
April 24: 3-1 vs. Chicago

CCL quarterfinal record (0-2):
2019: Monterrey 0-3, 1-0
2020: Club America 0-3, 1-0

Columbus Crew.
(Wednesday: vs. Monterrey)
The Crew entered this season's Champions League as MLS champion and the deepest MLS entrant in the tournament, but its chances will still depend on a core of players down its spine: Eloy Room in goal, Jonathan Mensah at center back, Artur and Darlington Nagbe in central midfield, Lucas Zelarayan as the playmaker and Gyasi Zardes up front. Nagbe missed the MLS opener, a 0-0 tie against the Union, and the Crew's ability to maintain possession suffered. That's something that will have to change if Columbus wants to beat Monterrey.
2021 start (2-0-1):

April 8: 4-0 vs. Real Esteli
April 15
: 1-0 vs. Real Esteli
April 18:
0-0 vs. Philadelphia

CCL quarterfinal record (0-2):
2010: Toluca 2-2, 2-3
2011: Real Salt Lake 0-0, 1-4

Philadelphia Union.
(Tuesday: at Atlanta United)
The Union is the only team in its first season in the Champions League, and it got off to an impressive start, sweeping Costa Rica's Saprissa. Union players are thinking big. “You can feel a sense of urgency with our guys, recognizing the opportunity," Union coach Jim Curtin said in the pre-game press conference. "As crazy as it seems to start to dream about it, you think about the winner of this competition and what this means. The chance to play against someone like Man City, or a champion from Brazil. It’s not as crazy or far off as you think.”

2021 start (2-1-1):
April 7: 1-0 at Saprissa
April 14: 4-0 vs. Saprissa
April 18: 0-0 at Columbus
April 24: 1-2 vs. Inter Miami

CCL quarterfinal record (0-0):
first appearance.

Portland Timbers.
(Wednesday: vs. Club America)
This is the Timbers' third trip to the CCL and first appearance in the quarterfinals. They've been short-handed, playing without 2020 MLS is Back MVP Sebastian Blanco and Jaroslaw Niezgoda, who are rehabbing from ACL injuries, and Jeremy Ebobisse, who has been sidelined with a hamstring injury. To get ready for America, Coach Giovanni Savarese sat Eryk Williamson and Diego Valeri on Saturday night against Houston. Valeri entered the game after halftime and Williamson came on in the 74th minute right after Cristhian Paredes, his replacement in midfield, scored what proved to be the winning goal.

2021 start (2-1-1):
April 6: 2-2 at Marathon
April 13: 5-0 vs. Marathon
April 18: 0-1 vs. Vancouver (in Sandy, Utah)
April 24: 2-1 vs. Houston

CCL quarterfinal record (0-0):
first appearance.

Toronto FC.
(Tuesday vs. Cruz Azul in Tampa, Florida)
Toronto FC is certainly getting the tour of Florida. After opening at Leon, the Reds returned to their temporary base in Florida, due to COVID-19 protocols in Canada. Tuesday's game will be the fourth game in four different Florida cities. On Saturday in Orlando against Vancouver, Coach Chris Armas got minutes off the bench for Jonathan Osorio, Ayo Akinola and Jozy Altidore, who have all been injured. The surprise for Toronto FC has been the play of young Canadians Luke Singh (20), Noble Okello (20) and Jayden Nelson (18).

MLS start (1-1-2):
April 7: 1-1 at Leon
April 14: 2-1 vs. Leon (in Kissimmee, Fla.)
April 17: 2-4 vs. Montreal (in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.)
April 24: 2-2 vs. Vancouver (in Orlando, Fla.)

CCL quarterfinal record (2-0):
2012: LA Galaxy 2-2, 2-1
2018: Tigres 2-1, 2-4 (advanced on away goals)

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