The New York Red Bulls passed their first test in the 2016-17 CONCACAF Champions League in some style, tallying three goals and three points against an over-matched Antigua GFC at Red Bull Arena.
But CCL is much like MLS in one way at least: there is a big difference between playing at home and playing on the road.
RBNY has not been very successful away from home so far this season. The team has won twice outside Red Bull Arena in competitive play in 2016: the masterful 7-0 drubbing of NYCFC in May, and a penalty-enabled 1-0 win over Rochester Rhinos in US Open Cup in June.
Furthermore, RBNY is currently banged up and its first-choice starters just played against Montreal Impact on August 13. The club will always say it is fielding a competitive team, but if the lineup that kicks off in El Salvador closely resembles that which started against Montreal, it will be a tired group; and if the players aren't tired, it'll be because they are the second string.
On the bright side, RBNY's second string is not bad. For example, it probably includes Gonzalo Veron, who was expected to be the centerpiece of the first team by now, and may still be so if he can continue his recent form. Form initiated by his start against Antigua in CCL.
More good news: RBNY doesn't need to win this game. A draw on the road is a good enough result to keep the team on track for qualification to the knockout rounds of the tournament. The Red Bulls would doubtless prefer the win, but a point in El Salvador is a solid result, especially if it is achieved with a mix of players on short rest and those short on first team experience.
RBNY's opponent, Alianza, has a say in the matter, of course. The club has pedigree in CONCACAF's showpiece club tournament, winning the 1967 edition of CONCACAF Champions' Cup. Its last appearance at this level was the 2011-12 CCL, and it lost home and away to FC Dallas in the preliminary round.
There hasn't been a Salvadoran side in the quarterfinals of CCL since the switch to the present three-team groups format. But RBNY knows very well how difficult a trip to El Salvador can be. The Red Bulls' 2014-15 CCL campaign ended against FAS in San Salvador, when the team needed a win but could only manage a draw, failing to score even from the penalty spot.
This time around, a draw will do just fine. But there are 90 minutes to be played against, and Alianza should not be expected to roll over.
Here's a little more on RBNY's latest CCL opponent:
How they got here
Much like RBNY's other CCL Group F rival, Antigua, the Salvadoran side qualified for this tournament last year. Alianza won the 2015 Apertura of El Salvador's Primera Division, beating FAS, 1-0, in the playoffs final.
Los Albos qualified for the post-season as the third-best team in the regular season, losing just four of 22 league games on their way to the playoffs.
What they have done since
The 2016 Clausura saw Alianza once again in the post-season, qualifying as the fourth-best team in the league. This time around, the club was bounced out at the semifinal stage by Aguila, who went on to lose to Dragon in the final.
In the off-season, Alianza tooled up, bringing in several new players, including Oscar Ceren - brother of San Jose Earthquakes' Darwin. But the new recruits appear to be taking a little time to settle in. Los Albos have stumbled out of the gate of the new season in El Salvador, losing three of their first four games.
They have had about a week to recover from their last outing - the 1-0 loss on the road to Santa Tecla. But recent results are not encouraging for Alianza.
Players to watch
In addition to Oscar Ceren, the squad's new arrivals include Alexander Larin, a 24-year-old attack-minded left-footer who can play defense and midfield. Larin has played in CCL with FAS (not against the Red Bulls) in the 2012-13 edition, and with Herediano in the 2014-15 tournament. He is highly-rated enough to have been signed by UANL Tigres in 2014, after a 16-goal season for FAS. He hasn't scored as freely since, nor has he played for Tigres. The Liga MX club has loaned its Salvadoran star out to a succession of other teams: first Herediano, then Juarez, then FAS, now Alianza.
Larin has a powerful shot, and almost scored the goal of the 2014-15 CCL against Leon when playing for Herediano.
Alianza has kept some of its more important attacking players from last season: Herbert Sosa scored 12 over the course of the 2015-16 domestic campaigns; Juan Carlos Portillo also picked up 12 goals for the club.
Rodolfo Zelaya had 15 goals for Alianza last season, and has proven game-changing ability against high-level opposition. His career was interrupted by his involvement in the match-fixing scandal that eviscerated Salvadoran soccer in 2013. But his best is very good indeed.
Between Larin and Zelaya, Alianza have two of El Salvador's more exciting but unfulfilled talents. CCL is a platform for either or both to showcase their skills - and if one of them is in form, it could be a difficult night for RBNY's back line.