The last time a Canadian team knocked the New York Red Bulls out of CONCACAF Champions League, it went on a run all the way to the final. Montreal Impact's surprise trip to the CCL final was only two seasons ago, but the sense that MLS teams were perhaps edging closer to challenging Liga MX rivals in the tournament was short-lived. In the 2015-16 edition, the quarterfinals were all MLS-vs-Liga-MX match-ups and the Mexican clubs won them all.
The Mexican teams are favored to win this year's semifinal round of MLS - Liga MX duels as well. FC Dallas and Pachuca will play their first leg game tomorrow. First up, however, is the first leg of the Vancouver-Tigres series.
Vancouver Whitecaps are the top seeds in the tournament thanks to taking maximum points out of the Group Stage. It won this year's all-MLS quarterfinal, beating out RBNY to make the semis. As the top seed, the Caps have "home advantage" for as long as they remain in the tournament: they will host the second leg of each knockout round series they contest.
Tigres, however, is in this semifinal because they thumped Pumas, 3-0, on the road in the second leg of their quarterfinal. Whatever happens in this first leg - and Vancouver will be quite happy if it can follow Pumas' example and pick up a score draw in this game - there is the sense that Tigres has too much talent in its squad to be overwhelmed by a little travel.
Still, Pumas is a much more familiar opponent for UANL than the Whitecaps. If Vancouver still has a realistic hope of winning this semifinal after the first leg, perhaps it will have a notable advantage when it faces Tigres back home at BC Place.
In last year's quarterfinals, however, Tigres played Real Salt Lake and won the first leg in Mexico 2-0. RSL kept the series interesting by scoring first and remaining just a goal away from forcing extra time for most of the match. But Andre-Pierre Gignac scored for UANL in the 90th minute to kill off the contest.
The Caps will want to do slightly better than concede a two-goal lead to Tigres in the first leg. But they will do very well to contain one of the more potent attacking lineups in Liga MX, especially at Estadio Universitario.
And Tigres should not lack for motivation. They were runners-up in last year's tournament. They avenged the CCL final loss to Club America by beating the same opponent in the 2016 Liga MX Apertura. Now it is time to claim the regional title they couldn't quite win last season. But first, they must get by Vancouver.