The New York Red Bulls had to wait for Atlanta United to win the 2018 MLS Cup to be sure of their place in the 2019 CONCACAF Champions League. But the draw for the tournament was five days prior to the MLS Cup Final and it promised RBNY an attractive away-day in Dominican Republic, when and if the final open berth for next year’s regional club championship fell the Red Bulls’ way.
Matchups have been set for #SCCL2019!— Scotiabank Concacaf Champions League (@TheChampions) December 4, 2018
Los emparejamientos para los octavos de final de la #SCCL 2019 son los siguientes: pic.twitter.com/HgQUoTpxj4
Atlanta duly bested Portland to win MLS Cup, and RBNY fans can start thinking about what it might take to be in Dominican Republic in February when their team will line up against Atletico Pantoja for the first leg of a CCL round of 16 series.
We're in.— New York Red Bulls (@NewYorkRedBulls) December 9, 2018
➡️ https://t.co/vA01YjuwKa#RBNY pic.twitter.com/2WWgI3gorF
But no sooner had the CCL draw been completed, one knowledgeable RBNY fan had useful information for fellow supporters acquainting themselves with flight schedules to Santo Domingo.
Santiago, the second largest city in the country, is two hours north from Santo Domingo. Beautiful city with direct flights from EWR and JFK. Nothing official of course, but just figured I'd share the early rumblings.— REALSMARTSOCCERMANG (@JUDDERMANG) December 4, 2018
So don’t fly to Santo Domingo, RBNY fans. Or at least, if you do fly to Santo Domingo, be ready to travel to Santiago.
A report in La Nacion Dominicana would appear to confirm just about all the necessary details for the forthcoming CCL fixture between RBNY and Atletico Pantoja. The report states the match has not just a confirmed venue but also a date: 19th February at Estadio Cibao FC in Santiago de los Caballeros, Dominican Republic.
Per the same report, Atletico Pantoja emerged from the CCL draw rooting for RBNY. The club’s Marketing Director, Fernando Rodriguez, put his team’s perspective in simple terms:
[It] would be the first time a Dominican team would play in a professional stadium, in an international tournament in New York - where there are about two million Dominicans.
Could be a few fans cheering the away team at Red Bull Arena for the second leg - which, incidentally, it is suggested will be played on February 26.
Indeed, any fans of Dominican football would be well advised to make the most of this opportunity to cheer for a local club.
Atletico Pantoja is the second consecutive Dominican team to make it into the main draw of CCL - Cibao did it last year. But despite their apparent dominance of Caribbean club soccer, there will be no Dominican side even capable of qualifying for CCL 2020. Per the president of the Dominican Football Federation, Manual Luna, as reported by La Nacion Dominicana:
Cibao FC...will not go to the Caribbean Cup because they were not registered on time. Dominican Republic is out of cycle for 2020 at the level of international club tournaments; in 2019 the Caribbean Cup will not play and in ‘20 we will not be able to play the Champions League.
So no possibility of a Dominican away-day for RBNY fans in 2020, regardless of whether the Red Bulls qualify for CCL that year or not.
If you have any rooting interest in this match-up at all and you’re in position to make a journey to either leg or both - seize the day: there won’t be another one for a while.
(Though maybe wait just a few days longer for either Atletico Pantoja, RBNY, or CONCACAF to confirm dates and times: there may be few things more uncertain than a scheduled time for a football match that requires the agreement of three separate entities. Or four, since Cibao FC presumably gets a say in what happens in its stadium and when.)