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A guide to the 2018 CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals for New York Red Bulls fans

RBNY and seven other teams are still chasing the 2018 CCL title.

MLS: Concacaf Champions League-Olimpia at New York Red Bulls Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

The 2018 CONCACAF Champions League is at its quarterfinal stage. All four of Liga MX’s qualifiers for the tournament - America, Chivas, Tigres, and Tijuana - made it through the round of 16. The MLS contingent was depleted: Colorado Rapids and FC Dallas are out. But since Toronto FC qualifies as a Canadian contender, and it was TFC that beat Colorado, MLS still has three teams in the tournament: Toronto, Seattle, and the New York Red Bulls. The lone challenger to the Liga MX-MLS duopoly is Panama’s Tauro FC, a team that can now say it has turned beating FC Dallas in CCL into a habit.

The quarterfinals follow the same format as the round of 16: each pairing will play a home-and-away series; away goals are the first tie-breaker if aggregate scores are level at the end of the second leg; there will be no extra-time played - aggregate ties (assuming away goals are level too) will be settled by penalty shoot-out.

Here’s a quick guide to the match-ups ahead.

Club America vs Tauro

1st leg @ America: 8:00 pm, Eastern; Tuesday, March 6

2nd leg @ Tauro: 8:00 pm, Eastern; Wednesday, March 14

The first series to kick-off in the quarterfinal round of CCL 2018 features the tournament’s most successful team of all time (America has won the regional title seven times) and, Tauro, currently the eighth best team in Panama.

It’s a mis-match on paper, and Tauro will be doing very well if it even gets to the second leg still looking like it has a shot at making the semifinals.

How they got here

America qualified for this edition of CCL as the runner-up in Liga MX’s 2016 Apertura. That is a relatively modest route to the tournament for one of Mexico’s most successful teams, but Las Aguilas surely don’t mind how they get into this competition - they just expect to win it once they’re in. America’s last two trips to CCL - the 2014-15 and 2015-16 editions - delivered back-to-back regional titles.

In the round of 16, America was drawn against Costa Rican heavyweight Saprissa. What was expected to be a well-contested series was over after the first leg: Las Aguilas went to Costa Rica and brought home a 5-1 win. The second leg finished 1-1.

Tauro qualified for CCL as the 2017 Clausura champion in Panama’s top flight, thanks to having a better aggregate record for the 2016-17 season than the Apertura champion, Arabe Unido.

It’s a little fanciful to say Tauro caused an upset in the round of 16. The Panamanian club won through on away goals after playing FC Dallas to a 3-3 tie on aggregate over two legs. The result was an improvement for FCD: the MLS side met Tauro in the group stage of the 2011-12 edition of CCL, managing to tie 1-1 at home and lose, 5-3, in Panama. So Tauro is quite accomplished at besting FCD, and is in these CCL quarterfinals as a result.

How they are doing now

America is currently second in the Liga MX 2018 Clausura table, unbeaten after 10 games with a record of four wins and six draws. Recent form is perhaps a little concerning: the team has tied four of its last five games, with the big win over Saprissa in CCL breaking the monotony. But the club is exactly where it wants to be at this stage of the season: on track for the Liga MX playoffs, and still in CCL.

There are only 10 teams in Panama’s top division; Tauro is currently eighth in the 2018 Clausura table. The team has only lost two league games of the nine it has played in 2018, but it has also only won twice in that stretch. And perhaps more pertinently, its defense has struggled recently, conceding three goals in each of the club’s last three games. Tauro didn’t win any of those matches; the team’s last win was its 1-0 victory of FC Dallas in the home leg of its CCL round-of-16 series.

Players to watch

America: Cecilo Dominguez

The 23-year-old, Paraguayan attacker isn’t the biggest name in the America squad, nor - given the depth on the roster - is he necessarily guaranteed to feature in this series. But he scored two of the three first-half goals that all but eliminated Saprissa after the opening 45 minutes of the first leg in the round of 16. A similar sort of performance in this round of games, and Dominguez will be a bona fide star of CCL.

Tauro: Edwin Aguilar

Tauro’s top-scorer this season and among the top-scorers in CCL at the moment, having bagged two of the three goals his team tallied against FCD. The 32-year-old Aguilar is well-traveled: he’s made a habit of bouncing between Tauro and clubs in Venezuela in recent years. His last Venezuelan team was Deportivo La Guaira, which happens to be the club that produced RBNY’s recently-signed teenage midfielder Cristian Casseres. So perhaps there will be one Red Bull at least cheering on Tauro in this round of CCL.

The winner of the America-Tauro quarterfinal will play the winner of the Tigres-Toronto match-up in the semifinals.

New York Red Bulls vs Tijuana

1st leg @ Tijuana: 10:00 pm, Tuesday, March 6

2nd leg @ RBNY: 8:00 pm, Tuesday, March 13

Both these teams suffered a drop in form since qualifying for this tournament, so both are looking at CCL as an opportunity to make 2018 start on a higher note than 2017 ended for them.

How they got here

Not every team had to wait a year or so between qualifying for this tournament and playing in it, but these two did.

RBNY is in CCL 2018 because it won the 2016 regular-season MLS Eastern Conference title. About six months later, Tijuana topped the regular-season table in the 2017 Liga MX Clausura, and qualified for CCL because Tigres made the playoff final of that tournament and had already clinched a spot in CCL 2018 by winning the 2016 Apertura.

To add to things these teams have in common, they both played Honduran opponents in the round of 16. RBNY bested Olimpia, 3-1 on aggregate over two legs. Tijuana edged past Motagua, 2-1 on aggregate.

How they are doing now

Both teams suffered a bit of a drop in form during the long intermission between qualifying for CCL 2018 and starting the tournament.

The Red Bulls finished sixth in the MLS Eastern Conference in the 2017 regular season, and took their customary early exit from the playoffs. Tijuana missed the playoffs altogether in the 2017 Liga MX Apertura.

The new year brings the chance for a fresh start, and Tijuana is currently sixth in the 2018 Clausura table. Xolos have only been beaten twice in 10 league games so far in 2018, thanks mostly to a defense that has conceded just six goals in that stretch - and four of those came in back-to-back losses at the beginning of February. Since those losses, Tijuana is unbeaten in five straight games in all competitions, including CCL.

RBNY’s season started with CCL in late February, and the first leg of this quarterfinal will be just its third competitive game of the year. The evidence of the first two matches - the round-of-16 series against Olimpia - is that the Red Bulls are still a little short of the fitness required to keep their high-tempo style going for 90 minutes. For a team that is tiring a little quicker than it would like, RBNY is surely happy to have won through to these quarterfinals, and will expect to be fitter and sharper in this series than it was in the round of 16.

Players to watch

RBNY: Tyler Adams

The Red Bulls are firmly committed to developing their own stars, signing teenagers and promoting players from their reserve team with increasing frequency. The highest-rated of the younger players in the squad - and the current poster-boy for RBNY’s youth movement - is Tyler Adams.

He’s about as homegrown a Red Bull player as it is possible to be, joining the RBNY Academy at 12, turning pro with the II team in USL at 16, and finishing 2017 as an established first-teamer with a senior US Men’s National Team cap to his name.

There are high hopes for the 19-year-old, who appears destined for a bigger club in a bigger league. But he’s still developing as a player, and the challenge of facing an in-season Liga MX opponent in competitive games is perhaps the toughest of his career to date.

Adams is conventionally regarded as a central midfielder, but he can and will play out wide as a wing back for RBNY, if head coach Jesse Marsch so demands.

Tijuana: Miller Bolanos

Bolanos steered his career down the cul-de-sac that was MLS’ ill-fated Chivas USA experiment. But he’s bounced back since donating 2012 and part of 2013 to MLS’ now-extinct Goats. A free-scoring couple of years with Emelec in his native Ecuador won him a move to Brazil’s Gremio, and now he’s on loan to Tijuana.

The winner of this series plays the winner of the Chivas-Seattle quarterfinal in the semifinals.

Toronto FC vs UANL Tigres

1st leg @ Toronto: 8:00 pm, Eastern; Wednesday, March 7

2nd leg @ Tigres: 10:00 pm, Eastern; Tuesday, March 13

This is the match-up CONCACAF was hoping it would be able to promote for the quarterfinals. The round-of-16 draw put the reigning MLS champion, Toronto, on a path to play the reigning Liga MX champion, UANL, if both teams could get through to this round. Both teams did, and this is the sort of series one would hope to see in the regional Champions League, since it features actual current champions of the region’s two biggest leagues.

How they got here

Though they are the reigning champions of MLS and Liga MX respectively, that is not why either Toronto or Tigres qualified for CCL 2018.

TFC is a Canadian club and it is in CCL as Canada’s representative, having won the 2016 and 2017 Canadian Championships (and therefore making it unnecessary for there to be a playoff between the Canadian champs of the last two years for entry to this tournament). Tigres effectively qualified for CCL 2018 twice: winning the 2016 Apertura and finishing as runner-up in the 2017 Clausura (thereby handing Tijuana a consolation-prize spot in this competition); the club’s 2017 Apertura title means it already knows it will also be in CCL 2019.

In the round of 16, Tigres beat Herediano, 5-3 on aggregate. TFC eased past Colorado Rapids, 2-0.

How they are doing now

Tigres are unbeaten in their last seven games in all competitions, and have won four of their last five. They sit fourth in the 2018 Clausura table at the moment.

There is a lot of excitement around TFC because the team closed out 2017 as The Best MLS Team Ever, by some metrics and general acclaim. Certainly, TFC was a very good MLS team indeed in 2017, running away with the Supporters’ Shield (the regular-season title), winning MLS Cup, and picking up another Canadian Championship along the way.

And there is good reason to believe TFC will be very good again in 2018, since the squad looks mostly unchanged, if anything stronger. But the three games TFC has played so far this year suggest the team needs a little more time to find its best. A 2-0 win over the Rapids in Colorado in CCL was followed by a scoreless draw in Toronto; then TFC lost its MLS season-opener, 2-0, at home against Columbus. Perhaps TFC is saving its best for Tigres.

Players to watch

Toronto: Jozy Altidore

The former RBNY man is sometimes accused of lacking a big-game mentality. That’s not necessarily the most reasonable criticism to throw at someone who has scored for the winning team in Dutch Cup and MLS Cup finals, but it gets thrown nonetheless. Altidore won’t have many opportunities to show he really is up for the challenge than this series against one of Liga MX’s strongest sides.

Tigres: Enner Valencia

After three unspectacular seasons in England’s Premier League, the 28-year-old Ecuador international likely isn’t going to get snapped up by a top team in Europe, but he won his move to EPL with a big year in Liga MX for Pachuca, and he seems to have reconnected with that form since returning to Mexico to play for Tigres.

Valencia’s scoring touch seemed to have left him in 2018, but he bagged a brace against Herediano in the round of 16, so perhaps CCL is the tournament in which he’ll shine in front of goal this year.

The winner of this quarterfinal goes on to play the winner of the America-Tauro series in the semifinals.

CD Guadalajara vs Seattle Sounders

1st leg @ Seattle: 10:00 pm, Eastern; Wednesday, March 7

2nd leg @ Guadalajara: 10:00 pm, Eastern; Wednesday, March 14

If Toronto-Tigres is the quarterfinal match-up CONCACAF was hoping to see, the final pairing the confederation is surely rooting for is America-Chivas. The two most successful teams in Liga MX history (12 titles each) bringing Mexico’s Super Clasico to CCL: it’s a regional soccer administrator’s dream.

But Seattle has the chance to spoil that dream.

How they got here

Chivas won the 2017 Clausura in Liga MX, bringing their haul of league titles level with rival America. But if Guadalajara is to match America’s CCL record - seven titles - it has some work to do. Chivas won the very first CONCACAF regional club championship, back in 1962. Since then, it has been to the final twice (in 1963 and 2007) without success. And since the tournament became Champions League, Guadalajara has made one appearance: it was bounced out at the group stage of the 2012-13 edition.

In the CCL 2018 round of 16, Chivas clobbered Caribbean club champion Cibao, 7-0 on aggregate.

Seattle is in this competition because it won MLS Cup in 2016, meaning it is technically the MLS Champion at this tournament. The Sounders were back in the MLS Cup final in 2017, losing to the team they beat for the title the year before: Toronto FC.

In the round of 16 of this tournament, Seattle had a little trouble with El Salvador’s Santa Tecla: losing the first leg on the road, 2-1, and sweating a bit in the second leg, before four second-half goals put the Sounders emphatically through to the quarterfinals.

How they are doing now

Chivas fans and players might have enjoyed watching Guadalajara product Carlos Vela torture Seattle’s defense as LAFC claimed a 1-0 win in Seattle in the first week of MLS 2018. That result plus the somewhat labored effort against Santa Tecla in CCL is all the Sounders have to show for the year so far - and none of it is likely to intimidate Chivas greatly.

But the Sounders don’t have great reason to fear Chivas either. Guadalajara is currently 16th in the 2018 Clausura table in Liga MX, with eight points from 10 games and a -5 goal difference. And this is after following its 2017 Clausura triumph with a 13th-place finish and no playoff appearance for the 2017 Apertura. So it’s been a while since Chivas has been in the sort of form that qualified the club for CCL 2018.

On the bright side for Guadalajara, the team is unbeaten in its last six competitive games; on the less bright side, the only two wins in that stretch were over Cibao in the round of 16 of CCL 2018 - and all those wins seemed achieve was confirmation that Cibao was the weakest team in the tournament.

Players to watch

Guadalajara: Isaac Brizuela

He’s mostly an off-the-bench option for Chivas these days, but the US-born winger was once one of the brighter prospects in the Mexico national team’s player pool.

Seattle: Stefan Frei

The veteran ‘keeper was the star of Seattle’s MLS Cup triumph in 2016, and he might need to be a star again if the Sounders are to go deep in this tournament.

The winner of this series will play the winner of the RBNY-Tijuana quarterfinal in the semifinals.

Watch CCL 2018 on Univision Deportes or go90.