Michael_bradley_-_vs._tigres Frank Gunn/CP
CCL 2018

Breaking down the CCL quarterfinal first legs

The series are far from over but MLS teams have fared much better than expected in the first round of the CONCACAF Champions League. The Seattle Sounders, Toronto FC, and the New York Red Bulls all carry leads into the second leg. Brian Sciaretta looks at how it got to this point. 
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
March 08, 2018
3:00 AM
THE PAST TWO DAYS were certainly good ones for Major League Soccer as all three teams in the quarterfinals won their first-leg games against Liga MX opponents.

On Wednesday night, Toronto fell behind Tigres but found an equalizer through Jozy Altidore and then a brilliant backheel winner from Jonathan Osorio late for a 2-1 win. Then Seattle was the dominant team against Chivas but only scored once when Clint Dempsey hammered home a great pass from Henry Wingo for a 1-0 advantage.

It was a strong showing although plenty of work needs to be done. Seattle has to head to Guadalajara and Toronto has to head to Monterrey and both are clinging to mere one goal advantages. Historically, MLS teams have struggled mightily in Mexico. Meanwhile, the Red Bulls return to New Jersey with two away goals but that win was in large part due to the phenomenal goalkeeping of Luis Robles.

With all the cautionary tales aside, there were far more positive takeaways from these games.

Seattle and Toronto played with aggression

For anyone that watched the game, it was apparent that both Seattle and Toronto wanted to take the game to their Mexican opponents. While MLS teams fare better at home, this was the most aggressive MLS teams have ever been able to play against Liga MX so far.

In its 2-1 win, Toronto was especially strong in the second half. Despite falling behind 1-0, Toronto started to take the game to Tigres. Tigres is still favored due to its depth and the Monterrey-based team is one of the strongest opponents an MLS team has ever faced in an official competition.

Seattle, meanwhile, was far more aggressive than Chivas on Wednesday night as the Sounders dictated the pace of the game. The problem for the Sounders it that the team was incredibly wasteful in its chances. The fact it is heading to Mexico with only a 1-0 lead is disappointing.

So what is needed to win the series?

For Seattle, scoring an early goal can go a long ways towards securing advancement. Holding Chivas without an away goal will give the Sounders a huge incentive to come out and continue to be aggressive.

Toronto has the toughest path to advance. It is the best MLS team left in the tournament but Tigres is the best opponent. Tigres has an away goal too. But this will be a huge occasion for Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore to put the difficult 2017 behind them. If they can get Toronto past Tigres, it would be their best achievement in MLS – yes, beyond winning MLS Cup.

Last night, Altidore showed some very impressive quality on his equalizing goal.

The Red Bulls have a huge 2-0 advantage returning home but Tijuana is still well within striking distance. The absence of Sean Davis due to suspension could have significant negative consequences as the team is not deep in that area of the midfield. It is going to have to find a way to hold possession and relieve pressure on Luis Robles.

Homegrowns & domestic players standout

The biggest takeaway from the past two games was the enormous play of homegrown players. All three of the MLS teams benefited significantly from players it developed.

For Toronto, Jonathan Osorio came up through Toronto’s academy and scored the winning goal in dramatic fashion.

For Seattle, one of the game’s best performers came from Kenyan Handwalla Bwana who is a homegrown player. Bwana, 18, was a standout with the Washington Huskies and also played for the Seattle Sounders 2.

But the winning goal came on an assist from Henry Wingo, who also is a homegrown that spent time with the University of Washington and Seattle Sounders 2.

The Red Bulls started three homegrowns and played five in the win over Tijuana.

What is also impressive is that in the first week of the MLS season, domestic players played just 38.23% of all the minutes as outlined in ASN's MLS Minutes Matrix. In these three games, it was radically different as domestic players played 60.81% of the minutes. In the first week of the MLS season, domestic players accounted for 40.4% of appearances whereas in these three games, domestic players 59.5%

The result is that the while MLS has been heavily foreign, the CONCACAF Champions League so far has been mostly domestic for the three MLS teams.

Perhaps that is why this has been a lot of fun so far for American fans.

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