The Columbus Crew’s long-awaited return to the CONCACAF Champions League will feel more official on Wednesday when the draw for the tournament’s Round of 16 will take place. The event will determine which team the Black & Gold will face in the two-legged series that will take place in the first half of April.
The Crew will be part of Pot 1 in the draw alongside three other MLS teams — Atlanta United, the Philadelphia Union and the Portland Timbers — three Mexican sides — Club America, Cruz Azul and Monterrey — and the Canadian representative – either Forge FC or Toronto FC — meaning these clubs can’t cross the Black & Gold’s path in the first stage of the tournament but could down the road.
Among the potential Crew opponents are two teams from Costa Rica and Honduras and one from each from the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Mexico and Nicaragua. Here’s a brief analysis of each of them and Massive Report’s ranking, from most to least difficult.
1 - Club Leon (Mexico)
Mexican teams have dominated the tournament for quite some time and even though Club Leon is not at the same level as reigning champions, Tigres, or the traditional powerhouse that is Club America, it’s still easily the worst option for the Black & Gold to be drawn with at the Round of 16.
The two-time Mexican champions rely on their strong South American contingent that features four Colombians, including star left back Yairo Moreno, two Argentineans, two Chileans, one Venezuelan and one Uruguayan. The team’s most important players are veteran midfielder Luis Montes, a former Mexican National Team player, Chilean winger Jean Menezes and Costa Rican forward and World Cup veteran Joel Campbell.
2 - Saprissa (Costa Rica)
Saprissa holds the record for national titles in Costa Rica with 25 trophies lifted and has reached the semifinals twice in nine appearances. The current roster has four players who recently played for MLS teams, including two who are very familiar to Crew fans in midfielder David Guzman, who spent part of the 2019 season in Columbus, and former FC Cincinnati captain and center back Kendall Waston – former Vancouver Whitecaps winger Christian Bolaños and FC Dallas defender Aubrey David are the other two.
The Saprissa midfield has a wealth of experience between 33-year-old Argentinean journeyman Mariano Torres and 34-year-old former national team player Marvin Angulo, but also counts on the energy and dynamism of 23-year-old Jimmy Marin. Their defense also features Argentinean Esteban Espindola, who started his career with River Plate.
3 - Alajuelense (Costa Rica)
It’s a close call between the Costa Rican rivals but even if Alajuelense recently downed Saprissa to claim the CONCACAF League title, their current squad is a tier below their opponents. Alajuelense’s main star and captain is a well-known face to international soccer followers, 35-year-old attacking midfielder Bryan Ruiz, a World Cup veteran who spent most of the last decade at clubs in England, the Netherlands and Portugal before returning last summer.
MLS fans will also probably recognize the likes of two-time CONCACAF League top goal scorer Johan Venegas, who played for CF Montreal and Minnesota United, right back Jose Salvatierra, who spent the 2017 season with FC Dallas, and Honduran winger Alexander Lopez, who played for the Houston Dynamo and was the best player in the CONCACAF League campaign. They form the core of the team alongside 20-year-old defender Fernan Faerron and 33-year-old midfielder Jose Luis Cubero. Alajuelense has made it to the semifinals in back-to-back editions of the tournament, in 2014 and 2015.
4 - CD Olimpia (Honduras)
Olimpia was the Cinderella story of the 2020 CONCACAF Champions League after the Honduran side knocked out MLS teams Seattle Sounders and CF Montreal in back-to-back elimination rounds to advance to the semifinals (for the first time in their 11 appearances), where they lost to eventual winners Tigres. The team showed good offensive firepower in last year’s run, most notably with Colombian forward Yustin Arboleda, who scored twice in their campaign, and team captain and striker Jerry Bengston, who played for the New England Revolution back in 2012 and scored 21 goals in 57 matches for the Honduran National Team.
Left back Eder Alvarado, central midfielder Deybi Flores, Argentinean attacking midfielder Cristian Maidana and winger Michaell Chirinos have all played in MLS within the last five years as well. Their most popular face might, however, be head coach Pedro Troglio, who represented Argentina at the 1990 World Cup.
5 - CD Marathon (Honduras)
CD Marathon stars a strong national rivalry with Olimpia, but at this moment their opponents are just in a stronger position. Nicknamed ‘The Green Monster’, Marathon has competed in the Champions League on five other occasions, reaching the quarterfinals in 2009 and 2010.
A nine-time Honduran champion, the club has recently added Argentinean forward Ryduan Palermo and Uruguayan center back Mathias Techera to boost its squad last summer. Their most important player, however, might be 30-year-old midfielder Luis Garrido, who was developed by Olimpia but switched sides last year after playing in three different countries, including the United States, where he represented the Dynamo between 2016 and 2017.
6 - Real Estelí FC (Nicaragua)
Real Estelí has consistently taken part in the CONCACAF Champions League recently, appearing in the tournament six times over the last decade. The 15-time Nicaraguan champions are easily the best team in the country but have struggled to find success across their borders. They showed some improvement recently, making it to the quarterfinals of the 2020 CONCACAF League.
The team recently made an unsuccessful attempt to sign veteran Mexican midfielder Carlos ‘Gullit’ Pena, but still has some interesting talent in veteran left back Manuel Rosas, Uruguayan midfielder Richard Rodriguez and Colombian forward Carlos Betancur.
➖ ⏱ INICIA ➖— Real Estelí FC (@realestelifc) February 4, 2021
Juventus FC 0-0 Real Estelí FC pic.twitter.com/VqWQFk5kd3
7 - Arcahaie FC (Haiti)
Arcahaie FC had a deep run in the 2020 CONCACAF League, reaching the semifinals of the tournament. Even though their campaign ended with Haitians being trashed by Saprissa 5-0, this qualified the team for its first-ever Champions League. Veteran goalkeeper Guerry Romondt, 35, who made two saves in a penalty shootout victory against Canada’s FC Forge in the quarterfinals, enters the tournament as the main star of the team’s roster, which is exclusively formed by Haitian players.
8 - Club Atletico Pantoja (Dominican Republic)
Club Atletico Pantoja returns to its second CONCACAF Champions League appearance in 2021 after exiting the 2019 edition at the Round of 16 with a 5-0 aggregate loss to the New York Red Bulls, who had new Crew signing Bradley Wright-Phillips on the roster at the time.
Founded in 2020, the club has veteran Venezuelan forward Anderson Arias and Colombian midfielder Alexis Ossa as their players with the most international experience. Four members of their roster have recently been called up to the Dominican National Team in goalkeeper Miguel Baez, right back Ernesto Trinidad, midfielder Gerard Lavergne and forward Erick Japa.
Which team do you want to see the Crew playing at the CONCACAF Champions League Round of 16?
This poll is closed
Club Leon (Mexico)
Saprissa (Costa Rica)
Alajuelense (Costa Rica)
CD Olimpia (Honduras)
CD Marathon (Honduras)
Real Estelí FC (Nicaragua)
Arcahaie FC (Haiti)
Club Atletico Pantoja (Dominican Republic)