While it will be a quiet offseason for most MLS teams, that won’t be the case for Atlanta United. Not only will the club be introducing a new coach, but it will prepare for its first crack in a competition where only a handful of teams in the league have tasted success. In February, the Five Stripes will set out in the CONCACAF Champions League, having qualified by virtue of having the most regular season points of any U.S.-based MLS team over the past two seasons.
Who will Atlanta United play?
We’ll find out on December 3 at 7 p.m. as the draw to determine the pairings for all 16 teams will be held at the Univision Deportes studios in Miami. There will be a “red carpet arrival” beforehand, according to the media release, involving figures from international football, so we’ll have to see who is on that list.
How does the draw work?
The draw is divided in two pots: Atlanta have been placed in Pot 1 along with Liga MX’s four qualifying teams (Monterrey, Toluca, Tigres, Santos Laguna) and a pair of MLS teams in Houston Dynamo and Sporting Kansas City, along with Toronto FC as the winner of the Canadian Championship (Canada’s version of the U.S. Open Cup). Teams in the first pot will be paired with a team from Pot 2: Independiente F.C. (Panama), Saprissa (Costa Rica), Marathon (Honduras), Guastatoya (Guatemala), Alizana (El Salvador), Atletico Pantoja (Dominican Republic) and Herdiano (Costa Rica).
The U.S. has one spot remaining in the Champions League that will go to the winner of MLS Cup. It it’s Portland Timbers, they will advance to the competition. However, if Atlanta United win, since it’s qualified already, the spot will automatically go to New York Red Bulls as the U.S. based team with the second-most aggregate points over the past two seasons and will see it placed in Pot 2. (So, if you’re an RBNY fan reading this, then root for Atlanta if you’re looking to make it back to CCL.)
Now to the matchups. The first team drawn from Pot 1 will then have its bracket position drawn from Pot A, continuing on until all eight teams in Pot 1 have been accounted for. The process will be replicated for Pot 2. The competition is made up of two-legged ties at each level, including the final: teams in Pot 1 will travel for the first leg and host the second leg in the first round.
How has MLS traditionally done in the competition?
If Atlanta United win the Champions League, it will be rather uncharted territory for MLS: under the current era of the CCL (dating back to 2008-09), the league’s best finish has been as a runner-up.
- In 2011, Real Salt Lake drew 2-2 at Monterrey to put itself in fairly good shape, but then gave up a goal just before the half at home in the return leg to end up falling 3-2 on aggregate.
- Four years later, the Montreal Impact drew Club América 1-1 at Azteca and led 1-0 in the 50th during the return leg at Olympic Stadium, but a Dario Benedetto hat trick keyed a run of four unanswered goals for the Mexican side as they won 4-2.
- The closest team to winning it was Toronto FC last year, who fell to Guadalajara 2-1 at BMO Field before beating them 2-1 away to draw back level - after a scoreless extra time session, Chivas went on to win 4-2 in penalties.
Other MLS teams to make it as far as the semifinals: Toronto FC (2011-12), LA Galaxy and the Seattle Sounders (2012-13); FC Dallas (2016-17) and Red Bulls (last year). The Galaxy actually won CCL under its old format in 2000, while D.C. United did it in 1998.