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Get to know Atlanta United’s potential Concacaf Champions League Round of 16 opponents

Who could the Five Stripes face in February?

Soccer: Concacaf Champions League-Toronto FC at Guadalajara Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

Atlanta United will play for its first MLS title in club history on Saturday as it hosts the Portland Timbers at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. But while that’s in front of mind for the team right now, it will be playing in a different competition come February.

Whoever is hired to replace Tata Martino will be tasked with navigating the club through the Concacaf Champions League, which Atlanta qualified for by having the most points out of any MLS team over the past two seasons. The CCL’s been shaken up a bit over the past couple of years; its recent restructuring has not only changed the dates of the competition, but the methods of qualification and the way teams progress through it. I’ll hand you off to the fine people at MLS to go through it rather than discuss it here.

As I mentioned an an earlier post, eight North American teams are placed in a single pot (Pot 1), while seven Central American teams and a single North American team is slotted in Pot 2. Atlanta are in Pot 1 with Liga MX’s qualifiers: UANL and Santos Laguna, the 2017 Apetura and 2018 Clausura champions, respectively; 2017 Apetura second-place finisher Monterrey; and 2018 Clausura runner-up Toluca. They’ll be joined will be joined by two MLS clubs: current Open Cup holders Houston Dynamo and Toronto FC, who qualified through the Canadian Championship. One remaining slot for the U.S.will go to the winner of MLS Cup. Since Atlanta United have qualified, if they win, that slot will instead go to the New York Red Bulls since they had the second-most points over the past two seasons. If Portland wins, they’re in, of course.

Here’s how things look in Pot 2:

Pot 2

Slot Club Name League Country Method of Qualification Appearances
Slot Club Name League Country Method of Qualification Appearances
PAN1 Independiente Liga Nacional de Asenso Panama Best aggregate record in league's Apetura and Clausura competitions 1st
USA2 Sporting Kansas City MLS United States 2017 U.S. Open Cup champions 4th
CRC1 Saprissa Primera División de Costa Rica Costa Rica Best aggregate record in league's Clausura competition 8th
HON1 Marathón Liga Nacional de Fútbol Profesional de Honduras Honduras Best aggregate record in league's Apetura and Clausura competitions 5th
GUA1 Guastatoya Liga Nacional de Fútbol de Guatemala Guatemala Playoff vs. Antigua GFC 1st
SLV1 Alizana FC Primera División El Salvador Apetura/Clasura champions 3rd
CCC1 Atlético Pantoja Liga Dominica de Fútbol Dominican Republic Concacaf Carribean Club champions 1st
SCL1 Herediano Primera División de Costa Rica Costa Rica Concacaf League champions 9th

Right off the bat, it’s important to note that Atlanta United can’t be drawn with a team from its own association, so Sporting KC are out of the running by default. That leaves seven possible teams that Atlanta could play.

Fortunately, North American teams have traditionally done well against their Central American and Caribbean counterparts, but occasionally you’ll see the latter get one over on the former. That happened last year when FC Dallas fell 1-0 at Tauro in Panama City and ended up losing on away goals despite a 3-3 aggregate. It really didn’t matter for Tauro as they were blitzed 7-1 by Club América in the next round, but in Atlanta United’s case, depending on who it’s matched up against, it should be able to show its class against a team with less resources in comparison.

Three of the clubs in Pot 2 - Atletico Pantoja, Guastatoya and Independiente FC - are making their first ever Champions League appearance. How have the others fared?

Herediano - ninth appearance

Herediano are in the competition for the eighth straight time, and had its best finish in 2014-15 when it advanced to the semifinals. Outside of moving out of the group stage in 2012-13, the CCL hasn’t been kind: it fell in the prelim round to Cruz Azul 6-2 on aggregate in 2009-10 and failed to advance past groups in 2011-12, 2013-14, 2015-16 and 2016-17.

Saprissa - eighth appearance

The most successful of the teams in Pot B, Saprissa are three-time champions, winning in 1993, 1995 and 2005 and finishing as runner-up in 2004 and 2008. Last year, it fell 6-2 to Club América in the Round of 16.

Marathón - fifth appearance

The Honduran power was part of the first-ever revamped CCL in 2008-09 where it advanced out of one of what was then four four-team groups, but lost 3-1 on aggregate to Puerto Rico Islanders in the quarterfinals. The same happened the next season as it fell 6-3 to UNAM before failing to come out of groups in 2010-11 and 2012-2013.

Sporting Kansas City - fourth appearance

Sporting KC’s first apperance in 2013-14 saw it advance past the group stage (teams were divided into eight groups of three back then) but then fall 5-2 in aggregate to Cruz Azul. It drew Saprissa in the group stage with seven points the next season but ended up losing on a head-to-head goals scored tiebreaker, while a disappointing 1-1-2 showing in 2016-17 saw it fail to advance once more.

Alizana - third appearance

Alianza hope that its third CCL tournament fares better than its first two: in 2011-12, it was paired with FC Dallas in the preliminary round but fell 2-0 on aggregate. In the group stage in 2016-17, it failed to advance as it finished 1-2-1.