No Major League Soccer team has ever won a Concacaf Champions League, a reality Portland Timbers head coach Giovanni Savarese faced head-on in his Tuesday press conference. Roughly 30 hours before his team kicked off its CCL quarterfinal matchup with Mexico’s Club América, Savarese acknowledged his team was playing for more than his club’s potential reward.
“We see this as a match [where] we are not only representing the Portland Timbers,” Savarese said. “We're representing Major League Soccer and U.S. soccer.”
This is the context whenever Major League Soccer’s teams face Mexico’s best in CCL. Two times in the last three years (and four times, overall), MLS teams have made a Champions League final only to be thwarted by Liga MX opposition. Two years ago, Toronto FC came painfully close to breaking through, losing in the final after a penalty-kick shootout against Chivas de Guadalajara. In the previous round, they had eliminated América. It’s not that Mexico’s teams are invincible. It’s that MLS has yet to break through in a final
Five MLS teams have a chance to change that this year. Each made it through Champions League’s Round of 16 and remain alive in the quarterfinals. Based on the history of this competition, though, we know that Liga MX’s teams should probably still be favored. Until an MLS team conquers the likes of América, Cruz Azul or Monterrey (Mexico’s surviving representatives) in a final, MLS will have something to prove.
“We're playing against a team that has some good history and has been doing well in their season, even though the last few results haven't gone for them,” Savarese explained. América enters Wednesday’s match winless in three games, losing to Olimpia of Honduras and Mexico’s Toluca since their last victory on April 14.
That’s where boiling matchups like these down to MLS versus Mexico gets too reductive. Amid the competition between the two leagues — and the hunger MLS has for a breakthrough — it sometimes needs to be said: These teams aren’t their countries, and they aren’t their leagues. They’re collections of players with a chance to perform. How they perform on Wednesday at Providence Park will be more important than any history inherited on their way to the quarterfinals.
That history will still be there, though. As will the occasion. As will the opportunity to show so many tuning in to see América that Portland’s performance can match Las Aguilas’ renown. That’s the platform matchups like these offer. “You play to compete in these kinds of matches,” Savarese said, explaining, “you want to earn the opportunity to play and be part of [them] …”
“We feel very motivated,” he said. “We feel well prepared. We feel calm, but we are very ready to understand the responsibility that we have, what we represent in this match that is beyond only our club. The players are ready for it and excited about these two games that we have to remember, that it's very important to understand that it's two matches. It's not only one game. It’s important to get a good result in this game in order for us to put ourselves in a good scenario going into Mexico next week.”
KNOW EVERYTHING: Portland hosts América on Wednesday:
- The Matchup | Zivin sets up Timbers' CCL match vs. América
- PERSPECTIVE | Why matchup with Club América matters to the Timbers
- PREVIEW | Savarese talks opportunity as América visits Portland
- WATCH | Mora discusses his next shot at Club América
- "Great opportunity" | Timbers' Liga MX vets on América matchup
- This week in PTFC: América arrives, Challenge Cup final in view