CONCACAF Champions League, 7.21.16
Photo by Craig Mitchelldyer

Know your CONCACAF Champions League: How have MLS teams done in the tournament?

The Portland Timbers are back in the Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League.

The Timbers are one of five MLS teams participating in this year's tournament along with FC Dallas, Sporting Kansas City, Vancouver Whitecaps FC, and the New York Red Bulls. For Portland, it will be the club’s second appearance in the tournament that pits the best club teams of North and Central America along with the Caribbean region.

The Timbers open their CCL campaign at home against El Salvadoran side CD Dragón on August 3 (7pm PT, TICKETS). Also joining Portland and Dragón in Group B is Costa Rican powerhouse Saprissa. Each team will play each other twice (home and away) with the team with the best cumulative record moving on to the knockout rounds in the spring.

Leading up to Portland's first match, we'll be taking a look at the structure and history of the tournament.

How have MLS teams fared in the tournament?

Historically, American teams have struggled to get results on the road in Central America, especially in Mexico. MLS teams have won two Champions League matches in that country and both of those results came in group stage matches during the 2011-12 tournament. In the Champions League era, MLS teams have been outscored on the road in Mexico by nearly three to one.

For some examples of this, look no further than last year's tournament, in which MLS teams were outscored by their Mexican opponents 11-1. That lone goal was small consolation to a Seattle Sounders FC team that could only manage a 2-2 draw at home and who ultimately fell 5-3 on aggregate to Club América. The LA Galaxy, who boast an all-time goal differential of +16 in the Champions League-era, has been outscored 8-2 in its last two trips across the border.

While two MLS teams – D.C. United in 1998 and the LA Galaxy in 2000 – have won the tournament, MLS teams have had a challenging time since the adoption of the Champions League format in 2008. While MLS teams boast a respectable 81-66-44 record in Champions League play, that record belies a difficult spate of knockout round performances. Since 2008, MLS teams have a 5-17 record in knockout round series and only two MLS teams – Real Salt Lake in 2011 and the Montreal Impact in 2015 – have reached the final.

Simply put, though MLS teams have historically done well in the group stage, beating Liga MX clubs on the road in the knockout rounds remains a challenge. 

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