CCL Preview: Orlando City, Austin FC make tournament debuts, and more
Major League Soccer's quest to repeat as 2023 Concacaf Champions League begins on Tuesday with Round of 16 first legs kicking off.
Tuesday's three-match slate will feature two tournament debutants from MLS as Austin FC and Orlando City both hit the road for the first time. Austin FC faces off with Haitian hosts Violette AC in the opening match of the night while Orlando City pays a visit to Liga MX giants Tigres UNAM.
The Philadelphia Union will also be in action on Tuesday, traveling to El Salvadoran side Alianza FC. Jim Curtin's squad are making their second appearance in the competition after a positive debut run in 2021 to the semifinals.
Wednesday's final match comes from BC Place as the Vancouver Whitecaps host Honduran visitors Real Espana. It will mark the Whitecaps third-ever CCL appearance and their first since the 2016-17 edition of the competition.
Defending MLS Cup winners Los Angeles FC closes out the week's action with a visit to Costa Rican side LD Alajuelense. LAFC finished as tournament runners-up in 2020 and will be fighting to make another deep run this season.
The eight Round-of-16 matchups are spread across three days and the second legs will be played next week over the same time span. Only Vancouver will host the first leg at home, with the remaining four MLS clubs hosting matches in the second leg.
Here's a closer look at the matchups facing the five MLS teams in the Round-of-16 first legs:
Tigres UNAM vs. Orlando City
(Tuesday, 10 p.m. ET, FS2)
Orlando City's CCL life begins on Tuesday with a trip to Liga MX side Tigres.
The Lions have yet to lose in their first two MLS matches of the season, defeating the New York Red Bulls 1-0 and tying FC Cincinnati 0-0. Peruvian international Pedro Gallese has posted clean sheets in both of his starts this season, totaling eight saves in between the posts. Facundo Torres has scored the lone goal for Oscar Pareja's squad and will be key on if the Lions can offer a threat in the final third in Mexico.
Tigres has only lost one match since October, falling 2-1 to Chivas de Guadalajara on Feb. 25. Marco Ruiz's squad most recently defeated Necaxa 1-0 on Friday, using a winning goal from Fernando Gorriaran. Gorriaran has been one of Tigres' key players in Liga MX, while Andre-Pierre Gignac and Nicolas Ibanez have combined for 10 league goals this season.
Violette AC vs. Austin FC
(Tuesday, 6 p.m. ET, FS1, TUDN)
Another CCL debutant kicks off its schedule earlier on Tuesday with Austin FC facing off with Haitian side Violette AC.
Violette AC is making their first competitive appearance since May 2022 after winning the CFU Club Championship over Cibao. The Haitian side has plenty of experience on their roster with midfielders Samuel Pompee and Kerlin Georges leading the way. Dumy Fede is Violette's top attacking target and will be keen on getting after the Austin FC backline.
Austin FC earned its first three points of the MLS season on Saturday with a late winning goal in a 1-0 triumph over CF Montreal. Maxi Urruti came off the bench to score his first goal of the season, giving Josh Wolff's squad a clean sheet and a boost of confidence ahead of their CCL debut. Sebastian Driussi and Emiliano Rigoni will also be among the attacking threats for Austin FC on the road.
LD Alajuelense vs. Los Angeles FC
(Thursday, 10 p.m. ET, FS2, TUDN)
Defending MLS Cup winners Los Angeles FC also hit the road this week with Costa Rican leaders Alajuelense playing hosts on Thursday.
Steve Cherundolo's squad edged the Portland Timbers 3-2 on Saturday in their season-opening match, using goals from Giorgio Chiellini, Carlos Vela, and Kwadwo Opoku to pick up the win. LAFC's deep run in 2020 should provide experience for many of the current players on the roster, but some new faces will be eager to make their tournament debuts as well.
Alajuelense leads the Primera Division by five points over rivals Deportivo Saprissa and has only lost once match since late-October. Veteran international striker Johan Venegas leads the way with 11 goals in 11 league appearances while fellow veteran Celso Borges brings plenty of experience in midfield. Leonel Moreira and Miguel Aju have split time in between the posts for Alajuelense.
Alianza FC vs. Philadelphia Union
(Tuesday, 8 p.m. ET, FS1, TUDN)
Defending Eastern Conference champions Philadelphia Union are back in CCL action with a first-ever trip to El Salvador.
Jim Curtin's fell 2-0 at Inter Miami on Saturday and will be seeking an immediate bounce-back as a busy March schedule begins. The Union fell down to Corentin Jean's blistering strike in the first half before also conceding another goal later to Robert Taylor. Daniel Gazdag and Julian Carranza each scored two goals apiece in a 4-1 opening weekend win over the Columbus Crew while Mikael Uhre is also a potential goalscoring threat this week.
Alianza FC is unbeaten in Primera Division play this season, winning five of its nine league matches to date. Alexander Larin headlines a stubborn backline for Alianza FC, which has only conceded two goals in 810 minutes so far. Michell Mercado and Marvin Monterrosa have combined for seven league goals and will be fighting to pose a threat against the Union backline.
Vancouver Whitecaps vs. Real Espana
(Wednesday, 10 p.m. ET, Fox Soccer Plus, TUDN)
Only one MLS team is in action on Wednesday and that will take place at BC Place with the Vancouver Whitecaps hosting Real Espana.
Real Espana are 12 points out of Honduran leaders CD Olimpia and coming into Wednesday's trip to Canada off the back of a 3-0 league loss to Motagua. The Honduran side have only won one of their last five league matches and are seeking a spark in front of goal to grab a first-leg result. Jhow Benavidez and Ramiro Rocca have six league goals between them this season and will be Real Espana's biggest scoring threat this week.
The Whitecaps failed to win either of their opening two MLS matches, scoring early but failing to hang on against Real Salt Lake and the San Jose Earthquakes. Javain Brown and Alessandro Schopf have one goal apiece to their name this season while Julian Gressel has both of the team's assists. Brian White, Pedro Vite, and Ryan Gauld remain the Whitecaps top attacking options heading into the first leg.
Here's the remaining Concacaf Champions League first legs:
Tauro FC (PAN) vs. Club Leon (MEX) (Wednesday, 6 p.m. ET)
CD Olimpia (HON) vs. Atlas (MEX) (Wednesday, 8 p.m. ET)
CD Motagua (HON) vs. Pachuca (MEX) (Thursday, 8 p.m. ET)