by GIANFRANCO PANIZO
With the UEFA Champions League taking up much of the attention this week as fans started looking ahead to the knockout rounds, it was easy to forget that the CONCACAF version of the same tournament is still underway, and just two months from returning.
The draw for the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals took place on Wednesday and the result was a set of intriguing match-ups that should heat things up come late February.
The best match-up in the draw? The Mexico City 'Clasico' between UNAM Pumas and Cruz Azul will be the tournament's headliner, but MLS fans will be tuned into the Houston Dynamo/Atlante clash. The 2007 Mexican Apertura champions will travel to Houston in February before serving as host in Cancun during the early days of March in a rematch of last summer's testy SuperLiga clash.
Atlante comes into the quarterfinals as Group C's winner while the Dynamo just managed to eke out its berth in the final eight, edging out Luis Angel Firpo (El Salvador) by one point in Group B.
Atlante might be considered favorites by some, but that would ignore the result the last time these teams met. Houston defeated Atlante, 4-0, in SuperLiga in July. The result came in Mexio's pre-season, but at the very least suggests that this could be one of the best match-ups of the quarters.
MLS fans will also remember Atlante as the chippy squad that showed its ugly side in a fight and card-filled SuperLiga semifinal loss to New England.
The other quarterfinal tilts drawn are just as interesting. The overall favorites are Pumas but they'll have to get passed top scoring Javier Orozco and Cruz Azul in what should be the most entertaining quarterfinal series. Marathon will look to continue its impressive form as the Hondurans take on a surprising Puerto Rican Islanders side that joins fellow USL-1 side Montreal Impact in the quarterfinals. Puerto Rico and Montreal could field different looking teams in February compard to the squads that made those improbable runs to the quarters.
The Impact will not only have to deal with the potential loss of key players during the winter, Montreal will also have deal with a tough draw against Oswaldo Sanchez's Group D-winning Santos Laguna, a team expected to add talent to the roster during the winter.
Which match are you most looking forward to? Think Houston can repeat its SuperLiga success against Atlante? Can Montreal and Puerto Rico keep their surprising runs going? Are you secretly hoping for a Dynamo-Islanders semifinal to settle MLS-USL bragging rights?
Share your thoughts below.