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CCL Preview: LAFC, Atlanta United headline MLS contingent as knockout round begins

Major League Soccer’s quest to conquer the 2020 Concacaf Champions League begins on Tuesday with Round of 16 first legs kicking off.

2019 saw Liga MX continue to reign supreme in the tournament as Monterrey defeated Tigres in an all-Mexican final. Five MLS teams will begin their quest to knock off their Concacaf counterparts for this year’s edition of the trophy.

Tuesday will see both LAFC and Atlanta United in action on the road against stiff competition. The defending Supporters’ Shield winners will take on Liga MX side Club Leon while the Five Stripes visit Honduran side CD Motagua.

Canada’s loan representative is the Montreal Impact, who will visit Costa Rican club Deportivo Saprissa on Wednesday. Thursday sees NYCFC and Seattle Sounders close out the first legs, visiting Deportiva San Carlos and CD Olimpia respectively.

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. All five MLS sides begin the competition on the road before returning home for the return legs.

Here’s a closer look at the matchups facing the five MLS teams in the Round-of-16 first legs:

CD Motagua vs. Atlanta United

(Tuesday, 10 p.m. ET, FS1)

2019 U.S. Open Cup winners Atlanta United will visit Motagua on Tuesday in the first of two matchups featuring MLS competition.

Frank de Boer’s side remains strong with the likes of Josef Martinez, Pity Martinez, and Ezequiel Barco headlining the attack. Josef Martinez scored 28 league goals for the Five Stripes in 2019 and should be eager to lead the line once again.

However, de Boer won’t have starting centerback Miles Robinson available for the trip. Robinson is reportedly listed as week-to-week with a left quadricep injury, missing the trip to Honduras.

Brooks Lennon could make his competitive debut for his new club starting in the right side of midfield. Lennon will take the place of Julian Gressel, who joined D.C. United earlier this offseason.

Motagua comes into the first leg in good form, winners of four-straight in Liga Nacional play. The hosts have outscored their opponents 11-2 over that stretch with Roberto Moreira leading the way with four goals. Rubilio Castillo also has three goals during that winning run.

Club Leon vs. LAFC

(Tuesday, 10 p.m. ET,, FS2, Univision Deportes)

Bob Bradley’s LAFC face the toughest road test in the Round of 16, visiting Club Leon.

Led by Carlos Vela and Diego Rossi, LAFC could hold its own against the Liga MX side. Vela and Rossi combined for 50 goals and 16 assists in MLS play last season, helping the Western Conference side to a breakout campaign.

Adama Diomande is out for LAFC, but Mark-Anthony Kaye, Eduard Atuesta and new goalkeeper Kenneth Vermeer all are available. With Walker Zimmerman now with Nashville SC, Eddie Segura is the face of the LAFC backline after a strong 2019 season.

Club Leon saw a three-match league winning streak snapped on Sunday against Atletico San Luis, but remains a tough out at home.

Luis Montes is coming off a brace back on Matchday 5 in a 3-1 win over Monterrey. The 33-year-old has recorded five goals and eight assists in both Liga MX seasons in 2019-20.

Deportivo Saprissa vs. Montreal Impact

(Wednesday, 8 p.m. ET, FS2)

Out of all five MLS teams, the Montreal Impact are the only one with a new coach coming into this season.

Thierry Henry takes over at Stade Saputo, replacing Wilmer Cabrera, who was not retained from last season. The former New York Red Bulls forward will be eager to begin his MLS head coaching career in fine fashion with a road win over a stingy Saprissa side.

With Ignacio Piatti gone, the spotlight now is on several other faces on the Impact roster. Romell Quioto has experience in this competition with the Houston Dynamo and could join Bojan Krkic in the attacking half. Quioto only recorded two goals and two assists despite an injury-plagued season, while Krkic scored three goals for the Impact in 2019.

Canadian Men’s National Team captain Samuel Piette will be key for the Impact, with his ability to cover ground and shut down opposing playmakers.

Saprissa is riding a four-match unbeaten streak in league play coming into Wednesday’s showdown in San Jose. Former MLS players David Guzman and Christian Bolanos are coming off goalscoring outings in Saprissa’s last two matches.

Deportiva San Carlos vs. NYCFC

(Thursday, 8 p.m. ET, FS2)

The third and final MLS Eastern Conference representative is in action on Thursday with NYCFC visiting fellow Costa Rican club Deportiva San Carlos.

Ronny Deila’s NYCFC career begins on international soil as the club seeks a strong start to life under their new head coach. Deila will call on the likes of Heber, Maxi Moralez and Valentin Castellanos in the NYCFC attack after combining for 33 league goals in 2019.

The return of Keaton Parks is a bonus for NYCFC in midfield, which could see the youngster paired with Alex Ring in the middle of the park.

San Carlos has drawn its last two matches in league play and have yet to taste victory in 2020. Veteran goalkeeper Patrick Pemberton brings a wealth of experience at 37-years-old while former Montreal Impact loanee Omar Browne has plenty of positive memories in this competition.

Also, striker Alvaro Saborio scored 13 goals in 25 league appearances for the club over the last calendar year.

CD Olimpia vs. Seattle Sounders

(Thursday, 10 p.m. ET, FS2, TUDN)

The defending MLS Cup Champs are likely the favorite to do the most damage in the 2020 Concacaf Champions League after a title-winning season a year ago.

Brian Schmetzer’s team will face a tough side in Olimpia, but have plenty of attacking talent to call on. Jordan Morris, Raul Ruidiaz, and Nicolas Lodeiro totaled 28 league goals last season, propelling the Sounders to a second MLS Cup in the past four seasons.

Lodeiro returned from tendonitis for the second-half of the Sounders preseason camp in Mexico and could return to game action on Thursday. Pairing with him is U.S. Men’s National Team midfielder Cristian Roldan.

Stefan Frei is one of the top goalkeepers in Concacaf and could be called on for a few game changing saves on the road.

Olimpia has picked up wins in their last two league matches and are unbeaten in their last three. Former Philadelphia Union Cristian Maidana is a veteran presence in the Honduran side’s midfield while Jerry Bengtson has 14 goals since the start of the 2019-20 season.

Here’s the remaining Concacaf Champions League first legs:

Portmore United (JAM) vs. Cruz Azul (MEX) (Tuesday, 8 p.m. ET) 

Alianza FC (SLV) vs. Tigres (MEX) (Wednesday, 8 p.m. ET) 

Comunicaciones FC (GUA) vs. Club America (MEX) (Wednesday, 10 p.m. ET) 

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