On Wednesday, just before Toronto FC and the Montreal Impact kicked off in the final of the Voyageurs Cup, the draw for the 2014/15 CONCACAF Champions League took place. The winner of Canada's domestic cup championship is yet to be decided but we now know who they will meet in the group stage this summer.
Since the CCL format was adjusted to remove the preliminary rounds and go to groups of three teams the Canadian champions have been placed in Pot B. Thanks to the rules put in place by CONCACAF that placement means that each year that this current format is in place the Canadian team in the CCL will be drawn with the MLS Cup champions, MLS Supporters Shield winner, or the Clausura or Apertura Champions from Mexico. So no matter what the Canadian team will be up against at least one tough opponent with only the group winner advancing to the quarterfinals in 2015.
This year the options for the Canadian champion out of Pot A were Sporting Kansas City, New York Red Bulls, Leon, and Pachuca. Sporting Kansas City are arguably the strongest team in MLS, Pachuca are a former CCL winner, Leon just completed the double in Liga MX leaving New York as the potential weak link. New York does not seem to have the squad depth to compete on multiple fronts and have been more than a little suspect defensively at times this season. Combine with that the fact that it is unclear how serious they will take the CCL and they might be the one team of the group that is ripe for the picking.
The draw on Wednesday was kind to the Canadian entrant as they were paired with New York for the group stage. They will be in Group 3 which will be rounded out by FAS from El Salvador. Club Deportivo Futbolistas Asociados Santanecos qualified as the second team out of El Salvador thanks to having the better overall record between the two teams to finish as runners up to Isidro Metapan in the two halves of the season. Their last appearance in the event came in 2012/13 when they finished bottom of a group that included the Houston Dynamo.
For the Canadian champions this draw was about as kind as you could have asked for. New York seem the weakest of the four top seeds, they avoid a trip to Mexico until at least the quarterfinals, and they get a very beatable team from El Salvador to round out the group.
Group 3 should come down to a battle between the two MLS teams with the team from Canada having a good chance of advancing. In fact, the draw set things up fairly nicely for a potential four MLS teams to make it to the quarterfinal round with Sporting Kansas City, Portland Timbers, and even D.C. United getting groups that they can win.
Given that the draw was kind to the Canadian entrant it was a bit frustrating for many to see the lineup that Ryan Nelsen fielded only minutes later against the Montreal Impact. If Toronto are serious about making a decent run in the CCL at some point in the near future this might just be their chance to get it done. They had a final against a struggling Impact team and then the chance to take on a New York team that they just beat in the group stage. It is all there for them to seize should they want to.
It will be worth keeping a close eye on just how the two teams set themselves up in the return leg. It is likely that Frank Klopas will again go with a strong lineup but that may have more to do with trying to keep his job by winning a trophy than with any desire to get Montreal back in to the CCL after they failed to make it out of their group last summer. The question now is just what will Ryan Nelsen do? With the World Cup break just around the corner the answer will hopefully be put out a strong team and go for a result. If Toronto really do want to be a big club than getting back to the CCL knockout rounds should be part of the plan and chances are they are not going to get many better chances than the one they have been handed this year.
The full draw for 2014/15 CONCACAF Champions League is as follows:
Group 1: Pachuca (Mexico), Real España (Honduras), Municipal (Guatemala)
Group 2: Sporting Kansas City (USA), Saprissa (Costa Rica), Real Esteli (Nicaragua)
Group 3: New York Red Bulls (USA), Toronto FC or Impact de Montreal (Canada), FAS (El Salvador)
Group 4: Tauro FC (Panama), D.C. United (USA), Waterhouse FC (Jamaica)
Group 5: Olimpia (Honduras), Portland Timbers (USA), Alpha United (Guyana)
Group 6: Alajuelense (Costa Rica), Cruz Azul (Mexico), Chorrillo FC (Panama)
Group 7: Leon (Mexico), Isidro Metapan (El Salvador), Belmopan Bandits (Belize)
Group 8: Comunicaciones (Guatemala), Club America (Mexico), Puerto Rico Bayamon FC (Puerto Rico)