FC Dallas traveled to El Salvador this week and tonight take on Alianza FC in the first leg of a home and home series in the CONCACAF Champions League Preliminary Round.
The match can be seen live on Fox Soccer Channel at 9 PM CT. The return leg is next Wednesday, August 3rd, at 6 PM CT at Pizza Hut Park. This is FCD's first time to play in the CCL.
For those of you that do not know, the CONCACAF Champions League is an almost year long tournament featuring the best teams in North and Central America. It includes league champions, like Alianza FC who won the Clasura session of the El Salvador league, and from the bigger leagues some of the teams that finished high in the standings or playoffs, like FCD who are in via playing in last year's MLS Cup. This tourney is the CONCACAF equivalent to the UEFA Champions League, the biggest and best professional competition in the world.
Real Salt Lake finished 2nd in last year's CCL, which ended earlier this MLS season. Because MLS is on the opposite cycle (a summer league) from most of the other countries, MLS teams join this competition mid MLS season and the crunch time of the final CCL stages will come during preseason and early parts of next MLS season. Alianza, being on the cycle with most of the rest of the world, is in their preseason and starts league play this weekend. Fortunately for FCD that puts the Red Stripes in top mid-season form for this opening round, but unfortunately means they will be in off-season mode for the harder more important parts of the CCL.
This will be FC Dallas’ seventh game in July in their third different country and in their third different competition; thus they are tired, and plagued by injuries and absences. In FCD's favor, Alianza sold (or loanded?) this winter their best player, Rodolfo Zelaya (a player FC Dallas tried to sign after the Gold Cup), to Russian club Alania Vladikavkaz.
If FCD wins this home and home series they will advance to Group C in CCL group play to face UNAM Pumas (Mexico), Tauro FC (Panama) and either Toronto FC or Real Estelí (Nicaragua). Toronto won their first leg match 2-1 over Real Estelí. The other MLS teams in the competition are Seattle Sounders, LA Galaxy, and Colorado Rapids. Puerto Rico Islanders, under former FCD coach Colin Clarke, are in their 4th straight CCL after winning their 2nd straight Caribbean club title. (Why did FCD fire him? It still boggles the mind.)
No MLS team has ever won the CCL, which has existed since 2009. From 1962 to 2008 CONCACAF held the Champions Cup, a knockout tournament with eight teams (2 from Mexico, 2 from USA, 3 from Central America, and 1 from the Caribbean). The CCL with its group stage and 24 clubs was basically a response to the SuperLiga between MLS and MFL and the desire for more teams in competition. DC United in 1998 and LA Galaxy in 2000 are the only US teams to ever win the Champions Cup. A team from Mexico has won the CCL every year.
While this is FCD's first time in the CCL, it's not the first time they have played in international competition. In 1998 FCD played against Necaxa and Cruz Azul in the group stage of the CONCACAF Cup Winner Cup having win the US Open Cup in 1997. FCD also took part in the 2007 SuperLiga against Pachuca and Chivas. But this CCL is certainly the highest competition stage the club has ever reached.