It’s that time of the year again, when plenty of MLS fans get a strong case of CONCACAF Champions League fever. The past two days have seen three MLS teams pick up wins again Liga MX opposition. The Red Bulls won away to Tijuana, while both Toronto and Seattle were able to defeat Tigres and Chivas Guadalajara. However, those were just the first legs, and every team still has a lot of work to do in the return legs if they want to advance to the semifinals.
Anyone ready for some @ChampionsLeague action? ♂️ ♀️— Chicago Fire (@ChicagoFire) March 6, 2018
Visit us at @fadochicago today to snap a photo and enter for a chance to win 2 tickets to Saturday’s season-opener!#cf97 #UCL #CHIvSKC pic.twitter.com/22F7xpPKv0
As Fire fans, it’s nice to have a reason to root for fellow MLS teams. But that is no longer enough. Chicago faithful crave to see the Fire in these high pressure matchups against quality opposition. The good news is they might get what they so desire as soon as next season.
There are currently three ways for the Fire to qualify for the 2019 Champions League. The first two are simple enough. If Chicago manages to either win MLS Cup or the Open Cup, they will be in next year’s competition.
However, Toronto’s 2017 dominance has opened up an interesting alternate route to North America’s biggest club tournament. Toronto are only able to qualify by winning the Canadian Championship. As a result, them winning MLS Cup leaves another spot open for an American MLS team. That spot will be given to the team that has the best aggregate record over the 2018 and 2019 seasons.
In that race, the Fire currently sits in third, with 55 points. They are trailing NYCFC, who are on 60 points, and the Columbus Crew, who have 57 points. However, Chicago has a game in hand on both teams, as the Fire sat out opening weekend, while both New York and Columbus were able to win over the weekend.
Funny enough, the Fire was forced to miss out on MLS opening weekend due to another team being in the Champions League. Chicago was set to open the season with an away game against the Colorado Rapids, but Colorado had to face Toronto the previous Tuesday in the CL. The league decided to postpone the matchup until the summer, forcing the Fire to schedule another preseason match against Tulsa. However, some fans have called the decision into question, as both Toronto and Seattle played MLS games after competing in Champions League games midweek. Both ended up losing, with the additional midweek action most likely playing a factor. The Red Bulls were the only other team not to play opening weekend, but that might have been a result of there being an odd amount of teams in MLS.
The Fire has not competed in the CONCACAF Champions since 2004, back when it was known as the Champions Cup. In the quarterfinals, the Fire went past Trinidad and Tobago side San Juan Jabloteh. Losing the first leg in Trinidad 5-2, Chicago won the second leg at Soldier Field 4-0, getting goals from Ralph, Armas, and Selolwane. However, the run would end in the semifinals, as the Fire were eliminated by Costa Rican side Deportivo Saprissa, losing 3-2 on aggregate.
Hopefully, the Fire can qualify for next year’s competition, bringing the magic of the CONCACAF Champions League to Toyota Park.