Following the Colorado Rapids first-place finish in the Western Conference this year, they became one of five MLS clubs to clinch a spot in the 2022 Scotiabank Concacaf Champions League (CCL.) The draw, held Wednesday evening, matches up the Rapids against Guatemalan side Comunicaciones FC in the first round.
Comunicaciones had to play through the Concacaf League to make it to the draw, a 22-team league mainly made up of Central American sides. The league is run through a bracket, where Comunicaciones beat every side they faced, including Costa Rican giants Saprissa in the round of four, on their way to winning the Concacaf League, and confirming their spot in champions league.
The Rapids have to like their chances against Comunicaciones, who had the worst playoffs of three teams to qualify for the Concacaf League from Guatemala. Their run through the league certainly proves that they are a capable opponent. They will provide a challenge for the Rapids, particularly in the first leg, which will be played in Guatemala City.
The first leg is slated for February 15-17, with the return leg played at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park between the 22nd and 24th.
The CCL draw consisted of 16 teams with two pots. One consisted of the top teams in the region, like Cruz Azul, New York City FC, and the Rapids, with the second pot containing the smaller clubs, like Comunicaciones.
The competition works exactly like the more popular UEFA Champions League in Europe, with two legs per matchup, going from 16 teams to eight, and so on. The only difference is CCL’s final is played over two legs instead of a single match.
If the Rapids emerge victoriously, they will face the winner of NYCFC and Santos de Guapiles of Costa Rica in the second round; if Santos can upset the 2021 MLS Cup champions, it’s a favorable matchup for Colorado.
This isn’t the first time the Rapids have competed in the CCL, as they most recently featured in 2018, and again in 2011 after they won MLS Cup in 2010. In 2011, they failed to make it out of the group stage, as this version of CCL saw a group stage of 16 teams instead of a bracket-style. The top two teams in each group advanced to form a round of eight. The Rapids finished third in their group.
In 2018, they didn’t fare much better, drawing Toronto FC in the round of 16, who defeated the Rapids 2-0 on aggregate. The CCL tie against Toronto was the first look Rapids fans got at infamous former coach Anthony Hudson, who was criticized by the fanbase for calling the tournament part of “pre-season.”
Rapids fans will also remember the first leg of their matchup against Toronto for its frigid temperatures, with a game-time temperature of three degrees Fahrenheit—feeling like -19! This game still holds the record for the coldest match ever played involving an MLS club. I was at this game (unfortunately), and I would be hard-pressed to recall when I felt more cold and miserable.
The Rapids will be hoping for a more successful (and warmer) champions league campaign in 2022, as MLS as a whole has begun to take the competition much more seriously, and it has become an integral part of the rivalry between Mexico and the United States.
The 2022 Concacaf Champions League provides a big chance for the Rapids to win their first silverware since 2010, and to be the first MLS club to win the CCL in its modern era. Since switching formats in 2008, Mexican clubs have won every year. LAFC did get to the final match in 2020, dropping 2-1 on aggregate to UANL. Monterrey is the current reigning champion.
With the Rapids’ depth, recognized as some of the best in the league, and assuming they add some firepower in the winter, they should have plenty of pieces to make a deep run in the competition, and try to bring the Champions League home to Denver.
No matter the outcome, though, the prospect of “CCL Fever” returning to Colorado is an exciting one.