Concacaf Champions League: Ranking the MLS contenders
By Chris Smith
The 2023 Concacaf Champions League is just a month away, with North America's finest set to battle it out for the big prize.
As always, the sides from Liga MX will be the favorites, but just last year, Major League Soccer ended its long wait for a title as the Seattle Sounders went all the way.
This year, another five-team MLS cohort make their attempt at emulating Seattle. On their day, any one of them could get it done, so let's rank their chances:
Ranked: MLS Concacaf Champions League contenders
5. Vancouver Whitecaps
The Whitecaps return to CCL for the first time since 2016 thanks to their 2022 Canadian Championship success.
Vanni Sartini's side didn't enjoy the best MLS campaign, finishing ninth in the Eastern Conference and missing out on the Playoffs. However, they looked much stronger toward the end, and in the likes of Ryan Gauld and Julian Gressel, have some of the best players in the league in their respective positions.
VWFC should see off Honduran side Real Espana in the round-of-16 but next up would likely be a tie against MLS Cup champions LAFC that they're just not currently equipped for.
4. Orlando City
It's been a long time coming but after establishing themselves as MLS Cup Playoffs regulars, Orlando City are now a Concacaf Champions League team thanks to their US Open Cup triumph.
The Lions have been hard at work strengthening an already impressive roster, and in Facundo Torres, they have one of the most dangerous players in CCL this year.
A lack of experience on this stage may hurt them, while they have a terribly difficult opening clash against Tigres to negotiate. But don't write Orlando off, they're an outside bet.
3. Austin FC
Austin FC have a favorable opening match against Haitian side Violette before, most likely, facing a Club Leon outfit struggling in Liga MX.
That gives the Verde and Black a very realistic route to at least the semi-finals. Once there, watch Sebastian Driussi and Co. come to life - the Argentine was a frontrunner in the MVP race last season and should be in contention again this time around.
Like Orlando, a lack of experience may kill Austin before the end but not before breaking a few hearts.
At long last, LAFC enter CCL as MLS Cup champions.
The last time the Black and Gold were on this stage, they went all the way to the final and were just 29 minutes away from winning it before a late, gut-wrenching Tigres comeback.
Now, give us the LAFC roster from MLS Cup with the likes of Gareth Bale and Cristian Arango and we'd certainly have them as favorites. However, those two - along with the likes of Latif Blessing and Cristian Tello - have gone and despite some shrewd signings, this does make LAFC weaker.
But would you bet against players like Carlos Vela and Denis Bouanga?
1. Philadelphia Union
Like LAFC, the Union have lost players from their run to MLS Cup. However, unlike the champions, their departures haven't been foundational pieces, with Paxten Aaronson and Cory Burke very much rotational.
In fact, with a couple of smart moves like Andreas Perea and Joaquin Torres, Philly are even stronger.
The Union reached the semi-finals in 2021 and with a route that should see them face Liga MX middlers Atlas following Alianza of Honduras, we should at the very least see a repeat. That could see them take on LAFC and at present, they're the stronger of the two best teams in MLS from 2022.