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Assessing Philadelphia Union’s Chances of Winning the 2021 CONCACAF Champions League
Although the CONCACAF Champions League semi-finals are a couple of months away, Union fans are already getting excited about the prospect of seeing their team lift the trophy.
Philadelphia has reached the last four of the CCL for the very first time and will face Mexican giant Club America over two legs for a place in the final.
Jim Curtin and co. will head south to Mexico City for the first leg on Thursday, August 12, before welcoming America to Subaru Park on Wednesday, September 15 for the decider.
But can the Philadelphia Union go all the way and win the CONCACAF Champions League in 2021? The history books suggest it will be difficult, but the 2020 Supporters’ Shield winners are thirsty for more silverware.
Let’s start by checking out the 2021 CONCACAF Champions League winner odds. After that, I will look at Philly’s route to the semi-finals and discuss the players who could help the club to achieve CCL glory.
2021 CONCACAF Champions League Winner Odds
According to the latest 2021 CCL winner odds, the bookmakers’ view Philadelphia (11.00) as the clear outsider.
Club America (4.50) – Philly’s semi-final opponent – is the second favorite, although frontrunner Cruz Azul (4.00) is only priced marginally lower than America.
Coming up against Cruz Azul in the other semi-final, Monterrey (7.00) is behind the other two Liga MX sides. However, the Nuevo Leon club is still ahead of the Union on the bookies’ CONCACAF Champions League odds list.
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These odds should not come as a surprise, especially when you consider Mexico’s utter domination of the CCL. A Liga MX team has triumphed every year since the tournament’s inception in 2008.
Before we assess Philly’s chances of overcoming Club America and breaking Mexico’s supremacy, let’s take a quick look at the history of the competition.
The CCL History is Against Philadelphia
The Champions’ Cup was the original continental club competition for the CONCACAF region, which comprises teams North America, Central America, and the Caribbean.
Two Major League Soccer teams won the old tournament – DC United (1998) and the LA Galaxy (2000). But ever since the CCL’s inauguration in 2008, Mexican sides have completely dominated the competition.
As the table below shows, four MLS clubs – Real Salt Lake (2011), CF Montreal (2015), Toronto FC (2018), and Los Angeles FC (2020) – have reached the CCL final. However, no North American side has been able to break the curse.
|CONCACAF CHAMPIONS LEAGUE FINALISTS (2009-2020)|
Still, Curtin’s men can take confidence from their MLS rivals’ efforts in recent years. Toronto suffered an agonizing penalty shootout loss to Guadalajara in 2018, while LAFC pushed Tigres all the way last year.
We all know that Liga MX teams have continuously exploited MLS clubs in the CCL, but there is no denying that the gulf between Mexico’s biggest sides and Major League Soccer’s top clubs is getting smaller.
Fear not, Philly supporters!
How Did the Union Reach the CCL Semi-Finals?
The U booked their spot in the CONCACAF Champions League thanks to last year’s Supporters’ Shield triumph, qualifying alongside four other MLS teams – Toronto, Columbus, Portland, and Atlanta.
Philadelphia was the only team to finish the 2020 MLS regular season with a +2.00 points-per-game average and boasted the best defensive record in the league, along with the third-best scoring record.
The Union’s CCL Journey So Far
Curtin’s men were drawn against Costa Rican champion Deportivo Saprissa in the Round of 16, playing the first of the two legs in San Jose. They managed to leave Costa Rica with a 1-0 advantage, thanks to Kacper Przybylko’s first-half strike.
Back on home soil, Philly made light work of Saprissa – crushing the visitors 4-0. Przybylko scored again, while Jamiro Monteiro bagged a brace.
Przybylko carried his goalscoring form into the quarter-finals against Atlanta United. The Polish striker netted twice at Mercedes-Benz Stadium as the U claimed an impressive 3-0 first leg win away from home.
Although the Five Stripes held the hosts to a 1-1 draw in the second leg, Philly advanced to the last four with a comfortable 4-1 aggregative victory.
It is worth noting that all five MLS teams reached the quarter-finals, yet the Union was the only one to qualify for the semi-finals. TFC fell to Cruz Azul (4-1), the Crew was knocked out by Monterrey (5-2), while America dispatched the Timbers (4-2).
Of course, Curtin’s team has yet to face a Liga MX side in the CCL. But having made a big statement in the previous round, the Mexicans will be wary of Philadelphia’s threat.
Who Holds the Key to Philly’s CCL Success?
The 2021 Philadelphia Union roster is stacked with quality, but there are certain players who are capable of making a big difference and potentially deciding the Union’s CONCACAF Champions League destiny.
Let’s take a closer look at the stars that could guide the club to CCL glory in 2021.
Between the Sticks – Andre Blake
It’s safe to say that Blake has turned out to be one of the best MLS SuperDraft picks of all time. The Jamaican international joined the club in 2014 and has since become an absolute beast between the sticks.
Having picked up his second MLS Goalkeeper of the Year award last year, Blake is expected to play a pivotal role in the remainder of Philly’s CCL campaign.
Let’s not forget that Blake has already achieved three clean sheets in four UCL matches this season, conceding just a single goal along the way. If he racks up a couple more shutouts, the Union will find themselves in the final.
The Midfield Maestro – Jamiro Monteiro
Monteiro has started the season in eye-catching form, playing every single second of the U’s opening ten matches in all competitions.
The 27-year-old put in a dazzling display to help his side beat Saprissa 4-0 in the last 16 second leg, contributing two goals and two assists. He then added a goal and two assists to his tally across the first six MLS games this year.
Put simply, Curtin’s team is far stronger when Monteiro is on the pitch. If he can dictate play and dominate the midfield against America, he will almost certainly cause his opponents plenty of problems.
Leading the Line – Kacper Przybylko
When you have a guy that has scored in every CCL game this year, you can be pretty confident that he is going to score again, right?
After netting in both legs against Saprissa, Przybylko stole the show against Atalanta – bagging two goals and one assist in the first-leg win. He then maintained his CCL hot streak by scoring in the QF second leg.
|KACPER PRZYBYLKO – 2021 CCL|
Since joining the club in 2018, the Polish marksman has averaged roughly a goal every other game. But if his recent performances are anything to go by, his record is only going to improve.
Naturally, Przybylko is in the 2021 MLS Golden Boot conversation.
My 2021 CONCACAF Champions League Predictions
Let’s get one thing straight – Philidelphia is up against it.
No team has been crowned champion of the CONCACAF region more times than Club America. The Eagles won five Champions’ Cups before clinching back-to-back CCL triumphs in 2015 and 2016, so reaching the final is a mammoth task.
Having won the Supporters’ Shield last season, Curtin’s men now know what it takes to win silverware. They have been extremely consistent over the past couple of seasons, and there is no reason why they cannot carry that consistency onto the continental stage.
Of course, the bookies are favoring the Mexican teams. But with Toronto and LAFC both reaching the CCL final in the past three years, it feels like an MLS club is destined to win the competition sooner rather than later.
If Philly is to triumph, the three players I detailed above will need to be at the very top of their game throughout the remainder of the tournament.
Blake, Monteiro, and Przybylko can’t afford to have an off game from now until the end of the campaign.
Cruz Azul, Monterrey, and Club America are all expected to outshine Philadelphia. But I have a feeling that Curtin’s side can achieve something very special this year.
Do you think Philly can win the CONCACAF Champions League in 2021? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below.