Puerto Rico, as long as Toronto doesn't hit Impact for 4
By Marc Weber
It's not the exotic matchup that entry into the CONCACAF Champions League was supposed to bring, but at least the Whitecaps will be familiar with their first-round opponent should they advance to the 24-team competition.
CONCACAF, the governing body of North American, Central America and Caribbean soccer, yesterday announced the preliminary-round pairings for its annual tournament.
Vancouver or Toronto FC -- and it will be Vancouver unless TFC beats Montreal by four or more goals on June 18 -- will face the Puerto Rico Islanders in a home-and-home series in late July and early August.
Puerto Rico and Vancouver both play in the United Soccer Leagues First Division and the teams met in last year's USL-1 title game -- won 2-1 by the Whitecaps.
CONCACAF has rules against matching up teams from the same country, but not from the same league.
"I was hoping for a Central American team or something like that," admitted Whitecaps head coach Teitur Thordarson. "Just for the excitement of playing a team with a different style and so on. But if we want to go further in the tournament it doesn't matter, we have to win."
Eight teams are seeded directly into the Group Stage, including Columbus and Houston from Major League Soccer. The other eight Group Stage spots are determined by these preliminary-round home-and-home matchups.
Vancouver could have drawn a team from El Salvador, Honduras, Costa Rica, Trinidad, Panama or Guatemala.
Coincidentally, the Whitecaps and Islanders square off in USL-1 play in Vancouver on July 25. The first Champions League leg follows between July 28-30, while the second leg is played between Aug. 4-6.
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