Will Lionel Messi play? Previewing the Concacaf Champions Cup quarterfinals

With March’s international break behind us and April flowers about to spout, Concacaf’s Champions Cup resumes this week as the quarterfinals of the region’s top club competition kicks off with a doubleheader on Tuesday (coverage begins at 7 p.m. ET on FS1 and the FOX Sports app).

The four home and home, total-goals-win series feature three delicious matchups between North America’s two best domestic leagues, MLS and Liga MX, with Lionel Messi’s Inter Miami against Monterrey the marquee pairing.

Here’s a quick look at how those cross-border rivalries could play out this month.

Inter Miami-Monterrey 

Wednesday at 8 p.m. ET on FS1 and the FOX Sports app

Will Messi play? That’s the big question heading into Wednesday’s series opener in Ft. Lauderdale. The GOAT has been nursing a hamstring injury that has limited him to just three of Miami’s seven MLS games in 2024 and also ruled him out of a pair of stateside Copa América tuneups with Argentina’s national team over the last 10 days.

But Miami coach Tara Martino has made it clear that the Champions Cup trophy is the top priority for Herons, who qualified for this year’s tourney by winning the inaugural Leagues Cup — an event in which every MLS and Liga MX team participates — last summer.

“We are doing all we can to get him ready for next Wednesday,” Javier Morales, Martino’s top assistant, said last week. “That is what we are working for.”

So expect Messi to be back clad in hot pink against the stacked Rayados, who have won five Concacaf titles overall and two since 2019.  While Miami may be the bookies’ favorite to advance, those odds will surely change for the worse if Messi & Co. can’t take at least a one-goal lead back to Mexico for the crucial second leg at Estadio BBVA on April 10.

Columbus Crew-Tigres UANL 

Tuesday at 7 p.m. ET on FS1 and the FOX Sports app

The defending MLS Cup champs have fallen back to earth slightly after starting the new season with three wins and a tie from their first four games, as Wilfried Nancy’s side lost in Charlotte on March 23 before squandering a late lead and settling for a point in last Saturday’s 2-2 draw in Nashville.

No matter. The Crew are still an elite MLS team and, thanks in large part to star Colombian striker Cucho Hernandez, they still have perhaps the best chance of any American club of surviving this round and progressing to the semifinals over a Tigers squad that boasts its own proven goal machine in veteran French forward André-Pierre Gignac but can also be suspect defensively.

As will be the case for all three MLS reps, winning the first leg at home is key. Tigres held Orlando City scoreless in Florida to open the round of 16 before running away with a 4-2 victory in the decisive second leg.

New England Revolution-Club América 

Tuesday at 9 p.m. ET on FS1 and the FOX Sports app

For all their early struggles in MLS, New England has been superb in the Champions Cup so far under new head coach Caleb Porter. The Revs will still be hard-pressed to survive this series against Mexico’s richest and most popular club.

Club América’s roster is as stacked as any team outside of Europe. They have championship pedigree, having won the Concacaf crown a seven times — more than any other team. And they’ll have a colossal home field advantage in the all-important back half of the series, which will conclude at the iconic, cavernous, 86,000-seat Estadio Azteca in Mexico City.

That means the best-case scenario for Porter’s club is probably to eke out a narrow first-leg win in Foxborough and keep Las Águilas off the scoreboard, then steal an early (and potentially pivotal) goal on the road. Remember: while the UEFA Champions League and other international tournaments have done away with the away goals rule, the controversial tiebreaker is still alive and well in Concacaf’s top club competition.

Doug McIntyre is a soccer writer for FOX Sports. Before joining FOX Sports in 2021, he was a staff writer with ESPN and Yahoo Sports and he has covered United States men’s and women’s national teams at multiple FIFA World Cups. Follow him on Twitter @ByDougMcIntyre.

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