Though faced with uphill tasks to overturn 0-2 and 0-3 deficits, Caribbean clubs Cavalier of Jamaica and Dominican Republic’s Moca FC, will be intent on leaving everything on the pitch when they challenge FC Cincinnati and Nashville SC in Round one return leg of the Concacaf Champions Cup on Wednesday.

Cavalier will be away to FC Cincinnati at the TQL Stadium in Cincinnati, Ohio t 7:00pm, while Moca FC are also away to Nashville SC at Geodis Park in Tennessee for the 9:15pm encounter.

Last week’s first leg was the first ever Champions Cup match for both Cavalier and FC Cincinnati, with the Major League Soccer (MLS) side proving too good for their Jamaica Premier League (JPL) counterpart, despite a gritty effort by the latter.

Sergio Santos and Malik Pinto did the damage for FC Cincinnati inside Jamaica’s National Stadium. But perhaps more impressive was the effort from FC Cincinnati’s defence to shutout the highest scoring team from the 2023 Concacaf Caribbean Cup, which comprises Golden Boot winner Shaniel Thomas.

With a two-goal cushion and a pair of away goals, FC Cincinnati, playing their first ever Champions Cup match at home, are in the driver’s seat to progress to the Round of 16, and only need a repeat of last week’s performance to confirm that much.

While MLS clubs hold a seven-win advantage in meetings with Jamaican clubs, that statistic will mean very little to Rudolph Speid and his Cavalier side, who will be hoping to summon their best all-round performance to not only shutout the menacing Luciano Acosta and company, but more importantly, score some goals of their own.

Cavalier twice scored five goals during last year’s Caribbean Cup, doing so in the group stage against Golden Lion of Martinique in a 5-2 win, followed by a 5-0 win at fellow Jamaican club Harbour View in the semifinals.

Cavalier will require that kind of output if they are to turn this series around in their favour. In addition to Thomas, Jalmaro Calvin and Orlando Russell, will need to fire on all cylinders.

Meanwhile, Nashville SC, who got their first-leg goals from Hany Mukhtar, Sam Surridge and Tyler Boyd, will be aiming to maintain their dominance to also confirm their spot in the Round of 16.

However, with Mukhtar and Surridge both carrying injuries, their absence could dampen Nashville’s attacking prowess and possibly present a window of opportunity on which Moca FC will be aiming to capitalise on.

A win on United States soil would see Moca FC being the first Dominican Republic team to do so. Though highly unlikely, it is by no means impossible and Gustavo Ascona, who was one of the stars of the 2023 Concacaf Caribbean Cup with four goals, along with Juan Angeles, will be integral to their chances.

 

Jamaica's Cavalier and Dominican Republic's Moca FC will both have to play catch up in order to progress to the next round of the Concacaf Champions Cup, after they suffered 0-2 and 0-3 defeats to Major League Soccer (MLS) outfit FC Cincinnati and Nashville SC in their respective Round One first-leg fixtures on Thursday.

Despite a gutsy performance, Cavalier were undone by goals from Sergio Santos (45+5) and substitute Malik Pinto (87th), much to the delight of a small FC Cincinnati fan base, which outcheered their local counterparts inside Jamaica's National Stadium.

FC Cincinnati started more purposeful and controlled the tempo of the game for the most parts, as their high attacking line forced Cavalier into a defensive posture from where they tried to catch their opponents on the counter.

By virtue of their consistent press, the visitors, which boasts the likes of out-of-favour Reggae Boy Alvas Powell, were always more threatening in opening play, and it took some good glovework from Cavalier's custodian Jeadine White, as well as the crossbar, to keep them at bay.

Santos's header from close range, was kept out by a well-positioned White in the 22nd minute.

Cavalier responded immediately after, on the counter, through Orlando Russell, whose effort was parried by FC Cincinnati's goalkeeper Roman Celetano.

FC Cincinnati again went close on two occasions in quick succession, first in the 33rd where the menacing Luciano Acosta's effort from a distance was parried by White, who got down well to his right, and the second a minute later through Santos, who caught White off his line, but his right-footer came back off the crossbar.

It took some desperate defending from Richard King and Jeovanni Laing, putting their bodies on the line to deny Acosta, who got through on twice in the 38th and 45th minutes. However, just when it seemed as if Cavalier had survived the storm, Santos broke their hearts when he poked home from a Bret Halsey on the stroke of the break to put FC Cincinnati 1-0 up.

Cavalier were more assertive on the resumption as they went on the probe for the equaliser, which they should have had in the 64th minute, but Shaniel Thomas failed to finish off a tidy team build up and was later dispossessed.

With the introduction of fresh legs, FC Cincinnati again went on the attack and almost doubled the lead in the 82nd, when Pavel Bucha met Acosta's weighted corner kick on the volley, but the effort grazed the crossbar on its way out.

Pinto, who entered the field in the 84th minute, eventually found the second for FC Cincinnati in the 87th when he drove home a right-footer from an Arquimides Ordonez backheel pass, to give his team a tidy cushion heading into their home leg on Wednesday.

MOCA FC vs NASHVILLE SC

Over in Dominican Republic, Hany Mukhtar and Sam Surridge each had a goal and an assist to lead Nashville SC to a 3-0 over Moca FC at the Estadio Cibao in Santiago de los Caballeros.

Mukhtar (12th), Surridge (25th) and Tyler Boyd (75th), got the job done for Nashville, who will be aiming to wrap things up on their home turf on Wednesday.

Nashville SC could not have asked for a better start, as they broke the deadlock in the 12th minute, when star attacking midfielder Mukhtar polished off a one-two combination with Surridge by finishing past goalkeeper Pascual Ramirez.

The dynamic duo of Mukhtar and Surridge hooked up again to produce Nashville’s second in the 25th. This time it was Mukhtar, who filtered a pass for Surridge to fire past Ramirez.

Moca started to threaten toward the end of the half and forced the Nashville defence into some nervy moments, especially when a Juan Angeles shot required a reaction save from Joe Willis, in goal for Nashville.

But Nashville later regained their momentum in the second half and after several looks at goal, they inevitably added a third through Tyler Boyd, who fired home in the 75th minute.

From there, it was just a matter of seeing things out for Nashville, who ensured Moca went scoreless, and maintain a very healthy advantage going into the return leg.

 

Jamaican club Cavalier and Dominican Republic’s Moca FC will be targeting quick starts in their respective 2024 Concacaf Champions Cup Round One campaigns, as they tackle Major League Soccer (MLS) outfits FC Cincinnati and Nashville FC in first leg action on Thursday.

Moca FC hosts Nashville SC at the Estadio Cibao in Santiago de los Caballeros at 7:00pm, while Cavalier will also be at home to FC Cincinnati at the National Stadium at 9:00pm Jamaica time.

Cavalier, who secured their spot in this edition of the Champions Cup by virtue of their runner-up finish in last year’s Concacaf Caribbean Cup, will be hoping to carry their form from the Jamaica Premier League into play and upset the proverbial applecart across the two-leg tie.

The Rudolph Speid-coached side currently head the Jamaica Premier League standings on the back of a 12-match unbeaten run, the last four of which ended in clean sheet victories.

“We have only conceded two goals in 12 (Jamaica Premier League) games, one being an own goal. So, we are on a trajectory and it is something that we plan because we know that we will be up against some good attackers in the Concacaf Champions League, so we try to hone our defence,” Speid said.

While the level of competition on the Champions Cup stage is more formidable that the Jamaica Premier League and the Caribbean Cup, Cavalier have proven that they can compete and, if their rich scoring from the Caribbean Cup, in particular, is anything to go by, then FC Cincinnati will have to put every foot right defensively.

No player had more goals in the Caribbean Cup than Shaniel Thomas, who finished with eight goals, including a pair of hat-tricks. However, Thomas didn’t do it alone as Jalmaro Calvin also scored four goals and was one of the playmakers in attack.

Speid is backing that dynamic duo and others to execute accordingly against an FC Cincinnati team playing its first match of the year.

“We just want to see what we can get from the two games against Cincinnati,” Speid added.

Cincinnati FC also enjoyed a fruitful 2023 season in MLS, where they won the Supporters Shield as the team with the best regular season record.

Like Cavalier, the Ohio-based club will be making their Champions Cup debut as well but boast both quality and experience within the squad. Attacking midfielder and 2023 MLS Most Valuable Player Luciano Acosta, who had 17 goals and 14 assists in 2023, is no stranger to the Champions Cup, as he enjoyed a stint with DC United in 2015-16 season. Now, almost eight years later, Acosta will get another crack at Concacaf glory.

FC Cincinnati also have great strength in defence, especially in central defenders Matt Miazga and Miles Robinson, both of whom have won a Concacaf Gold Cup with the United States Men’s National team.

A pair of seasoned FC Cincinnati defenders going up against Cavalier’s prolific attack should make for an intriguing first leg.

Moca FC vs Nashville SC

These two teams will also be making their Concacaf Champions Cup debuts, as Moca FC progressed by virtue of their third-place finish in the Caribbean Cup, while Nashville SC, due to their runner-up finish in last year’s Leagues Cup.

Moca used a stifling defence and timely goal-scoring to reach the knockout stage of the Caribbean Cup, as they conceded just three goals in their four group stage games.

In attack, Gustavo Ascona was a headache for opponents defence in scoring four goals, while Victor Sanchez was also threat in notching two goals.

But they are up against an MLS team that boast one of the strongest squads in the Eastern Conference, which makes for a daunting assignment.

Leading the way for Nashville is talented midfielder Hany Mukhtar, who pocketed MLS’s Most Valuable Player for the 2022 season, a feat he followed up with 15 goals and 11 assists in 2023. New arrival Tyler Boyd should also help in attack, after scoring seven goals and contributing four assists last season with the Los Angeles Galaxy.

Nashville SC are also quite strong in defence, with United States Internationals Walker Zimmerman and Shaq Moore at the back. 

Over the course of the last decade, football has grown substantially in the Dominican Republic. The founding of the professional Liga Dominicana de Futbol paved the way for a new era of the sport in the Caribbean country.

At the national team level, the fruits of that labour are apparent, evidenced by their runner-up finish in the 2022 Concacaf Men’s Under-20 Championship, which not only qualified Dominican Republic for a first World Cup in any age group, but also punched their ticket to the 2024 Paris Olympics.

The growth of football in the Dominican Republic is also taking shape in the international arena at the club level. Since 2018, there have been four instances in which a team from the Spanish-speaking Caribbean country have qualified for the Concacaf Champions Cup, the latest being Moca FC, who will participate in this year’s edition.

Moca are set to make their Champions Cup debut next month, when they lock horns with Major League Soccer (MLS) side Nashville SC in Round One. This, as a result of their third-place finish in last year’s Concacaf Caribbean Cup.

The history of Dominican teams in the Champions Cup actually stretches back to 1973 when Universidad Catolica became the first club from the country to compete in the tournament. Then, Universidad Catolica squared off in the First Round of the Caribbean Zone with eventual champions SV Transvaal of Suriname and lost 0-8 and 0-6.

Nearly two decades later in 1992, San Cristobal FC got their first crack at Champions Cup and defeated Unique FC of the US Virgin Islands 5-4 on aggregate in the Preliminary Round of the Caribbean Zone thanks to a 2-1 win and 3-3 stalemate.

San Cristobal FC’s run ended shortly after when they went down 3-4 on aggregate to Guadeloupe’s Solidarite Scolaire, based on a 3-3 stalemate and 1-0 loss.

San Cristobal returned to Champions Cup three years later in 1995, but suffered a 1-2 defeat on aggregate to Haiti’s FICA in the First Round of the Caribbean Zone.

After a lull, Dominican Republic teams returned to the Champions Cup arena, courtesy of Cibao FC, who won the 2017 Concacaf Caribbean Club Championship.

Despite a heavy 0-7 aggregate defeat to eventual champions and Mexican giants Chivas in the Round of 16 of the 2018 Champions Cup, Cibao FC’s qualification showed that Dominican Republic football was on the rise.

A year later, Atletico Pantoja followed suit in the 2019 edition of the Champions Cup and exited at the Round of 16 after a 0-5 aggregate loss to New York Red Bulls. Atletico Pantoja then made their second appearance in the tournament in 2021 and made history against five-time Concacaf champions Monterrey.

Even though they were eliminated 1-6 on aggregate Lisandro Cabrera scored the club’s first Champions Cup goal when he found the back of the net in the second half of the return leg.

Now in 2024, an opportunity exists for debutants Moca FC, to blaze a new trail and rewrite the history books with victory over Nashville SC, which would book them a Round of 16 date with Lionel Messi’s Inter Miami.

 

When the Draw for the 2024 Concacaf Champions Cup took place last month, players from qualified teams to contest Round one waited with bated breath to see where in the bracket their team would be placed.

In fact, much of the anxiety around the announcement was focused on which Round One winner would advance to face last year’s Leagues Cup Champions Inter Miami –the team of Argentina superstar Lionel Messi –in the Round of 16.

In the end, the draw pooled another Major League Soccer (MLS) Nashville SC and Dominican Republic’s Moca FC as Round one opponents, and the two will crosswords to decide who will oppose Messi’s side in the Round of 16.

For Moca’s striker Gustavo Ascona, who is an Argentinian by birth, defeating Nashville and playing against Messi would be the opportunity of a lifetime.

“Playing against Messi would be my life’s dream, like for any Argentine. I went home for vacation at the holidays and everyone in my hometown was talking about me playing against Messi. It’s crazy, and it would be a dream. You really can’t describe it any other way,” Ascona said in a recent interview with Concacaf.com.

“We have to keep our feet on the ground, work hard in the first game, get the biggest advantage possible that we can get here at home and later we’ll see what happens,” he added.

Ascona is well aware that getting by their Round one opponents Nashville is no easy feat, but at the same time, he believes the task is by no means impossible, provided Moca executes efficiently against the 2023 Leagues Cup runners-up.

He recalled Haitian club Violette’s victory over MLS side Austin FC in last season Round of 16 as proof that Caribbean teams can get the job done.

“We know that it (Nashville) is a really difficult opponent. We know what kind of league they play in, but we have confidence in ourselves. We know what we can give, and sometimes football brings surprises. Just look at what Violette did last season. Why can’t we repeat that?” Ascona asked rhetorically.

The 36-year-old attacker enjoyed good form for Moca in the 2023 Concacaf Caribbean Cup, as he scored four goals over the course of eight games. It took a last-second equalizer by eventual champions Robinhood of Suriname, to defeat Moca FC in the semi-final.

However, Ascona and company were still able to secure a coveted spot in the Champions Cup with victory over Jamaican club Harbour View in the third-place decider.

“It was really hard, because we had other objectives and we had the game in Suriname in which they scored in the last minute, and we lost in penalties. That was a tough blow. But we regrouped to try to get that last spot, we set out to make it ours and we got it, so it was satisfying,” Ascona shared.

“It was hard and tough to keep a positive mindset because we had come off of losing another final in the domestic league here. It was really tough in Jamaica. It was a positive to get a win there and then manage the game here, but they fought until the very end,” he noted.

Reaching the Champions Cup was also a historical moment for Moca, as it marked the first ever Champions Cup qualification for the club. They now join Cibao FC and Atletico Pantoja as Dominican Republican clubs to achieve the feat in recent years.

That accomplishment and, by extension, the responsibility as the country’s lone representative on this occasion, is something that Ascona doesn’t take lightly.

“The truth is that when one arrives to a team, you always think about making history, in leaving something. This is my third year with Moca and thankfully things are going well for me. Now we’ll just see if we can keep progressing in this stage that we are in and play against some of the other big clubs in the tournament,” Ascona reasoned.

“It’s really wonderful to have that responsibility of being the only Dominican team in this tournament. I think every fan of Dominican football is going to be following that game, so we are going to have the support of a lot of people,” he ended.

Caribbean sides Cavalier of Jamaica and Dominican Republic's Moca FC will have Major League Soccer (MLS) outfits FC Cincinnati and Nashville SC to contend with in the opening round of the 2024 Concacaf Champions Cup, the region's premier men’s club competition.

The draw was conducted on Wednesday evening.

This, the tournament's 59th edition, revamped to include 27 of the best clubs from North America, Central America, and the Caribbean, and five rounds, crowns the Confederation's club champion. It also serves as the sole qualification route for the region's clubs to the new and expanded FIFA Club World Cup. 

Participating clubs in the tournament's Round One were drawn as follows: 

Round One

RO Matchup #1: Philadelphia Union (USA) vs Deportivo Saprissa (CRC)
RO Matchup #2: Deportivo Toluca (MEX) vs CS Herediano (CRC) 
RO Matchup #3: Club America (MEX) vs Real Estelí FC (NCA)
RO Matchup #4: CD Guadalajara (MEX) vs Forge FC (CAN)
RO Matchup #5: New England Revolution (USA) vs CA Independiente (PAN)
RO Matchup #6: Houston Dynamo FC (USA) vs St. Louis CITY SC (USA)
RO Matchup #7: Tigres UANL (MEX) vs Vancouver Whitecaps FC (CAN)
RO Matchup #8: Orlando City SC (USA) vs Cavalry FC (CAN)
RO Matchup #9: CF Monterrey (MEX) vs Comunicaciones FC (GUA)
RO Matchup #10: FC Cincinnati (USA) vs Cavalier FC (JAM)
RO Matchup #11: Nashville SC (USA) vs Moca FC (DOM)

Following home and away play, in February 2024, the aggregate score winner in each matchup will advance to the Round of 16. The Round of 16 matchups will be as follows: 

Round of 16 

R16 Matchup #1: CF Pachuca (MEX) vs W1 
R16 Matchup #2: SV Robinhood (SUR) vs W2 
R16 Matchup #3: W3 vs W4 
R16 Matchup #4: LD Alajuelense (CRC) vs W5 
R16 Matchup #5: Columbus Crew (USA) vs W6 
R16 Matchup #6: W7 vs W8 
R16 Matchup #7: W9 vs W10 
R16 Matchup #8: Inter Miami CF (USA) vs W11 

The Round of 16 will be played in March 2024, followed by the quarterfinals and semifinals in April, and the single-leg final on Sunday, June 2.  

Concacaf will announce the complete schedule for Round One in the coming days.

2024 Concacaf Champions Cup Windows 

Round One: February 6-8 (Week 1), 13-15 (Week 2), 20-22 (Week 3) and 27-29 (Week 4) 
Round of 16: March 5-7 (First Legs) and 12-14 (Second Legs) 
Quarterfinals: April 2-4 (First Legs) and 9-11 (Second Legs) 
Semifinals: April 23-25 (First Legs) and April 30 - May 2 (Second Legs) 
Final: Sunday, June 2 (Single Leg) 

By virtue of winning the 2023 Concacaf Champions Cup, Mexican outfit, Club Leon secured a berth in the expanded 2025 FIFA Club World Cup, joining the 2021 and 2022 champions, CF Monterrey (Mexico) and Seattle Sounders FC (USA), respectively. The 2024 Concacaf Champions Cup winner will join these three clubs as the region's four representatives in the expanded 32-club FIFA Club World Cup 2025.

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