If 2013 is to be the year an MLS team finally lays its hands on the CONCACAF Champions League trophy, then it certainly won't come easy.
The league's five representatives in the 2012-13 edition of the tournament learned their group-stage fates on Tuesday. Though most will avoid Mexican teams, the condensed format – with only three teams in each group – means there will be little margin for error in the quest to reach the knockout stages, as only the group winners will make it.
FULL DRAW FOR 2012-13 CHAMPIONS LEAGUE GROUP STAGE
Santos Laguna (MEX)
Toronto FC (CAN)
CD Águila (SLV)
Real Salt Lake (USA)
Tauro FC (PAN)
Houston Dynamo (USA)
CD FAS (SLV)
Seattle Sounders (USA)
LA Galaxy (USA)
Isidro Metapán (SLV)
Tigres UANL (MEX)
Real Estelí (NIC)
CD Guadalajara (MEX)
Only the group winners will advance to the knockout round.
Unlike previous years where a second draw was conducted to set the pairings for the Championship round, the quarterfinals will match the team with the best record against the qualifier with the worst record. The second-best team will face the seventh-best, third against sixth and fourth against fifth.
The top four teams will play the second leg at home.
In the semifinals, the winner of 1-vs-8 will face the winner of 4-vs-5 (with the 1-vs-8 winner hosting the second leg), and likewise 3-vs-6 will play 4-vs-5 (with the survivor of 3-vs-6 hosting the second leg). In the finals, the team that prevails out of the upper bracket of 1-vs-8_4-vs-5 will host the second leg.
The Champions League will begin July 31 and conclude October 26, with the quarterfinals set to begin March 5.