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.
Perhaps the most intriguing grouping sees Toronto FC facing off once more against Santos Laguna, who steamrollered the Canadian side 7-3 on aggregate in the semifinal of the 2011-12 edition. Also in that group is recently crowned Salvadoran champion CD Águila.
Defending MLS Cup champions LA Galaxy will also face off against a Salvadoran side: Apertura 2011 champions Isidro Metpán. Joining them in Group 5 is a to-be-determined Caribbean side.
The Seattle Sounders will square up against Honduran outfit Marathón and another Caribbean side in their group.
The remaining two MLS representatives, Real Salt Lake and the Houston Dynamo, face the daunting task of having to travel to Central America twice. RSL were drawn against Herediano and Tauro, the reigning champions of Costa Rica and Panama, respectively. The Dynamo, meanwhile will have to contend with Olimpia, who won both the Apertura and Clausura in Honduras, as well as Salvadoran side FAS.
At least one and possibly two sides playing in the lower divisions of the US soccer pyramid could join the MLS teams in the group stage: Puerto Rico Islanders and Antigua Barracuda FC, of the North American Soccer League and USL Pro, respectively, are set to contest the final stage of the Caribbean's CFU Club Championship later this month alongside AIA Caledonia and W Connection of Trinidad and Tobago, with the top three teams heading to the CCL.
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)