This is an archived article that was published on in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Some reward.

If Real Salt Lake is to set off on another unexpected run in the CONCACAF Champions League, it will be as quite the underdog. Awaiting RSL in the quarterfinal round is a club one could argue is the best on the continent.

Tigres UANL is the defending Liga MX champion. Within the last five seasons, the developing powerhouse has won two league titles and a Copa MX crown. Tigres qualified for the 2015 Copa Libertadores final — South America's version of the Champions League — before falling short in the final against Argentine giant River Plate last August.

They feature some of the brightest young Mexican talents and recently lured a French national team striker in André-Pierre Gignac, who quickly adjusted to Liga MX with ease. In his first 27 league outings at Tigres, Gignac has scored 22 goals.

"I think it's one of the best teams we've seen in Mexico in recent times," said ESPN's Tom Marshall, who lives in Guadalajara covering Liga MX as well as the Mexican national team. "The depth is pretty amazing."

How that depth was cultivated by Tigres and head coach Ricardo Ferretti is simple, Marshall said: "It comes down to money." Tigres shelled out loads of cash for high-profile signings in 2015 to reinforce an already stocked roster. Brought in within the past year were Gignac, Brazilian forward Rafael Sobis and Mexican wingers Jürgen Damm and Javier Aquino. Tigres spent a reported $8 million to snag Damm — rumored to be pursued by Europe's biggest clubs — from fellow Liga MX club Pachuca. Gignac is making a reported $4-4.5 million a year in his new home.

"You look at their team and they've got players on the bench who would be starters in a lot of other Liga MX teams," Marshall said.

In a league notorious for its roster fluidity every season, Tigres built their foundation under Ferretti's chosen core of players. Their style? Control the game, dominate possession statistics and take calculated risks without needless turnovers. While the team's star attacking players dominate the headlines, the back line has been consistently one of the best in the league, headlined by Brazilian center back Juninho and the likes of José Rivas, Israel Jiménez and Jorge Torres Nilo.

"We do think we have to be defensively-sound," RSL coach Jeff Cassar said, "but when we do have the ball, there are some areas we can get at them."

Keeping tabs on Gignac is one thing, but the speed and on-the-ball ability of Damm and Aquino will necessitate RSL's defensive attention over the course of each quarterfinal leg.

"When you have Aquino on one side and Damm on the other — players who are absolutely rapid, very quick — it gives [Tigres] that kind of extra element," Marshall said. "It means that teams can't focus on stopping Gignac. It's not like you've got one good player. If you have two players marking Gignac, then you've got two players in Aquino and Damm to have space to work in."

Cassar said neither Damm nor Aquino are players he wants to see isolated in 1-on-1 situations in either match.

"We're going to have to make sure that we're shifting and covering each other, both in the defensive midfield positions and in the center back positions when they're wide," he said.

What lineup and which players will be featured in Wednesday's first leg at Estadio Universitario in Monterrey is a question RSL and its staff will be pondering until an hour before kick off.

Marshall said Ferretti, since his arrival at Tigres in 2010, has consistently stressed priority of success in Liga MX over continental competitions. And at times, Ferretti has trotted out B-team lineups in Champions League and Copa Libertadores. Could he follow that same formula in the first leg at home and save his stars for the return leg on March 2 at Rio Tinto Stadium?

"I think with the amount of money that Tigres has spent bringing in these players, I think it was done with kind of one eye on winning this competition and getting to the FIFA Club World Cup," Marshall said.

Surprises do tend to arise in knockout competitions. A dreadful Montreal Impact club made its own run to the Champions League final last year. With the talent Tigres feature, they're the odds-on favorite to advance and likely win the tournament. Liga MX clubs have won the last seven Champions League crowns in the tournament's current format.

But one of RSL's Champions League veterans, right back Tony Beltran, said he and his teammates understand the difficulty of this draw. A force like Tigres is seven games into its new season, while RSL started preseason camp four weeks ago.


"They're a very good team, but they're not Barcelona," Beltran said. "They're not invincible. We're a good team as well."

Twitter: @chriskamrani —

Tigres UANL

Club history » Founded in 1960

Location » Nuevo Leon, Monterrey, Mexico. Home stadium is Estadio Universitario on the University of Nuevo León

Title-winning campaigns » Liga MX: 2015 Apertura, 2011 Apertura, 1981-82 title, 1977-78 title; Copa MX: 2014 Clausura, 1995-1996 cup title, 1975-76 cup title

Head coach » Ricardo "Tuca" Ferretti, 2010-present

CONCACAF Champions League to this point » Enters Champions League quarterfinal round as the No. 6 seed having gone 2-0-2 in group stage play and plus-2 in overall goal differential.

Odds-on starting XI » Nahuel Guzman (GK); Israel Jimenez, Juninho, José Rivas, Jorge Torres Nilo; Jürgen Damm, Guido Pizzaro, Jesus Dueñas, Javier Aquino; Rafael Sobis; Andre-Pierré Gignac