Our CCL hopes are no more. The greatest club competition on the continent(ish) is a dream that will have to wait for another year as Seattle and RSL managed to meekly tap out against their Mexican opponents. Sour grapes forthcoming. I know that it’s going to seem that way, but a lot of people are using these results as their banner for the apparent death of US Soccer and demanding wholesale changes to make the competition more winnable. Are they right? Yes and no.
Let’s get the obvious one out of the way first: The scheduling of this tournament is ludicrous. Group stages in August and knockout rounds the next calendar year means that the MLS team that qualified for this tournament usually looks completely different come time for the final stages of this mess. Portland was crowned league champion and won’t be appearing in this tournament until August where they have to travel to odd stadiums that are far away and often in horrible monsoon weather right smack in the middle of a period in the MLS season where teams separate themselves from the bottom of the pack and fight for their postseason seeding.
Also, playing these matches against the toughest opponents before the season even starts is a really hard ask. LA barely looked like a coherent thought against Santos and the Sounders defense might as well have been speed dating each other for all of the “understanding” they showed when it comes to actually marking players on set pieces.
Oh yeah, that salary cap sure doesn’t help either. When you’re all playing by the same rules in one league, having complex transactional and roster construction rules mean that you get something that amounts to parity. I’m not a huge fan of salary caps, I don’t know that anybody is, but you can’t argue with the fact that for all of the weirdness it causes it does keep Major League Soccer a very exciting league in terms of competition. I mean, Portland won a championship, hell, so did Colorado. Anything can and will happen over the course of the domestic campaign. It’s one of the things I love best about the league.
The issue of course comes when MLS teams are forced to play teams outside of the league who have no such restrictions on their spending. It’s not about the top end of the roster. I think MLS does a good job of bringing in a handful of good players; it’s what happens as soon as one of those players is hurt or tired. Depth is a crucial aspect of being able to compete effectively on multiple fronts and while the USOC is against teams with the same limitations or just a whole lot less money, the CCL brings teams up against LigaMX squads with far more solidified rosters that are designed with squad rotation in mind. MLS teams just don’t’ have that kind of luxury.
The fact of the matter is that this just a bad, poorly organized and poorly officiated tournament with haphazard scheduling and travel that is a burden on most teams for almost zero payoffs. The final is on Fox Sports 2 while regular season MLS games get played on ESPN and Fox. This is supposed to be the crowning achievement of our continental soccer, but you can’t help but watch and think it’s merely a weird afterthought that nobody would miss if it were gone.
Or maybe I’m just being a baby because my favorite team lost.
Tyler thinks so:
Tyler: There is some kind of odd transformation that people go through when their beloved team gets knocked out of a tournament. I am sure there are stages of grief involved, but that’s for a different article at a different time. To say that CONCACAF Champions League (CCL) sucks as an excuse to get over your team’s loss is lazy and abhorrent. It is weird how every tournament and every piece of hardware matters until your team is out. Does the CCL suck? I think this is all about perspective. Do I think it sucks? No. I do, however, think that most teams treat it as though it is some kind of consolation prize – “it would be cool to win, but we are not going to put our resources and total effort into winning it.” You know, how England has looked at Europa League for the last… who knows how long. Sure, it is preseason for MLS, and although that feels like an excuse, it can be a viable reason, but is that enough?
CCL is a perfectly fine way to test our champions against the champions of LigaMX. Sure, they are in nearly mid-year form and have seemingly better talent, but if MLS wants to be respected or even be a “top league,” don’t the teams need to go against better competition and improve? Because, frankly, given the results, MLS teams don’t appear to care.
What sets this tournament apart from many other tournaments that takes place in soccer? It is The Champions League. Could you envisage a team not taking UEFA Champions League seriously? I am not attempting to compare the two, but this is as good as it gets for American club soccer, isn’t it? Club World Cup seems to be joke, as well, sadly. To me, the way to change MLS’s languid approach to CCL is for MLS to make an effort to grow the talent on each team’s roster, and supporters begin to take it seriously on the whole. Many fans do take the tournament as an opportunity to see their clubs play, but for some reason, some also see the matches akin to Guinness International Champions Cup. It’s almost like we, as fans, are numb to the term champions, unless it is with regard to UEFA Champions League. Is it because it is not UCL that it is somehow worth less, given that MLS clubs will never play in UEFA? Is this a part of the inferiority complex? I have no idea, I am not a psychologist. What I do know is this is the most recent opportunity to obtain silverware from our southern neighbors and the teams from MLS missed a huge opportunity. Regardless of what anyone thinks about the tournament, it comes with silverware. This silverware could allow for MLS to take the next step in becoming a top league.